For Myanmar’s article of our famous things across the globe series, we have invited our fellow blogger Catalin Geangos of “travel trained” who specializes in Southeast Asia, What is Myanmar famous for? This is his fascinating answer!
Located in Southeast Asia, tucked between Thailand, Laos, China, India, and Bangladesh, Myanmar has gained popularity over recent years with tourists and backpackers. However, as it’s not as popular as some neighboring countries, many people know very little about this country and what you can expect from a visit here.
Today we’re going to explore things that Myanmar is famous for. These are items and things that people might expect to find or experience in the country, others are reasons why Myanmar may appear on the news, and finally, some of them will take you by surprise, I’m sure.
But, before we probably need to address the Burma/Myanmar issue. So, is the country named Burma or Myanmar, and why people use one or the other? Since 1989, the name of the country is Myanmar, as the military junta changed it from Burma to Myanmar (along with some cities, Rangoon became Yangon for example). However, some people, and even countries continued to use Burma, which lead to this almost dual name status. In this post, we will use Myanmar, as it’s the official name.
13 things Myanmar is famous for
#1 Tea Leaf Salad
Lahpet Thoke, also known as tea leaf salad, is one of Myanmar’s most popular dishes. In Myanmar, you’ll find fresh and fragrant salads, but this one, in particular, is a must-try. Lahpet is a fermented tea leaf with a long history in the country, including its use as a symbol of peace during war. There are two ways you might try this dish, one as a meal or as a snack called Ahlu Lahpet.
The dish typically contains fermented tea leaves and fried legumes (e.g., butter beans or yellow split peas). Topped off with sesame seeds, garlic, peanuts, shrimp, tomato, chili, cabbage, and oil. It’s a delicious, fresh dish to try on your next trip. If you want to season it further, add fish sauce or lime juice.
It’s so important to Myanmar’s culture that when the harvest of tea leaves occurs, the best leaves are put aside to ferment for the salad. Although they are bitter when freshly picked, the fermenting and rinsing process over 3 or 4 months reduces this taste.
Thanaka is a paste made from ground bark, and it makes a face mask used on women and girls throughout Myanmar. It’s an integral part of their culture, used on the arms, and occasionally by men and boys. The use of it has even spread further to Thailand and other nearby countries.
In Burmese, Thanaka means cosmetics for beauty and cleansing. It can also be used to protect the skin from sunlight and cool the skin in hot temperatures. It’s most commonly used to make circular designs on the cheeks and nose and even create a leaf pattern. It’s believed to help reduce acne and smooth skin and has anti-fungal properties.
#3 Hot Air Balloons
I’m sure you’ve seen the images of hot air balloons flying over the skies of Myanmar. Bagan is the area in which most rides occur, where you can take a sunrise flight over the two-hundred temples in the region. Especially during the winter months, you’ll see a whole collection of hot air balloons above the temples early in the morning. There are usually four visitors per basket, and you should arrive bright and early to watch the balloons get inflated before your ride.
#4 Nuns wearing pink
If you’ve traveled anywhere in Southeast Asia, you’ll know it’s not uncommon to see monks throughout the streets of the towns and cities. Well, in Myanmar, you are just as likely to see nuns. Usually, males in Myanmar wear red robes, but the nuns will appear in beautiful pink robes. These women shave their heads and have been part of the order since their youth. It’s an incredible sight to see if you are lucky with your timing!
#5 Roadside Tea Shops
Tea shops are one of the things that Myanmar is famous for. Wherever you’re traveling, take some time out to sit on a stool and enjoy a milky tea. These are usually accompanied by delicious treats such as doughnuts, steamed buns, and samosas.
It’s common for locals to spend plenty of time hanging around these shops at the weekends, especially if the football is on! Quite often, you’ll be mingling with groups of monks, all supporting their favorite team, many of which are big Manchester United fans! Tea shops are a great way to interact with the locals and enjoy a slice of the local culture, food, and life. Ingrained in their culture, while there are many tea shops dedicated to tourists now, try and enjoy an authentic locals-only one on your next trip.
#6 Thingyan Water Festival
Held every year to celebrate the Myanmar New Year, this festival might remind you of the Songkran Festival in Thailand. Throughout the four days (or five on a leap year), people throw water all over each other. It takes place throughout Yangon. However, if you are looking to be in the heart of the action, head to the city of Mandalay. On New Year’s Day, people in Myanmar do good deeds for others, such as helping elders by cutting their nails, offering meals, and taking Sabbath.
#7 Sand Painting
In both Yangon and Bagan, you’ll find this type of artwork unique to Myanmar. It originates from Buddhist traditions, and the artwork usually depicts their culture with images of temples and monks. The painting is dedicated to Buddha and tries to promote the positive traditions of the religion. They are made by painting sand onto silk, where artists slowly add the grains to create this distinctive art style.
These are a fantastic, unique souvenir to bring home from any trip to Myanmar. You can roll them up just like prints, so it’s easy to carry them home. You’ll find these on sale outside small temples or in the courtyards of them. Some of them have even started to expand the work style, painting modern twists on the images, or creating their own ideas from scratch. Be careful, though, as some artists will try and pretend that they invented this type of artwork, but as you now know, it’s a long-held tradition.
