Best time to go to Myanmar

Wearing Thanaka 2018-2019

For many travelers to Myanmar the most notable sight is not the exotic landscapes or temples but the yellowish paste found painted on the faces of Burmese women and children, called Thanaka or Thanakha

Wearing Thanaka in Myanmar - Best Time
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© Dion Cragg

This paste is applied in circular patches, stripes, or ornate leaf patterns on the cheeks, noses, and forehead leaving yellow trails. Thanaka paste is made by grinding the bark and roots of thanaka trees, and mixing it with water on a stone slab called a kyauk pyin. It is applied to the face as a natural and efficient sunscreen against the hot tropical sun.

A paste made from grinding the bark of Thanaka trees keeps the skin cool
A paste made from grinding the bark of Thanaka trees keeps the skin cool

Many Burmese use it to beautify their skin and prevent wrinkles and acne, so it’s also widely used as a cosmetic. Its sandalwood scent is another reason for its attractiveness. It removes body odours. Some Myanmar elementary schools even require children to wear thanaka as part of their daily uniforms to show that they’ve bathed.

A teacher and some students including novice Buddhist nuns at Aung Myae OO Monastic Education School on Sagaing Hill across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay
A teacher and some students including novice Buddhist nuns at Aung Myae OO Monastic Education School on Sagaing Hill across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay

Thanaka has become such an integral part of Burmese culture, it is used as ritual mask during the traditional festivals. For example, the Thingyan Water Festival rooted around Buddhist beliefs. Splashing water at others is believed to bring prosperity and happiness. During the festival, a traditional thanaka-making event takes place where a group of young women grind thanaka bark and roots into a fine powder. The ground thanaka powder is dissolved in holy water to create a liquidy paste that’s poured over images of Buddha.

A pregnant woman sells water-lily blooms for offerings outside Kuthodaw Pagoda
A pregnant woman sells water-lily blooms for offerings outside Kuthodaw Pagoda

Moreover, it has played an important role in Burmese culture: thanaka stands as a unifying symbol of cultural pride that is worn by all Burmese people.

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