Discovering Marvelous Myanmar’s Age-Old Tradition and Fascinating Culture
March 02, 2018
Myanmar has been “sitting in” my bucket list for quite awhile and I’m so glad I’m finally able to check this beautiful country off the list! Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is made up of more than 100 ethnic groups, bordering China, Laos, Thailand, India and Bangladesh. Treat your palates to the local food at the vibrant markets, relax at the lush green parks and serene lakes and get lost in the maze of golden pagodas in Yangon, the biggest city in Myanmar. Here are some insights on the Shwedagon Pagoda, Shwe Pyi Nann Thanakha Museum and Burmese Longyi (national costume of Myanmar).
You can’t leave Yangon without visiting the 2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda which enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. The impressive pagoda began at 8.2 metres, and stands close to 110 metres today. It is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with approximately 4,500 diamonds. This is probably why it shimmers in the day light and twinkles when it’s dark.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most ideal place to get a glimpse into Myanmar heritage in terms of architecture and the arts. You’ll also learn about the significance of Buddhism in the lives of the people in Myanmar.
As the pagoda consists an abundance of temples, stupas and statues, you should allocate at least 1.5 to 2 hours to explore the entire place. My advice is to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in the late afternoon to see the crowd of devotees and monks washing the statues, offering flowers, worshipping and meditating before catching the candle lighting ceremony in the evening. I admired in awe when more than 1,000 candles were lit up during the sunset hour till the sky turned dark.
Please do not wear shorts or revealing tops that expose your shoulders (for ladies). If you happen to be wearing the former, don’t worry. You can purchase the traditional Burmese Longyi (a sarong-like wrap which runs from the waist to the feet) at the entrance. For ladies dressed in strapless or spaghetti tops, remember to bring a cardigan along. You should also leave your shoes at the entrance and enter the Shwedagon Pagoda bare-footed.
Address: On Sanguttara Hill in Dagon Township, Yangon Division, Myanmar
Opening Hours: Daily 4am to 10pm. The Shwedagon Pagoda is open 24 hours on the following days – (1) Waxing Day of Tabaung – the day before full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month Tabaung (around March) and (2) Waxing Day of Wakhaung – the day before full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month Wakhaung (around June which is the beginning of the Buddhist Lent).
Entrance Fee: $8 per person
Shwe Pyi Nann Thanakha Museum
Did you notice the Thanakha cream I’ve applied on my cheeks? If you’ve been to Myanmar, you’ll have come across girls and women who paint golden circles on their cheeks. This cosmetic paste is made from the pulverized bark of Thanakha trees. The people of Myanmar believe that Thanakha is very useful for the skin as it prevents ageing and is used for pimple, blackhead, acne, blackspots and freckles. They also believe that it helps with blood circulation. After testing Thanakha products for a few days, I can safely say that this natural ingredient is good for those with sensitive skin like myself. If you’re interested in learning more about Thanakha, just head to the museum.
Shwe Pyi Nann Thanakha Museum
Address: Corner of F.I.T Road & Main Road, Tike-kon Quarter, Nyaung Oo
Opening Hours: Daily 8.30am to 9pm.
It’s hard to miss this sarong-like garment if you’ve been walking on the streets of Myanmar for a few days. The Burmese Longyi is worn by everyone – young and old, male and female, rich and poor. You might think that the Longyi are unisex but men and women tie their Longyi differently, according to tradition. Furthermore, there are prominent patterns which differentiate the Longyi for different genders. To be honest, I feel that the Longyi is a good ‘investment’ if you’re planning to travel around Southeast Asia. It’s an unwritten rule that you have to be modestly covered up when visiting sacred places so the Longyi certainly comes in handy.
I’ve thought of a fun suggestion for you – dress up in the traditional Longyi and apply the Thanakha cream when you’re visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda – just like what I did. Let’s see how well you’ll blend in with the locals!