Myanmar has been a mystery to travelers visiting South East Asia. While countries like Thailand and Vietnam are well-known to the world, only little is known about this mystic country Burma. This enigmatic country particularly draws a lot of western travelers, and it is not surprising, given Burma’s unique beauty. After backpacking solo in Myanmar for a month, I was able to discover a bit of the country, most of them making me realize that it is unlike the rest of SE Asia. I have compiled this post to share a list of very interesting Myanmar facts to know why this country is special.
If you are planning a trip to this beautiful country soon or it is on your bucket list, here are some mindblowing facts about Myanmar that no one tells you.
Interesting Facts About Myanmar – The Basics To Know
1. Where is Burma?
Burma or Myanmar is located in Asia, bordering the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand and Laos, also sharing borders with other Asian countries, including China, Tibet, India, and Bangladesh. It is a member of ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Burma is the 39th biggest country in the world.
2. Is it Burma or Myanmar?
Historically, the country was called Burma until 1989, when the ruling Military Junta, changed the name to ‘The Republic of the Union of Myanmar’. Initially, the change was refused by various governments around the world because of the violent history of the military in the country. But eventually, the name Myanmar has stuck, although it is also still sometimes called Burma. The people are known as Burmese.
3. An important former colony of the British
The British colonised Myanmar, which was then called Burma, in 1824. During World War II, Burma was the venue for many battles as Japan invaded the country to fight against the British. Burma became independent in 1948.
4. Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s Iconic Leader
One of the interesting facts about Myanmar is about the country’s most famous person. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the national hero Aung San and the leader of the National League for Democracy Party, is hailed as a hero for establishing democracy in Burma after a long period of violent military rule and political turmoil.
She won the Nobel Prize for peace. She has also been responsible for tremendous growth after she came to power in 2015.
5. Yangon is no longer the Capital of Myanmar
One of the most interesting facts about Myanmar which not many people may be aware of is that Yangon or formerly called Rangoon isn’t the capital of Myanmar anymore. The capital of Burma was moved from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2005, which is located about 300 km further in central Myanmar. The change in Myanmar capital was a mystery to the public and was a secret maintained until the last minute.
Yangon is still the largest city in Myanmar and is one of the best cities to add on your Myanmar itinerary.
6. Myanmar has abundant natural resources
One of the lesser-known facts about Myanmar is that the country is blessed with natural resources. The Irrawaddy, which flows through the country with different names, is the lifeline, with its fertile soil being the basin rich in minerals for agriculture. The river is home to thousands of fish and birds.
Burma is home to thousands of miles of dense tropical jungles home to Asian elephants, tigers, leopards, manatees, wild buffalo, tigers, many species of turtles and tortoises and thousands of unique species of birds.
7. Burma had one of the world’s wealthiest Empires
One of the mindblowing facts about Myanmar history is that the land was once home to one of the world’s wealthiest kingdoms. The Pagan Empire in the modern city of Bagan, which was established in the early 12th century grew prosperous and wealthy during the next three centuries, reaching its pinnacle in everything.
Italian explorer Marco Polo has described the grandeur of this kingdom in his accounts. Thousands of temples adorned with precious stones and gold were built by the kings to propagate Theravada Buddhism.
8. Burma is a land of thousands of Pagodas
If you are thinking of one country for what is Myanmar known for, then the answer is temples. Buddhist temples are not surprising in SE Asia, but in Burma, temples are at a whole new level. In the ancient city of Bagan alone, there were over 20,000 temples that existed in the 14th century.
It is the only city in the world with the highest concentration of religious places of worship. It is common to find a pagoda or a temple at every corner you turn in almost all the cities.
A life-time experience to make it magical is to take a hot air balloon ride over the pagodas, where you will see the astounding views of sunrise from the top. There are many customizable hot air balloon tours, which can you check. If possible do try to add it your itinerary for sure.
9. The Shwedagon Pagoda is Burma’s most famous shrine
One of the interesting facts about Myanmar is its iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. It is the oldest and the most visited Buddhist temple in Myanmar, which was built about 2500 years ago. You can’t miss spotting the extraordinary Shwedagon Pagoda that towers over city’s skyline at 110 metres high. This sacred temple complex enshrines Buddha’s hair and other holy relics, which were brought to Burma by some Indian merchants.
