Myanmar Cultural Tidbit ~ Yellow Face Paint is Beautiful

IMG_1401Myanmar is Burma with a new name. And it’s on the brink of becoming more “new world” now that foreign travel to this Asian country (west of Thailand, on the Bay of Bengal) is opening up. Which will probably wreck it, my guess. Let me spread some Myanmar charm while I can… people paint their faces yellow in Myanmar.

IMG_1374Our bus convoy from a Regent cruise ship traveled at breakneck speed around Yangon to golden pagodas, local markets, Buddhist temples, crafts. We had but one Myanmar day before setting sail again. This is a country with traffic. So, our line of vehicles had a police escort. THAT resulted in locals coming to the streets to see the commotion,  wave and double-take when they saw our painted faces.

At one stop, a group of teens asked to take their photo with me. I pointed to my face and shrugged to communicate, “I am goofy.” They beamed, giggled and one said, “VERY BEAUTIFUL.” Then we realized.

Painting your face with this special yellow paste is Very Beautiful. Like lipstick or earrings, it enhances (why else would men wear earrings? Not to be more feminine, that is for sure). The product is Thanakha, a pounded paste from a tree. You can make it yourself, as Burmese did for probably centuries. Or now, buy in jars, just add a little water.

IMG_1411Men (not all, but we saw several), women (most), children, even teen boys paint their faces powdered yellow for two purposes – sun block and cosmetic, as in “beauty.” Thanakha is most widely used to cool and refresh the skin. As sunscreen, faces are usually thickly plastered.

Before this trip, Larry and I had visited Myanmar once before; we were allowed a brief 45 minutes to a border shopping area during a trip to Thailand. It was only in Myanmar that we’ve seen the yellow painted faces, just a few feet over the border. Fascinating.

My take-away for you? When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in Myanmar, do that, too.


BTW, what Myanmar is really known for is pagodas. The Land of a Thousand Pagodas. GOLD ones, see? Take your shoes off!


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