Six Things You’ll Quickly Learn About Myanmar



1. Men wear skirts: called Longyi, most men wear this traditional clothing in the cities and the villages. It is one place where western clothing ideals haven’t overrun the local style. Women also have their own version.

2. Betel Nut: Not unique to Myanmar, but embraced by locals like nowhere else. Chewing beetle nut is very common for men, and a little less so for women. At dirty side stalls all over the country, this nut is combined with cheroo leaf, a chemical paste and other additives based on each persons preference. There are various chemical variations too. The combination makes a product that gives a buzz, similar to nicotine, but it destroys teeth. It’s very addictive and particularly popular with taxi drivers or bus/truck drivers, who spit it out the window, coating the car door with red spit. I tried a mild version of it in Taiwan and it was disgusting.


Betel Nut Shop

3. Driving RHD in a country that drives on the right: This means you have a driver sitting on the outside of the road, who has to creep halfway over the dividing line to see if it’s safe to overtake – it never is but they do it anyway, unnerving if your sitting in the left seat of a taxi. Buses employ spotters who look out the left side and coordinate with the driver.


Driving with a spotter

4. Overloading vehicles: This is a national pastime in Myanmar. If there’s room in the truck, put a few more people in the back. If it’s full, sit a few people on top. It’s not unusual to see a pickup taxi with the tailgate down and guys standing on the tailgate and hanging on to the roof racks.


Overloaded Truck

5. Thanaka traditional makeup: Thanaka is a yellow paste made from combining tree bark with water. It is worn by almost all women, children and some men (men seem to use less as they get older). It is often applied in a uniform pattern to the cheeks, but sometimes to the entire face, neck and even arms. It’s said to provide some sun and mosquito protection, but it’s main purpose is as a beauty product.


Mother and daughter wearing Thanaka

7. Shoes: I can count on one hand the number of Burmese I have seen wearing shoes in my two weeks here. 99% of people wear thongs/flip flops/sandals 99% of the time. It’s particularly hard to comprehend when you see them doing things like construction, waste management in thin sandals.


Safety First – minus the shoes

When in Myanmar, live like the locals – Thongs, Longyi, Thanaka – spare yourself from the Betel Nut though.


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