WE'VE LEARNED IN MYANMAR
The Burmese ritual of handing over things is sincere.
Any time you want to exchange something from your hands into someone else’s – be it money, passport or any other item - the Burmese will hand it over with both hands touching the item. You think that’s tricky when the item is very small? NO worries, they have figured it out. If the item is too small to grab it with two hands, you simply put the other hand around your wrist (or even forearm counts). Doing so is a sign of respect (or if you don’t: disrespect) towards the other person.
Right-hand-driving cars in a right-hand-driving country. Wait, what?
On the roads of Myanmar people drive on the right-hand side with mostly right-hand-drive vehicles. As subject of the British, the Burmese followed the British custom of driving on the left using RHD vehicles. In 1970, a couple of years after the independence from Britain, following the advice of an astrologer, the military leader at the time – Ne Win – decided it would be better to drive on the right than on the left.
Obviously, the cars were not replaced an most imports kept featuring RHD. For safety reasons, the government has recently introduced import laws banning the import of RHD vehicles, with the hope of eventually replacing them with LHD vehicles.
Like it or not: you’ll get a glimpse into what it feels like to be famous.
As a white westerner you are still considered a somewhat exotic human being in Myanmar – not only to the locals but also to the mostly Chinese tourists (whose number has increased by 135% in 2019 due to relaxed visa regulations). Therefore, a lot of people will ask you for a photo with them - and then with them and their sister. And then with them and their sister. And then with them and their sister and her husband’s cousin. Hugging seems to be required too.
Myanmar is called the ‘land of pagodas’ and after several minutes in any part of the country you don’t question that title. Wherever you go, whatever corner you turn: there are always several pagodas near you, but also in the distance you’ll see pagodas peaking up with their mostly golden tops. No one knows exactly how many temples there are, so feel free to see how many you can count within your 28-day-tourist-visa.
Environmental awareness is not a thing (yet).
Having only recently open their country towards the West and also tourism, Myanmar has been busy to make the transfer from a developing country to a newly industrializing country. The infrastructure is being improved and new buildings and hotels are popping up. What has definitely fallen by the wayside is the recycling and waste management which can unfortunately be seen quite frequently. Whether you walk the city streets, hike in beautiful nature or go snorkeling – there are piles of trash and people dropping their waste as they go. However, there are a few initiatives all over the country that try to take action by building beneficial recycle projects.
Buddhist monks and nuns are a common sight in Myanmar.
You’ll see a lot of monks and nuns walking the streets of Myanmar barefoot or in flip flops, collecting money or food for their monasteries. For a lot of people, sending their children to monasteries is the only way out of poverty since there they’ll be able to get an education for free.
The monks have to follow 227 strict rules (for nuns there are 311) such as living in abstinence and follow a strict pattern of behavior throughout the day. They are being held in reverence by the people and are not to be touched (fun fact: therefore, the first row on busses is always reserved for monks).
The Burmese love to smile – and it’s not always pretty.
While in Myanmar we found the Burmese one of the friendliest people we’ve encountered on our travels so far. You’ll often be approached on the street by someone offering their help to you and they will go out of their way to do so. In fact, we learned that after years of banning the English language, students are now being encouraged by their teachers to talk to western people to get in some conversational practice!
Along with the friendliness comes a lot of smiling. And even though that sounds weird, smiling people in Myanmar might scare you at first. This is due to Betelnut, the biggest legal drug on the market. When chewing the nut, the substance colors the mouth and teeth red and that can definitely give you the creeps when someone right in front of you flashes a smile!