One of the fun things about traveling to new places is discovering new cultural traditions. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I was introduced to thanakha. A practice dating back to at least the 14th century, thanakha is a yellowy paste applied to the face and body. A WanderShopper has many opportunities to pick up some thanakha supplies to use in Myanmar to attract the local men or to take home as an unique souvenir.
Every market I visited throughout Myanmar had stalls selling supplies for thanakha. It is made by grinding the bark of trees, adding water and then turning it into a paste. Frequently, the tree of choice is Limonia acidisima also known as the wood apple. It has a pleasant scent similar to sandalwood. Purists will want to make their own thanakha, so you will also need a kyauk pyin, the circular stone slab you use to grind your wood into a paste.
With modern times, come modern solutions. You can now buy your thanakha paste already made sold in a little tub like face cream. Little cakes of pre-ground thanakha are also available. Just add a little water and smear where ever you desire.
Thanakha when applied to the face adds to the beauty of the wearer. You can see many designs such as leaves and circles that suit the wearers personal tastes. Thanakha also has a practical purpose of helping to protect the skin from sunburn as well as having anti-fungal properties and helping to prevent acne. Below a woman outside a temple in Bagan shows off a beautiful leaf design. For a thousand kyat (a little over a dollar) she and her friends would be happy to apply a design on your face as well.
Below a Shan girl near Indein, Myanmar displays thanakha smeared on her cheeks. She would greet tourists on the trail to the stupas of Indein and offer to sell you souvenirs to earn some money.
Another girl near Indein, Myanmar holds up her newest sibling while also showing off a circular thanakha pattern on her face.
Although mainly seen on women in Myanmar, you do occasionally find men with it on their faces as well. Here a Pa O tribesman we met on the road to Inle Lake has thanakha smeared on his face. He was harvesting rice in a field and was undoubtedly using it for sunscreen. The yellowy smear of the thanakha contrasts with his betelnut red stained lips.
I purchased a set for making thanakha at home as well as was given some of the pre-ground cakes as gifts during other purchases. I think they will make a fun souvenir of my days spent in Myanmar. What new cultural tradition have you discovered during your travels?