Myanmar: A Land of Spectacular People

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When people recommend a place to visit it is usually based on its beauty, or sites, but Myanmar has other reasons for visiting. Myanmar is a country of vast natural beauty, and a plethora of temples and religious sites, but the main reason for visiting is the people.

Myanmar’s people have suffered a lot under a series of unjust governments and continues to do so today, but this seems to have only made the people friendly and happy though with unevenly spread wealth and little options in life. People in Myanmar are called Burmese. But the Burmese only refers to one of the several tribes that make up Myanmar so I refrain from using that term.

Myanmar’s people are very traditional even in the most modern of cities almost every man and woman will be wearing the traditional longgyi, which is similar to a long sarong. Different tribes or regions have different sarongs and people can be identified by their longgyi. In Myanmar everyone should try going to a local market and buying a longgyi with the help (ask for it) of surrounding locals as tying the longgyi takes a special technique.

Four women with their beautiful longgyis.

People traditionally also take showers with their longgyis. Behind houses or in small villages there is a huge cement water bin or well. People all take showers together wearing their longgyis, soaping around and under, and then change into a dry longgyi, but never really being naked. The children all run around naked splashing each other and giggling. In small villages it is normal to see several families taking their showers together and a communal shower is a fun experience (if you’ve grasped the technique of tying your longgyi).

Getting help tying my longgyi.
In addition to longgyis most women and children wear a cream white paste, or Thanaka, on their faces. Thanaka is made with a special wood and ground into a paste on stone slabs. Usually big white circles are seen on all faces and little circles on the noses. Decorations are made such as stripes or even little drawings on the children’s faces. For women, asking a local woman to help you put on the paste is a beautiful experience.

Three little boys at a traditional festival.

Though very traditional most people are very open and also very happy and curious to meet foreigners. Most people upon entering Myanmar are immediately impressed by how friendly the people are. Almost everywhere tourists are greeted by huge welcoming smiles, invited to eat or have a drink with a local, and of course encouraged to play with the babies (sometimes people jokingly try to give you their baby to keep, so don’t really try to keep it). People are genuinely happy to meet the lucky traveler and by not rushing to see your next site, many special bonds can be made. It’s very rare a tourist will get ripped off for basic buys like clothes and food even though for trains and hotels foreigners are charged quite a bit more than locals by the government or based on high fees for hotels licensed to accommodate foreigners.

Many people are happy to now be able to discuss the political situation and as bad as the situation has been and is, people still are able to talk about it openly but as always with a small joke or smile behind it. A guy we met talked about how an official paid one million dollars to play golf with Tiger Woods, the same amount spent in one year for food, education, etc for refugees in the country. Then he laughed about it, at how silly it was.

Monks visiting a temple who asked us to take a picture with them.

People often talk about the new capital, Naypyidaw. It was basically nothing just a small village, and for some reason the government decided Yangon should no longer be the capital, but instead a small village should be turned into a model city. Apparently it is quite creepy because there are huge roads, building, and side walks, but everything is empty, as only the government employees live and work there. They also made a replica of the famous Shwe Pagoda in Yangon. It is interesting to talk to locals about what’s happening in their country and with a few questions you usually get a very excited person eager to talk all about their country and its problems.

To truly experience the beauty of Myanmar one must first discover the people. Read about one of our experiences here.

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