This colossal temple consists of many pagodas, stupas, assembly halls, monasteries and a museum. Over 40 tonnes of gold cover the interiors and some stupas. The enormous central golden stupa is embedded with hundreds of gold leaves, and at the top around the hti are thousands of precious stones, including a 72-carat diamond. Don’t miss visiting the magnificent Shwedagon on your Yangon trip.
10. Beaches, baby!
Did you know? One of the most exciting Myanmar facts is that the country boasts of over 1,200 miles of coastline along the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, which means the coast is lined with plenty of fascinating beaches, which are among the best destinations to visit in Myanmar.
These top 10 Myanmar beaches should be on your trip. Because, the beaches in Neighbouring Thailand, the Philippines or the far off Indonesia draw hundreds of thousands of tourists, but not many know about the beautiful, golden-sand, clear turquoise beaches of Burma. Before these beaches become like those popular ones, plan a trip.
Editor’s note – 175 Wonderful Beach Quotes for Your Travel Inspiration
11. No Metric System
One of the unique facts about Myanmar is that until recently, it was one of only three countries in the world that had not adopted the metric system of measurement, the other countries being the United States and Liberia.
It has changed over the years, but don’t be surprised if you find someone still weighing in Peiktha, which equals to 1.63 kilograms.
12. Myanmar is from where you get Finest Rubies
Blessed with hundreds of mountains in Myanmar, the country also boasts of precious stones, which once used to be found in plain eyesight. Today, over 90% of the world’s rubies come from Burma, which is traded overseas.
Mogok in the Mandalay Region and Mong Hsu in Shan State are the two places where very highly valued rubies are mined. It is where Graff Ruby was found, the most popular ruby that was auctioned for a whopping 8.6 million US dollars!
You can also buy Sapphires and jade, which are abundant. Burma is also the second-largest exporter of opium in the world.
Some Interesting facts about Myanmar culture
13. Myanmar is ethnically very diverse
One of the unique, exciting facts about Myanmar, which makes it special is that Burma is home to over 135 ethnic groups scattered all over the country. It makes the nation a melting pot of cultures. These ethnic communities date back to hundreds of years, and the best part is, most of their languages, customs and traditions have been preserved till date.
According to a classification by Myanmar government, there are ‘eight major national ethnic races’ – Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine and Shan. Bamar is the dominant tribe of Myanmar, representing over 70% of the population. So traveling in Myanmar is a culturally enriching experience for sure as you will meet different people from various communities.
14. Buddhism is the main religion & centre of life
One of the interesting facts about Burmese culture which is unique is that Myanmar is one of the most leading Buddhism-practising countries in the World. Buddhism is not just a religion but a way of life, with the Burmese adopting the principles in day-to-day life. Over 89% of them follow Theravada Buddhism and is the national religion. The Burmese are very religious, and visiting temples often is a part of their culture.
15. Myanmar is home to female Buddhist monks
SE Asia is home to Buddhist monks. But being a devoutly Buddhist country attracts plenty of monks to hundreds of monasteries. It is estimated that there are over 500,000 monks in Myanmar. And it is also the only country in SE Asia that I witnessed female monks dressed in pink.
I’m not sure if Burma is the only country, but in Myanmar, you will spot female Buddhist monks in monasteries and also practising alms receiving early in the morning on the streets.
16. Myanmar is home to Sea Gypsies
Speaking of beaches earlier, let me share one of the most interesting facts of Myanmar here. The remote islands on the Mergui Archipelago in the southernmost point of Burma is home to Moken, an ethnic community, popularly known as Sea Gypsies. They have been nomads on these islands for over 300 years, and they continuously drift between islands living on fishing.
They live on the sea throughout the year except for monsoon when they retreat to islands. On a trip to one of the beaches, you can get to know about the unique ways of life of these indigenous people, still leading their traditional nomad life.
17. Myanmar is home to Long Neck Tribe
The Kayan tribe, more famously known to tourists as Long Neck tribes is a remote community that exists in villages bordering Thailand and Laos. They are originally from Burma, from a place called Loikaw, Kayah State. In several regions of Myanmar, this tribe exists as well.
