17 June 2015

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Myanmar

1. The country has actually been called Myanmar since 1989, even though many foreigners still know it as Burma.

2. Most people don’t pay taxes. You could move to Myanmar, become a teacher and not have to pay any taxes! What’s the catch? Only people who own businesses pay taxes, therefore letting most of the locals off the hook.

3. You won’t find many Western influences here. Myanmar was probably the most basic country I’ve been to in terms of Westernisation. I thankfully didn’t see a McDonalds, 7/11, Starbucks or Subway the whole time I was here, and that includes in the country’s main airport.

4. Their fashion also isn’t westernised. The traditional longyis which is a type of joined sarong is donned by men, women and children. You’ll definitely see more young people in jeans and long shorts but the high majority stick to their longyis.

5. Myanmar women and most children wear what looks like a type of face paint on their faces. The yellow/brown like substance is ground bark mixed with water so that it forms a paste. This was traditionally thought to improve their skin and act as a type of sunblock.

6. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to access my money and that I would have to take US dollars and convert them when I was in Myanmar. This is wrong. ATMS are widely available (perhaps not as much so as in neighbouring countries) but they are quite spread out and accept all major VISA and Mastercards.

7. The train system in Myanmar is extensive but more uncomfortable, slower and more expensive than the bus system. Buses are the best way to get around the country and can often be booked through the high majority of guesthouses and hotels. If not then it is very easy to see many travel huts around the main tourist towns where you can book your bus.

8. However, the buses are freezing! I went to Myanmar during their winter which was still hotter than the British summer I am used to. You will see the locals in coats and jackets, and even more so on the buses. I have known other South-East Asian countries to pump out the air con on buses but Myanmar takes it to the extreme. At one point I saw 8°c during one of my night bus trips.

9. As the country still hasn’t reached the tourist fall of its neighbours such as Thailand and Laos, you’ll find the people in Myanmar much friendlier. I’m not saying other countries don’t have hospitable people, because they do. But Myanmar hasn’t reached the levels of scams you come across from other popular Asian countries. Most people in Myanmar who chat to you aren’t trying to sell you anything. They’re curious why you’ve come to their country and they would love to practice their English.

10. However, you won’t be stared at! As a pale blonde blue eyed westerner, I am used to the stares and shocked photos many locals take of me when I travel through south-east Asia but in Myanmar this didn’t happen. No one seemed fuss to see two pale young Western girls carry their backpacks through the local village, which made me feel a lot safer than I have done in other countries, where my look is regarded as much more foreign.

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