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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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Daugherty April 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm

Anytime you visit another country you should always conform to the culture and customs of the country you are visiting. People who visit the United States from other countries seem to think the opposite. It is always appropriate to show your respect to our culture, customs and laws.

2 Priscilla - She's Cookin' July 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm

“When in Rome” (or Myanmar) is the attitude I subscribe to when traveling – how else do you get the true feeling of the unique land you have chosen to visit? I’ll remember this if I’m ever fortunate enought to visit.

3 Worth The Whisk June 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Awwww thanks Shelley. Travel makes us all beautiful!

4 Shelley Kekuna June 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Very interesting about the yellow face paint. I too went to Myanmar, via the border in the Golden Triangle. Maybe I just didn’t notice, but I can’t recall the face paint. Could be I was delirious with wonder and a little paranoid after the crossing. Seemed like a complicated process for unknown reasons. I didn’t think I looked like an opium smuggler…

We had a private guide that we hired through the fabulous hotel we were staying at, Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp. Having the guide made all the difference in the world. The shopping was ok, but I think being able to go to the country and really have the freedom to roam would have been much more exciting and adventuresome.

You live a great life Patti Londre. And the yellow cheeks truly were “beautiful” on you 🙂 sk

5 Alice Phillips February 26, 2014 at 1:51 am

The photos are great! Looks like and sounds like you had a blast.

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