The women of this community are known for their custom of elongating their neck by wearing a broad set of heavy gold rings, which was because of a belief that it would make them look more beautiful and elegant. The rings would be placed on girls at the age of five, sometimes around their arms and legs too.
This practice has stopped over the years, but these women also became the centre of tourist attraction in Thailand. But in Myanmar, the tribe continues to exist in seclusion following their customs.
Unique Facts About Myanmar
18. New Year in Myanmar begins with Water Splashes
One of the fascinating facts about Myanmar is that the Burmese start their Buddhist New Year in April, by celebrating Thingyan – Myanmar Water Festival, which is also one of the biggest and most colourful of all festivals in the country.
The festivities last for five days, with the locals visiting temples for prayers and offerings to monks on the first day, followed by hitting the streets in thousands on the second day, which is when the real celebrations begin.
People gather cannons, pistols and buckets for a massive water fight, where they splash water on each other with these. It is time for fun and entertainment on this day. Throwing water is said to ward off evil things, past sins and negativity, which is the reason behind the water festival.
For tourists, it is a chance to experience something unique. If you are traveling to Myanmar in April, don’t miss an opportunity to join the locals in water splashes.
19. Both Men & Women Wear Skirts In Burma
One of the interesting facts about Myanmar is that it is not just women, but men wear skirts in this country too. Called Longyi, it is the traditional attire of Burma, which is worn throughout the country. Similar to a sarong, it is a large 2-metre cloth used as a wrap around the bottom half. Men tie theirs in the front and women fold the fabric over and secure it at the side.
Men usually wear checkered patterns in blue and green, while women wear floral and other designed longyis. While men tie the knot outside in the front, women around and tuck inside. Like it is common in Japan to see people wearing suits everywhere, every day, you’ll find men and women in longyis.
20. Chinlone is the traditional sport of Myanmar
One of the unique facts about Myanmar is its national sport, which is different and new to thinks of. Chinlone is a team sport with no opposition. It is a sport with a history of over 1500 years. A team of 6 players pass a cane ball with their feet, something like football, but it isn’t.
It appears like a combination of dance with a sport involving some high jumps. It takes a while for you to get it, but nevermind, if you come across people playing, watch and enjoy if possible.
21. Bark Paste is the Natural Sunblock
One of the Myanmar facts about its culture which makes it stand out is Thanaka, yellow paste worn by women and men on cheeks, forehead and neck. You will come across people wearing this on your trip, which is curious to watch.
Thanaka is a yellow paste made from branches of various trees, and it’s been in use for over 2500 years in Burma. It is a natural sunblock which cools the skin, enhances skin texture, delays onset of wrinkles and protects from skin ailments. Do try applying it on your trip.
Now, let me share with you some fun facts about Myanmar.
Fun facts about Myanmar
22. Myanmar has the most massive book in the world
One of the fun facts about Myanmar is that it is home to the world’s biggest book, located in Kuthodaw pagoda in Mandalay. It is not an actual book, but over 3 feet 700+ high stone tablets that have over 1000 pages of inscriptions carved. Kuthodaw Pagoda is one of the best attractions in Mandalay, so don’t miss to check out this book.
23. Fishers at Inle Lake stand on one leg while fishing
One of the fun facts about Myanmar is the fishermen at Inle lake. They have a unique skill of using one leg to stir the boat and slightly bend to catch fish while rowing. It is only in Myanmar that this technique is followed, and you can watch them at work when you tour the Inle Lake.
24. Myanmar is home to the longest teakwood bridge
The royal capital of Mandalay has another feather in the cap for being home to the oldest and the longest teakwood bridge in the world. The U Bein Bridge, which is a crossing spanning the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura close to Mandalay was built n 1850 and is over 1.2km long. Head to the bridge to watch the sunset spectacle.
25. There are no-haircut days in Burma
The people of Burma only get haircuts on specific days of the week. Getting a haircut on Mondays, Fridays and birthdays is avoided.
Lesser-Known Facts about Myanmar
26. Myanmar has a tea culture
The Burmese consider tea time seriously. Drinking Tea is a part of their culture, much like in the UK or Japan, and you will find tea gatherings or meets at houses where people socialise over cups of Tea. Every visitor is served with a hot cup of Tea at homes, which is a sign of welcoming and showing hospitality.