#8 Anabella Lwin
This famous English-Burmese singer was born in 1966 in Rangoon, Myanmar. She is a well-known singer, songwriter, and record producer. However, she is best known for her work as the lead singer of the English New Wave Band, Bow Wow Wow. She was born to a Burmese father and English mother and began performing at only 13. During her time with the band, there was a lot of controversy surrounding them. She released two full albums and one mini one with Bow Wow Wow, with songs such as ‘Sexy Eiffel Tower’ and ‘Go Wild in the Country’.
Later as a solo artist, she released two albums and an EP, with the most recent release in 2016. Singles she released include ‘Car Sex’, ‘Don’t Dance With Strangers’, and ‘Do What You Do’. She follows a Buddhist practice to this day, which she says helps enhance and inform her songwriting, making it more mature and romantic. Her music now often includes nods to her Burmese background through melodies and chants.
#9 Shwedagon Pagoda
The most iconic structure in the whole country, Shwedagon Pagoda, is located in Yangon and reaches an incredible 110 meters high. Built over 2,500 years ago to preserve Buddha’s hair and other relics, nowadays, the complex stretches to include hundreds of temples and statues. The main pagoda is encrusted with a whopping 4531 diamonds, and the largest one is a 72-carat diamond! Also covered with hundreds of gold leaves, it’s an incredible sight to see. The main stupa is plated with about 22,000 solid gold bars.
If you visit Yangon, you’ll certainly want to visit this site, as it’s one of the most famous pagodas in the world and the city’s main attraction. It’s locally known as Shwedagon Zedi Daw The, and you’ll find it at the top of a hill. From pretty much anywhere in the city, you’ll be able to see its golden roof any time of the day or night. A massive emerald is positioned to reflect the setting sun on the gold-plated dome. Buddhists worldwide make pilgrimages to this site, and despite many earthquakes over the years, the structure is still standing strong to this day.
As with any temple, visitors will need to remove their shoes and be respectful of traditions upon entering the temple. Between the shaded areas, be careful of how hot the floor tiles can get when you’re barefooted!
#10 Burmese Curry
Myanmar has some incredible dishes to try, and you may have had the pleasure to try them back at home already. Burmese curry is one of my favorites, and you’ll get the choice of pork, fish, beef, mutton, or shrimp for the dish. As well as the curry, you’ll enjoy an extensive range of side dishes. These include rice, salad, soup, and a large trap of vegetables and herbs, accompanied by various dips. At a Muslim-run shop, you might get a vegetable alternative, which would include lentils and vegetables.
As you can see, it’s a massive meal, and you’ll have a full spread of dishes that will allow you to enjoy many of Myanmar’s best ingredients and flavors. Afterward, make sure you save room for dessert, which is a traditional Burmese dessert. Served as a tray containing pickled tea leaves and nuts, or a jar of pieces of palm sugar, it’s a sweet ending to this delicious meal.
As you can see, Myanmar has a very varied and interesting list of items it’s famous for. If you plan to visit this incredible country anytime soon, make sure you try these food items and see the incredible sights. While it’s not the most visited country in Southeast Asia, the number of tourists each year is certainly increasing. Visit Myanmar soon, while it’s still a quiet, undiscovered land!
#11 Teak wood
Native to Southeast Asia, teak is worldwide famous for being extremely resistant to the elements, particularly to water. For this teak is sought for furniture-aking and shipbuilding. This comes with a price tag, so teak is more expensive than most other woods, and teak furniture became a bit of a status symbol.
Myanmar is one of the biggest teak exporters and its teak is very well renowned. In fact, almost half of the world’s naturally grown teak is located in Myanmar.
#12 Aung San Suu Kyi
Born in 1945, Aung San Suu Kyi is the youngest daughter of Aung San, Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar. She is one of the main reasons why Myanmar appears on the news and thus one of the things Myanmar is most famous for.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Peace Nobel prize in 1991 and the EU Sakharov prize (it’s a prize for freedom of speech) in the previous year. In 1990 she won the General elections, but the Military Junta refused to accept the results, and Aung San Suu Kyi had already been put under house arrest. She was on house arrest for a total of 15 years over a 21-year period. She has been called one of the “Children of Gandhi” due to a non violent approach to politics during this time.
Her party has won the general elections since 2012, and in 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed State Counsellor, a role akin to a Prime Minister or a head of government. Since ascending to the office of State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn criticism over her inaction in response to the genocide of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State, But we will explore that in the topic below.
#13 Rohingya issue and human rights
Despite all the amazing things Myanmar famous for expressed above, politics in Myanmar are… let’s say difficult. The Military Junta, all the things that happened to Aung San Suu Kyi, and lately, the Rohingya issue, which has been labeled as genocide.
The Rohingya is a Muslim ethnic group with their own language living mostly in Rakhine State. Since the 1970’s they have been persecuted by the government and nationalist Buddhists. The UN has described them as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the most persecuted minorities.” Their civil rights are minimal, and they have been denied Burmese citizenship since 1982.
Since 2015, the abuses have intensified and the UN described the persecution as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and later it declared that Burmese military generals should be tried for genocide.
So, this is have been a very pressing issue lately and one disturbing thing Myanmar is known for.
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