Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Myanmar, “the Golden Land” was once Burma until her name was officially changed in 1989.
Often overlooked and underappreciated by many, Myanmar is strategically located at the most northwest of the Southeast Asian lands, strategically located nearby important Indian Ocean shipping lanes.
When one thinks or mentions Myanmar, we think of Aung San Suu Kyi or the military junta that once ruled the nation with an iron fist. But there is so much more Myanmar has to offer. With a population of 53.7 million and new leadership, the country is slowly looking forward to a hopeful future.
Meanwhile, here are 20 interesting facts about Myanmar that will definitely surprise you.
Ranging from the oldest teakwood bridge in the world to having an interesting and complex naming system, these are the little things of Myanmar that have gone unnoticed.
1. Thanakha -- a cosmetic paste made from tree bark
Thanakha, traditional Burmese beauty secret
The trees that thanakha is made from are often grown to a minimum of 35 years to reach the perfect maturity to produce good-quality cuttings. Some locals even use it as an ingredient in traditional medicine as it is believed to contain medicinal properties. Thanakha is really cooling and provides protection from sunburn. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, don’t miss out -- it’s believed to smoothen your skin!
2. Burmese Calendar
The Burmese have their own calendar, which follows lunar months for its months and sidereal years (the time taken for the Earth to orbit the sun). Although not used officially, it still marks important dates to celebrate holidays like the Burmese New Year. Currently, the year is 1382. (http://www.mmcalendar.com)
3. Thingyan festival
Children throwing water at passers by, Ayewardy Delta
Kirsten Henton, The Culture Trip
This is the festival celebrated as the Burmese New Year, usually in the middle of April. It lasts four or five days, depending on the Burmese calendar as mentioned earlier. During this festival, you will see temporary water-spraying stations lined up along the roads. People will travel in open-roof cars and tour the streets to get doused with water. Youths will order barrels of ice to splash unsuspecting passersby with ice-cold water.
4. No surnames
Bogyoke Aung San Family
The Burmese naming system is structured very differently from how we know names are formed. In fact, there isn’t any structure at all to the Burmese naming system. Up until the mid 1800s, Burmese names only had a single syllable. For example, Aung San Suu Kyi’s grandparents’ names were Pha and Suu.
Daw ဒေါ် Aunt/Ms
Used for mature women or women in a senior position (e.g. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi)
Ko ကိုBrother (older)
Used for men of similar age (e.g., Ko Mya Aye)
Ma မ Sister/Ms
Used for young women or women of a similar age"
Honorifics, Burmese names
In Myanmar, you wouldn’t simply address people by their first names. This would be rude and inappropriate. Instead, you would add honorifics like “daw” or “u” (pronounced oo) for people who are senior to you. When addressing someone of similar age, “ma” and “ko” are used. These honorifics are important features of the Burmese vernacular.
6. You can tell someone’s Burmese zodiac from their name
Sherab Jin, Steemit
Many Burmese Buddhists use astrology, determined by the day of birth, to name their newborn. This day of birth corresponds with the first letter of their name. The letters used contain the Burmese alphabet, which contains 33 letters.
7. Myanmar is the largest country in the Indochina Peninsula
Map of Myanmar
Myanmar, located in southeastern Asia is the 40th biggest country in the world. But what is more impressive and often overlooked is that it is the biggest country in the Indochina Peninsula, which consists of countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia. It is a grand 675,400 square kilometers!
8. Burma experiences snow
Ideal Travel Asia
The snow reaches northeastern Myanmar where the Kachin state is during the winter months. From Putao, which is in the most northern part of Kachin, you can see the breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains. From there, the Hkakabo Razi is also visible. Myanmar is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that actually receives snow.
9. Highest mountain southeast Asia
Indochina Tours Asia
Many people may not know it but standing at 5,472 meters, the Hkakabo Razi is not only the highest mountain in Myanmar but probably in the whole of southeast Asia. It is enclosed within the Khakaborazi National Park, which is entirely mountainous. The mountain was established as a natural reserve in 1996.
10. Irrawaddy dolphins
World Wild Life
Speaking of nature, these cute dolphins are an endangered species of dolphins that can only be found in three rivers in the world, and the Irrawaddy river happens to be one of them. These dolphins are named after the largest river in Myanmar, one that flows from the north to the south of the country. Just recently, the number found in Myanmar has increased to 79, the highest it has been in a decade according to the Wildlife Conservation Society of Myanmar.