27. You can eat Tea in Burma
Not only is tea culture prevalent, but there is also one of the little known unique facts about Burma that many don’t know. Tea leaves are consumed as food in households in Burma. Tea leaves, called as Lahpet in the Burmese language, is eaten in different forms – fermented, fried and boiled tea leaves are used in cuisines.
Did you know? The national dish of Burma is made of, yes, you are right, Tea. Lahpet Thoke or Tea Salad is a popular dish, which is the unofficial national food.
28. Fingerfood all the way
The Burmese prefer using their fingers over spoons, fork or chopsticks. A traditional meal here comprises of steamed rice with a curry made of meat, fish or vegetables along with a soup. The steamed rice is served separately. You will watch locals eating the meal by mixing rice with curry using fingers.
29. You will find drinking water for free
The Burmese believe in good Karma as devout Buddhists. One of the fascinating facts about Myanmar is that the locals are kind, warm and greet you with a smile everywhere. They believe that drinking water shouldn’t be charged, so you will find water filter tanks in shops, hostels, hotels, restaurants, markets and most of the public places, with glass around to drink.
Isn’t it very thought-provoking to see this, especially when it is so relevant now? As a traveler, you can use this lovely gesture and fill your bottles, which will prevent buying plastic bottles.
30. In Burma, Marriage is a ‘star-studded’ affair
One of the little known facts about Myanmar is that Astrology is taken very seriously here. The Burmese have their additional components along with the zodiac signs. Before marriage, the astrological signs of the bride and groom are matched and calculated to see if there would be compatibility, based on which they decide whether to get hitched or not.
31. There is a gravity-defying rock with a Pagoda on top
One of the interesting facts about Myanmar is that there is a large rock precariously standing at the edge of another boulder, which looks impossible to be hanging in there for long. But believe me, it’s been standing that way for hundreds of years.
Known to tourists as the Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site for the Burmese. It is believed that a hair strand of the Buddha has kept this rock in balance, and worshippers cover the stone with gold leaves on their visit.
You should undoubtedly add Kyaiktiyo Pagoda to your trip itinerary. There are guided day trips that you can plan to see this miracle in Myanmar.
32. Myanmar has many Vineyards
One of the surprising facts about Myanmar, which not many people are aware of is that Burma is home to plenty of vineyards, where wine is commercially produced. The climate in some parts of the country, especially in the mountains offer favourable conditions for growing various types of grapes. You can even go on wine tasting tours in Myanmar.
33. You will likely hear Kissing Sounds at Restaurants
One of the fun facts about Myanmar that will surprise you as a tourist is this. In restaurants, you will find locals getting the attention of waiters by making kissing sounds, so you will see men and women making these sounds to catch the waiter’s eye to call them over to the table. So don’t be surprised if you hear these noises when visiting restaurants.
34. Chewing betel leaves is the national pass time
Okay, it’s not official, but I guess you would agree with me once you notice, making it one of the fun facts about Myanmar. It is common in Burma to find people chewing betel leaves which is mixed nut or areca, spices, and sometimes tobacco. It is a stimulant and stains the mouth red.
You will find people chewing this and spitting the red onto the streets, which looks like blood. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a substance that gives kicks to locals, and is very strong. It is dangerous for health, as regular usage leads to oral cancer. If you are adventurous enough, give it a try.
35. It is possible to visit the Himalayas in Myanmar
Not many know that Burma is enormous, spreading from the south to the seas and well, up in the north, the beautiful Himalayas. Belonging to Kachin state, there are a few towns at the foot of the hills that you can travel for rugged wilderness and the chilly weather. Putao is the starting point from where you can also trek to Mount Phongun Razi if you are in for an adventure in the Himalayas.
So hope you enjoyed some interesting, fun facts about Myanmar, and how it is a unique country.
Here are some best resources for your Myanmar trip
- 17 Best temples in Bagan & How to Plan Your Trip
- 16 Gorgeous Destinations in Myanmar That Should Be On Your Itinerary
- 13 Most Beautiful Temples in Myanmar To Visit
- 10 Scenic Beach in Myanmar for your Beach Vacation
- 17 Top Things to do in Mandalay, Myanmar
- Yangon Travel Guide For First-time travelers(with itineraries)