Intro to Myanmar

Hi everyone!  So all the rumors were correct, the Wi-Fi in Myanmar is pretty horrible, hence my unusual absence from the blog.  Before I tell you about some of the places we’ve been able to visit, I wanted to talk a little bit about Myanmar and our first impressions of it so far.

To be honest, I did not know much about Myanmar (Burma) before our trip.  We were not originally planning on visiting this country, but after talking with a few people that we met while traveling, we decided we should add it to our itinerary.  It is located between Thailand and India and has been and is still going through a lot of changes.

After nearly 200 years of British rule and the subsequent independence notable for various political turmoils and internal armed conflicts, the isolationist military rule has left the country several decades behind most of the world in, well, everything. The north of the country cannot be visited due to one of the longest ongoing civil wars in the world. But democracy is finally in sight (sort of) for the Burmese and many are hopeful that they have the means to try and move forward; “catch up” so to speak.

Some first impressions:

  • Most vehicles in Myanmar have the driver seat on the right side of the vehicle even though they drive on the right side of the road. How bizarre is that?!?  We noticed that some of the newer cars have the driver seats on the left side of the car, but the majority of vehicles are older and the driver sits on the right side.  Supposedly Myanmar is where used Japanese cars come to die.
  • Both men and women wear what is called a longyi (long-gee). It is a full length wrap skirt.  Men and women wear it differently, women wrap the skirt and tuck it in at one side while men wrap themselves and then tie a large knot in the front.  Men longyis are usually darker, plaid or stripes, and to be honest look like they’ve wrapped themselves in a large bed sheet. For women, anything goes. Colorful, floral, plaid, whatever they like. This fashion trend has been around since the late 1800s and stemmed from a similar fashion item, the paso (men) and htamein (women), which had been around for who knows how long.  At first, it seems a bit odd seeing all these men wearing these “bed sheets”, but after a while you get used to it and it seems to work.  P.S. As we were walking through the Yangon bus terminal, I noticed some guys napping in the storage compartment of a bus.  It was confirmed that they do not wear underwear under their longyis as I received a full show from one guy who did not realize his longyi was pulled up too high revealing his manhood.
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Boy wearing Longyi in the market
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Men waiting outside of train stop in their Longyis
  • Women and some men also wear a type of face mask called Thanaka. It has been used for over 2000 years and is a yellowish cosmetic paste.  Some people seem to apply it in a certain pattern while others just throw it on.  Supposedly it protects your skin from the sun and is believed to promote smooth skin and remove acne. Hoch – an old gentleman informed us that thanaka on men are “gay.” Seems very popular for both genders so must be an old worldview.
  • Men and some women chew what is called betel nut, similar to chewing tobacco. Supposedly it is a stimulant and is addicting just as tobacco is. The red seeds are wrapped in green leaves with flavoring paste and chewed together. You can tell who chews it regularly by looking at the person’s teeth. It stains them a reddish to blackish color and eats away at their teeth!
  • Myanmar is devoutly a Buddhist country and the women still dress very conservatively. They do not wear short shorts or expose their arms. You also must remove your shoes before entering any holy sites. To avoid any unwanted stares, I have been sticking with comfy pants and t-shirts even though it is still pretty hot here! Hoch – boohoo.
  • Myanmar uses a different numbering system as well. 1 looks like a backwards c, 2 looks like a J, and I don’t even know how to describe the rest.  Luckily they also recognize the Arabic numerals that we know so this hasn’t been an issue, but still worth mentioning.
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Burmese Numerals 0 to 9 
  • I will reiterate how bad the Wi-Fi is. We’ve only had decent Wi-Fi in a couple of guesthouses.  Some did not have it at all or if they did, it was shit. Several power outages throughout the day do not help as well. The only reason I am able to post this post is because we purchased a SIM card and tethered the laptop to it.

Since Myanmar opened up for tourism in the 90s and is just recently picking up over the past 4 years, there is still a raw and untouched vibe you get from being here, even in the larger cities. Some areas have become very touristy, but outside of those areas, you can walk through a crowd and Burmese people do not look at you and see dollar signs. They just look at you as a foreigner and some may even want to talk to you to ask where you are from etc. It is a bit refreshing and different than any place we’ve visited on our trip so far.

We’ve been able to visit a lot of places so far, but since it takes a while to upload photos (and this post is long enough) I will wait to dive into our adventures when we have better Wi-Fi.  So this is just a little teaser until our next post!  Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit more about this country by reading this post and I will be back to share our adventures here soon!

I will leave you with some random Myanmar photos:

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Until next post!

Kimberly

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