Rudyard Kipling once wrote: “This is Burma, it is quite unlike any land you know about”, from his Letters from the East, 1889. And now as Burma is Myanmar it still retains mystery.
Burma was the backwater of the region, pressed between the Indian subcontinent and Indochina. The country, historically, had a romantic fascination with the past, sitting in oblivion until it came to the world’s notice when the charismatic Aung San Su Kyi began her struggle with the military regime. The country’s isolation from the rest of the world shielded it from outside influences and visitors were rare.
Not so now. There appears to be a more democratic approach to government and Aung San Su Kyi is now a politician, diplomat and is the first and incumbent state counsellor and Leader of the National League for democracy. How things change.
River boats ply the rivers with eager tourists and the cities are no longer strangers to strangers!
There is a dignity to the local people here who are welcoming, shy and polite. They dress in a modest fashion with men and women wearing a form of long sarongs. And despite the heat the young people are adopting the fashion of jeans.
The first time I noticed a few folk with smears of cream swiped across their cheeks I suspected a skin problem of epidemic proportions. All Myanmar women love ‘thanakka’, the traditional make-up unique to Myanmar. It’s a yellowish-white coating wiped across the face to enhance the wearer’s beauty.
As a woman wears thanakka her beauty is not affected by sweating in the heat, she is not sun blasted and the potion tightens pores and prevents wrinkles caused by the sun. Thanakka is obtained by grinding thanakka tree bark on a flat, smooth stone with a few drops of water. It is thought that this tradition of paste face painting began more than 2000 years ago.
As you travel outside the city and indeed all over the country you’ll see smiling faces with thanakka stripes across their cheeks – basically saying, ‘take that Estee Lauder’.
There is so much to uncover and discover in Myanmar (or Burma), see it soon.
Spend a day in Yangon walking among the temples and be dazzled by more than the religious aspects – this is Buddha territory with disco lights. The temple precincts are cleaned to an inch of their Karmic lives and animal statues and images look down upon you. Look up to the golden spires and look down to see the padding of countless bare-footed monks scurrying through this ‘temple town’.
The mighty Shwedagon Paya (pagoda) gleams and beams across the city of Yangon. The light from Buddha and thousands of neon lights shine the path to enlightenment – in more ways than one.
Writer Bev Malzard flew to Yangon with Vietnam Air from Ho Chi Minh city and wants to return after a six year absence to see what’s changed.
- Spend money there – BUT – spend it with the street vendors and little individual stalls. That way some of the money will stay out of government hands.
- You’ll need a Visa for Myanmar.