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Monday, 17th August 2015

The essential glossary for travelling to Burma

It is amazing how many words that you have never heard before or rarely used come into your everyday vocabulary when travelling. For example, it is impossible to visit just about anywhere in Southeast Asia without using the word wat, meaning temple, on an hourly or even more frequent basis.

With this in mind, here is a list of words and their definitions that will help you navigate your way around Burma, its sights and the incredible cultural experiences you are likely to have.

Stupa - a mound-like structure usually encasing the remains of a Buddhist monk or nun, but in the most important ones, there can be a relic from Buddha himself. These are often said to be teeth or hairs. Stupas can be found all over Burma, but the Plain of Bagan is home to more than 4,000.

Nat - the traditional belief system in Burma suggests that the world is inhabited by a collection of nats that must be kept happy with alcohol, music and money. While much of the country is practicing Buddhist, many Burmese people still mollify these figures too. Nat ceremonies are fascinating spectacles in which performers are said to be possessed by these entities.

Thanaka - used by much of the Burmese population as a sunblock, this natural yellow powder can be seen streaked across the faces of women and children. It smells fantastic and leaves your skin feeling very soft.

Longyi - a fabric garment worn throughout Burma.

Paso - the male version of a longyi, which is tied at the front and often comes in a striped or chequered pattern.

Htamein - the type of longyi worn by women, which covers up more of the body than the male equivalent.

Toddy - for a real taste of rural Burma order a glass of toddy from a small bar. This naturally alcoholic beverage is tapped straight from the tree and is only available close to where it has been collected, making it a particularly special drink to try.

Jaggery - toddy palm sap is boiled to make sweet little lumps that can be included in foods. Sometimes coconut or sesame seeds are added to make this tasty confection all the more tempting.

Kwoon-ya - small parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime, which are chewed by lots of Burmese people. They are the reason that some of the population's lips and teeth are stained brown.

Zei - the Burmese word for market is a great one to know, as this is where so much of everyday life can be seen throughout the nation. They come in two different forms, with permanent covered markets and weekly events in small towns offering the opportunity for locals to purchase everything from ingredients and textiles to jade medicines.

Related news stories:
A guide to Burmese festivals ? one for every month of the year (6th June 2016)
Mrauk U - an archaeological gem at the end of the Kaladan River (8th September 2015)
Top 10 Burma sunset spots (18th August 2016)
A complete guide to the Inle Lake leg rowers (7th March 2016)
A look at Burma's relatively new flag (23rd October 2015)