Cape Town- Myanmar is one of South East Asia’s most unique destinations and a must-see on any traveller’s bucket list. But where to start and what to do for a truly authentic Myanmar experience.
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Myanmar is a melting pot of cultural quirks steeped in rich, eclectic history, and is more than enough to cure any traveller’s wanderlust. For visitors to this majestic and mysterious land, the glittering gold temples covered in precious stones provide a glimpse into Myanmar’s colourful history, while the gradual acceptance of western customs shows how much Myanmar has changed in recent years.
1. First things first – mind your manners.
Myanmar takes many of its cultural cues from neighbouring countries such as China and India, blending these influences to create a unique culture and heritage of its own. In keeping with the Myanmar way of life, the Burmese people place a great deal of importance on being polite to others and it’s important to be aware of local etiquette to avoid causing any offence. A major part of this comes down to body language, with the head considered to be sacred and holy, while the feet are deemed to be dirty – for this reason, patting a child on the head or even pointing the feet in the direction of a place of worship, for example, are deemed rude, and may earn you a stern look or two from the locals.
2. Find peace and serenity at one of the Myanmar’s stunning pagodas.
Myanmar is home to some of the world’s oldest and most elaborately adorned Buddhist temples, called pagodas. Be sure to include the Shwegadon pagoda in your South-East Asia travel itinerary, where you can marvel at the temple’s stupas made of solid gold and encrusted with 2,200 diamonds. There are also more than 700 Buddhist temples and many monasteries that you can visit in Mandalay, the nation’s last royal capital – but remember to remove your shoes before entering any place of worship as a sign of respect.
3. Enjoy a cold one while watching the beautiful game.
Many newcomers would not expect the quintessentially European pastime of football and a beer to exist in Myanmar – a city that still seems so far removed from western influences. However, locals have come to love spending their time at ‘beer stations’ located on almost every street corner, enjoying a beverage and a live broadcast of European football. To get the waiter’s attention, the Burmese make three or four short kissing sounds in their air – you will likely hear a constant buzz of kissing sounds when walking down 19 Street in Yangon, as thirsty patrons place their orders for the local brew.
4. Experience Mon culture through traditional song and dance.
The Mon culture is one of the oldest in South-East Asia, with today’s Mon people considered to be the descendants of Indochina’s ancient civilisations. Travellers to Myanmar can visit the Mon State Cultural Museum in Mawlamyine to gain a better understanding of Mon history, or spend more time at one of Myanmar’s many temples during Moon festivals to see Mon dancers perform in beautiful traditional Burmese attire.
5. Wash away your troubles at the Thingyan festival
Thingyan is a Water Festival which takes place at the end of the hot, dry season in Myanmar, and celebrates the beginning of the Myanmar New Year. Locals splash water on one another to wash away the sins and bad luck of the previous year and to offer blessings for a prosperous year ahead. This year’s Thingyan festival takes place from 14 to 16 April, and is a great time to experience Myanmar and local culture – particularly for first-time visitors.
6. Indulge in local street-side treats.
Aside from Mohingya, containing noodles and a range of vegetables that is traditionally eaten at breakfast time and somewhat of a national dish in Myanmar, the country’s street food stalls are packed with delicious treats that are all worth a try. Grab a cup of sweet tea and an ‘E Kya Kway’ – a light and airy deep-fried bread – to accompany it, or reward yourself with a Bein Mont after a day spent exploring the streets of Yangon. This rice flour pancake, topped with white poppy seeds, almonds and fresh coconut slices is a firm favourite among locals and tourists alike, and can also be washed down with a cup of Myanmar’s favourite sugar cane juice.
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