Thanaka: The Light of Myanmar

Noodle Seller on Train in Northern Shan State, Myanmar

If you go to Myanmar, you will see people with a paste that looks like face paint on their faces. It is actually called “thanaka,” and it is much more than face paint. People have used thanaka in Myanmar for thousands of years. They use it because it looks beautiful, it works as sunscreen, and it makes your skin smooth. When I first saw people wearing thanaka, I was very curious about it. So I learned more by reading in my guidebook and visiting a museum where a man taught me about it.

You make thanaka by grinding the bark of a thanaka tree on a sandstone plate and mixing it with a little bit of water. This makes a really pale orange paste that you can put on your face. When you let it dry, it will look yellow and feel smooth. There are different ways to wear it: people just make the designs that they like. For kids, they might make a design that looks like a bunny rabbit. You will see a lot of people in Myanmar wearing thanaka, especially women and kids.

We also learned that thanaka is used for other purposes: the wet paste can be used to wash your face, and the bark of certain varieties of thanaka can be used as medicine to treat a headache, and the leaf can be used to treat epilepsy and malaria.

There are different types of thanaka trees and some are more rare than others. None grows in America. These days, some people buy pre-made thanaka paste at the store, but that is not the original way of getting it. To be traditional, you can buy a log of thanaka to use at home. I am hoping to bring some thanaka back to the United States with me because I think it would be very interesting to show my friends.

Thanaka is just one of the things that is really different in Myanmar — we’ve also seen people wearing longyis, a cotton cloth that is worn by men all over Myanmar. They tie it by wrapping it around their waist and tying a knot at the top, so it makes a sort of skirt. It looked so interesting and comfortable that I decided to start wearing one too.

Also, we have seen women carrying tons of things on their heads and some people don’t even use their hands at all. There are handmade parasols made from cotton and bamboo and painted by hand. And there are many different kinds of fruit, like dragon fruit, jackfruit, and rambutans, which are so tasty but you can’t eat them if they are washed in the sink because the sink water will make you sick. There is also a fruit called a durian which smells like the sewer, so I haven’t tried that one fresh yet, only dried.

So thanaka is just one of the many things that is different here in Myanmar. It’s been hard traveling here sometimes because it’s so different, but people have been so nice to us and have helped us so much. When I come home, I think I will always remember the thanaka and longyis and the kind people who helped us on our journey, and the memories will make me think of Myanmar.

Wearing Thanaka in Myanmar

11 Comments on “Thanaka: The Light of Myanmar

  1. I really liked that you showed a picture of you in Myanmar with Thanaka! I hope you come back soon and have fun in your travels.

    • thanks ohad I all so got a little thanaka to take home with me.I miss you so much! I hope your having a fun .farenheit here in india all so how love jonah

  2. Another wonderful post. I love the photo with you wearing Thanaka. I look forward to hearing about your next adventure. I’m sure it must be a lot to travel in such a different country. So different from home which can be difficult and amazing at the same time. Enjoy and make many more memories.

  3. Jonah! What a fantastic post – it all sounds so wonderfully strange and beautiful. The thanaka sounds like something Monterey Market might sell Finn misses you a lot. I’ll make sure he reads this post. I bet he will have a comment to make too! Travel well! Jenn

    • thanks so much for looking at our blog! How old are your chickens now? I hope they are giving you lots of good eggs. I really miss Finn and Georgia a lot, and I can’t wait to get back to see them, but we are having a great time here also. Right now we are in Kandy Sri Lanka. We recently did an amazing canoe trip in India and I am working on writing about it right now! Love love love love Jonah

  4. Jonah, that sounds like so much fun! I want to go to Myanmar!! I really miss our play dates and sleep overs! If you want we can email back and forth!

    • Hi Finn I’d be happy to email — I will send you a message later today!

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