Myanmar is full of local culture and customs. We mention a few below but when visiting the country you will see and experience many more.

Our itineraries include visits to local craft workshops where guests will have the opportunity to watch the process step-by-step.


Myanmar Burma Culture Thanaka


While you explore Myanmar you will pass many women and children with a yellow-white paste on their faces. This is both a cosmetic and practical paste that is made by rubbing ground bark with a sprinkle of water and is made on a daily basis taking a few minutes. Thanaka's practical use is as a suncream to protect themselves from the strong sun rays. Everyone tends to use a thinner paste which is fully absorbed by the skin for use over the body but the women also make a thicker paste to apply to their faces, sometimes in creative patterns, as a local form of make-up. One pattern is created by using a leaf, covering it in thanaka and then pressing onto the cheek leaving a leaf print.

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Cheerot is a local produced low cost cigar of roughly 3.5 to 6.5 inches in length which may last up to half an hour. Cheerot can be made with a selection of different flavoured tobacco. It is thought that due to the cheerot's aroma, the scent covers the smell of sweat and therefore reduces the likelihood of attracting mosquitos and subsequently the chances of getting bitten.

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When gold is hammered into extremely thin sheets it is referred to as gold leaf. There are many gold leaf beating workshops in Myanmar where skilled craftsmen will beat the gold. In several pagodas you can buy squares of gold leaf to put onto a Buddha statue and many stupas have been covered in gold leaf instead of gold paint, this is called 'gilding'. In order to create gold leaf, the gold and its alloy are rolled until the bar is as thin as 1/1000 of an inch which is then cut into inch squares. These squares are then beaten with a hammer at a speed of up to 70 times a minute for one hour until they have expanded. It is then cut up again and beaten again, and this process is repeated until the sheet of gold is 1/250,000 of an inch thick.

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It is a local custom in Myanmar to chew betel nut like someone in the west would chew chewing gum. Within the local markets you may come across a betel nut stalls and on which you would find green betel vine leaves, broken pieces of the nut, a pot of lime paste an a variety of fillings, mainly consitsting of herbs. The leaf is then covered in the lime paste, and then other fillings are then inserted. The leaf is then folded and users will put it in their mouths and suck. You can tell when you meet a Myanmar local whether or not they are addicted to betel nut by the colour of their teeth, which would be a black and reddish colour.

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When in a local rural Myanmar village, you won't have to look far to see the signs of local legends and myths. A large part of local legend are the Nats, spirits of nature who act as guardians in return for offerings. Nat shrines are present all around Myanmar includinga at Mount Popa near Bagan. The Myanmar people worship Nats of land, for example a river or hills, or people, for example alcohol. The Yaksha and the Naga are also part of Myanmar folklore. The Yaksha are keepers of treasure and believed to be distant relatives of the elves and dwarves. The Naga however are thought to be a variety of creatures which are not adversed to humans, such as multi-headed snakes which live in wet areas such as rivers.

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Lacquerware are objects, such as boxes, bowls and buttons, which are covered in the substance lacquer. The thinner, more flexible objects tend to be made out of horse hair with the more sturdy objects being made out of bamboo leaves. These frames are then covered in a layer of lacquer and left a few days to dry and then covered again. Some drying periods will be for a month and therefore it can take months to create one finished product in local workshops. After the final layer of lacquer has dried, skilled craftsmen (and women) will carve a pattern, such as birds, elephants or a scene, onto the top layer before covering the object in dye to leave a coloured pattern. Pieces of gold leaf are often laid over the carved design to create a shinning gold pattern.