Did you know that Myanmar used to have a different capital city until recently? Can you guess what the locals do to get a waiter to notice them? Do you know that the country is the second-biggest producer of opium on the face of the planet? Below, you’ll find a list of 10 interesting facts about Myanmar.
1. The country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989
You’ll find many people, especially those born in the 1970s or before, referring to Myanmar as Burma. This is because Burma was the name of the country until 1989. It was in that year that the military government officially changed the English translation of the country’s name to Myanmar.
An interesting fact about Myanmar is that the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom still list the country as Burma. There are even a great number of people within the country who use the former name. Why? Well, because they don’t approve of the military junta or recognize its authority to rename the country.
2. Yangon used to be its capital until recently
Yangon, which was called Rangoon until 1989, was the capital of the Myanmarese territory from the mid-19th century to the first few years of the 21st century. But in 2006, the military government – taking a cue from countries like the USA, Australia, and Brazil – decided to move the capital to an entirely planned city named Nay Pyi Taw. Yangon, however, still remains the largest and the most populous city in the country.
3. The Myanmarese make a kissing sound to get a waiter’s attention
If you hear an awful lot of kissing sounds in a Myanmarese eatery, don’t feel uncomfortable. It’s a custom in this country to make such a sound to get a waiter’s attention. Usually, a set of three short kisses will get a waiter to notice you, a fun Myanmar fact.
4. Around 90 percent of the world’s finest rubies come from Myanmar
Although rubies are mined in more than a dozen countries across the globe, the finest of these gems come from Myanmar. According to one estimate, the country produces around 90 percent of the high-end rubies in the world. The Sunrise Ruby, which is currently the world’s most expensive non-diamond gemstone, has its origins in Myanmar.
The country’s Mogok Valley used to be the world’s primary source for rubies for several centuries. But today, the Mong Hsu area is where the largest portion of rubies come from. Interestingly, around 60 to 80 percent of the rubies and other gems mined in Myanmar end up being exported outside the formal system to its neighbor Thailand and other countries.
5. It is home to over a thousand species of birds
An interesting fact about Myanmar is that birdwatchers will surely love this country, simply because birds seem to love this place. Here, you’ll find as many as 1062 different avian species. Of them, 51 species are globally endangered. There are nine species that are endemic to this territory, including Burmese bush lark, Ayeyarwady bulbul, white-browed nuthatch, and Gurney’s pitta. The national bird of the country is grey peacock-pheasant, which also goes by the name Burmese peacock-pheasant.
6. The country is the world’s second-biggest producer of opium
Along with Afghanistan, Myanmar has dominated the production of opium for decades. Today, it is the world’s second-biggest producer of the drug, accounting for some 25 percent of the global production. It is primarily produced in the country’s Shan and Kachin states. Around 300,000 Myanmarese households are believed to be involved in this industry. Due to the fact that the financial return from opium poppy is 17 times greater than that of rice, impoverished farmers in the country are drawn to cultivating this illicit crop.
7. Myanmarese women and children put a bark paste on their face as a cosmetic
In Myanmar, you’ll come across women and children, and sometimes even men, who have their faces covered in a yellowish-white paste. This traditional cosmetic paste is known as thanaka, which is made from ground bark of a tree of the same name. The tree grows abundantly in the country’s central region, and the ones that are aged above 35 are usually used to make the paste. It is believed that the Myanmarese people have been using thanaka for more than 2,000 years now.
8. Fishermen of Myanmar’s Inle Lake catch fish standing on one leg
In the waters of Inle Lake, fishermen belonging to a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, known as the Intha, can be seen fishing in a truly unique way. They stand on one leg on the extreme end of their boats, with the other leg being wrapped around the oar to propel the boat and their hands maneuvering their large conical net to catch fish, a fun fact about Myanmar.
But why don’t they just sit down and throw a net? Well, they can’t do that here because there’s plenty of reeds and other floating plants in Inle Lake, making it virtually impossible for a fisherman to see where the fishes are if they are sitting. Hence, they had to come up with the incredibly unusual fishing technique.
9. It is one of those places where they don’t just drink tea, they eat it too
Why would you only drink tea when you can eat it too? That’s the Myanmarese philosophy about tea. A traditional dish in this part of the world is laphet thoke, which translates to fermented tea leaf salad. In this country, only the best tea leaves are handpicked for fermenting, and once that’s done, the remaining leaves are dried and processed for drinking tea.
10. There’s an ancient Myanmarese city with around 2,000 surviving temples and pagodas
On the banks of the Ayeyarwady river in central Myanmar, there’s an ancient city named Bagan that was once home to more than 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries. Each of these Buddhist religious premises were built between the 9th and 13th century. Many of them have been wiped off the face of the earth by earthquakes, man, or simply, time. Yet, about 2,000 of the temples and pagodas still stand today, making Bajan one of the major tourist attractions in the country.
I hope that this article on Myanmar facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!