11. Wine production
It is not widely known that Myanmar produces wine. It is a tropical region so many are asking how the grapes cope with the heat and humidity. These vineyards can be found on the mountains of Dawna Range, located in the Kayah state. Nearby, in the Shan state, is the first winery of Myanmar -- Aythaya. The wine tasting conducted at the restaurant inside may come as a pleasant surprise to tourists unaware of this fact. Unfortunately, production is insufficient for Myanmar to export their wines.
12. Oldest teakwood bridge
Stretching 1.2 kilometers and built in 1851, the U Bein used to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. During July and August, the water rises and the lake reaches its highest level. Locals rely on this bridge as an important passageway and many earn a source of income from the tourists that visit the U Bein Bridge. It is said that when the bridge was built, Burmese engineers used their footsteps to make the scale of the bridge.
13. An arched harp is the national instrument
Royal Collection Trust
Known as the saung, it is regarded as the national instrument of Myanmar and is said to be the only surviving harp in Asia. The saung is known to be very ancient and was only used in royal courts until the 1800s. It is symbolic of Burmese arts as it dates way back to the 14th-century song-poem text, believed to be the earliest Burmese music text.
14. Traditional performance includes dance, music and comedy
Go Myanmar Tours
This performance is known as “anyeint”, a traditional Burmese entertainment form that Burmese of all ages are familiar with. Its theatrical performance includes every form of performing arts; music by the all-male orchestra, a dance set by the lead actress, and of course, all accompanied by slapstick and improvised jokes by the line-up of comedians. The anyeint was exclusively performed in the royal court but became popular to the common people by the end of the 1880s after the end of the last dynasty.
15. Directions of traffic changed overnight
Traffic on a downtown Yangon Road
Romeo Gacad, AFP
It is said that on the advice of an astrologer, General Ne Win ordered for the radical change of road directions from left to right. In just one night, people were driving on the left side of the road to the right side. This happened on the 6th of December, 1970. No one really knows the exact reason this drastic change was made, but it sure is amusing to see some traffic signs in Yangon that, to this day, are facing the wrong direction.
16. A school uniform for all
Students in uniform take a break for snacks in Bahan Township in Yangon
Kaung Htet, The Myanmar Time
White and green are the colors of the school uniform of state schools. It’s a vibrant duo that you will see everywhere in Myanmar, even if you’re in Yangon or Mandalay. The girls wear a long-sleeved white top known as “yinbon”, which is buttoned at the side with a green longyi, an ankle-length wrap-around skirt. The boys’ uniform consists of the same longyi, known as paso for the males, with a white top known as the “taikpon”. The teachers wear a uniform too!
17. Burmese women outnumber men in STEM research
100 Women: Where do women outnumber men in science?
According to the research-based on UNESCO’s report of women in science, 85.5% of researchers in Myanmar are women. This was a shocking discovery as the global percentage is less than 30%. The numbers may not be as high as 85.5% as some universities might have included non-research teaching staff but it’s still an incredible figure to see women thriving in a field that is globally male-dominated.
18. The third secretary-general of UN was Burmese
If you had taken history as a class in school, or just are a history buff, you would have heard his name before. U Thant was the third secretary-general of the United Nations and the first non-Scandinavian to hold this position. In addition, he is also the longest-serving secretary-general of the UN, with a record of 10 years and 2 months. His role in the UN was significant as he played a pivotal part in negotiations between the US and the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
19. The last king and his wife were escorted away in a bullock cart
An Illustration of queen Supalayat and king Thibaw Min of Burma (Alamy)
Burmese history is rich yet underappreciated. Thibaw Min was the last sovereign of the country after Myanmar, then Burma, was defeated by the British in the third and last Anglo-Burman wars before its official annexation in 1886. After his abdication, Thibaw Min and his wife Supayalat were taken away in a bullock cart. They were exiled to India with their two infant daughters.
20. Eating with the right land, literally
How to Eat With Your Hands
Mark Wiens, Migrationology
The Burmese are particular about their eating hands because their fingers are their cutlery. The left and right hands are used for very different purposes, the former being considered as “unclean” as it is used for personal hygiene. This hand is not to be used for eating or for other gestures, such as handing someone money, as it is seen as rude and inappropriate. Hands are washed in a water pot right before a meal before you can dive into the meal, with your right hands.