As soon as you arrive in Burma, there are three distinctive cultural practices that you cannot fail to notice.
Everybody in Myanmar wears a longyi, a piece of long fabric attached together by a single seam and tied at the waist.
Men tend to wear checked or plain fabrics and pleat at both sides of the hip so they can tie in the middle. When done neatly this gives the impression that they are wearing baggy trousers. Women generally fold their longyis just once at the hip and tie or tuck to make a sarong like skirt. They wear longyis of all different patterns and colours.
They can be hitched up to different lengths – men who work on boats can often be seen tying theirs up to resemble nappy like shorts. Most tourists come away from Burma with a souvenir Longyi – here is Paddy modelling his!
Pretty much everybody in Myanmar covers their faces in a pale yellow paste called thanaka, which is made by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree (a kind of sandal wood) with water to form a liquidy paste. This is then applied to the face in a variety of ways, depending on the preference (and age) of the wearer.
Thanaka works as a natural sun screen, so you will often see the faces of older women and lots of children completely smothered in the stuff giving a ghostly-like appearence. Applying to just the cheeks and nose is also very common.
But it is also used as decoration and many young women (and some teenage boys) will carefully paint artistic lines and spots on their cheeks and around their eyes.
Walk down any street or glance at any car door and you won’t fail to notice splatters of red which look horribly like dried blood!
This is the tell tale sign of just how many Burmese (the majority of them men) are addicted to chewing betel quids which contain the areca nut.
The nut is often combined with tobacco (and sometimes other flavours like sweet coconut or dried mango) and wrapped in a betel leaf to make a small parcel called a quid. This is then covered in slack lime.
When chewed slowly in the mouth your saliva turns a dark red and it is important you spit the liquid out which is why so much of the road and car doors are covered in the stuff.
It is a very addictive habit and regular use stains your teeth and gums giving you a vampire like smile and results in terrible dental problems (oral cancer) later in life.