Welcome back to the next installment of Culture and Heritage in the ASEAN region! In preparation for your next trip to Southeast Asia, we're giving you an inside look at the many sides of Malaysia and Myanmar. From floating markets to enchanting dances and life on the water, read on to learn more about these two beautiful ASEAN countries.
One of the best ways to experience Malaysian culture is through food and art. No trip is complete without an immersive experience in Malaysian street markets for an authentic cultural and gastronomic journey. Street markets offer an endless array of food, fresh produce, brightly colored batik paintings, pottery, wooden handicrafts, and intricate jewelry - all at excellent prices. No two markets are the same. Visit the Batu Feringghi Night Market in Penang, located close to the beach, and savor your market bought satay while burying your feet in the sand!
Or go indoors where it is dazzlingly lit and vibrant with a festive feel. Open day or night, you’re sure to find one that will fit your schedule and palate.
Fresh vegetables for sale / Shutterstock
As you travel throughout the country and enjoy its splendor, make sure to incorporate a visit to a local market and experience some of Malaysia's natural landmarks. Taste and see the Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultural influences as you stroll and meet the warm and welcoming locals.
A few favorite destination markets to try are:
Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market
The Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market in Kuala Lumpur has brightly lit stalls that captivate shoppers. Another treat for shoppers is the pulsating, mouth-watering aromas of cooked skewers, burning charcoal, and blended spices.
Jonker Walk Night Market / @mischa_veen / Instagram
Jonker Walk Night Market
Set in the historical city of Malacca, Jonker Walk Night Market offers tasty treats and perfect take-home souvenirs. The bustling open-air market is located in the center of Chinatown, and it is alive with delicious culinary favorites, including chicken rice balls and Peranakan-style popiah (paper-thin roll with sliced turnip), prepared with Malaysian flare.
Kelantan Floating Market
Not to be missed is Malaysia’s first floating market set on the Kelantan riverbank. This floating market is an ideal place to experience Kelantan street food while delighting in the open-air seaside setting. The market has a distinctive feel, with over a dozen female entrepreneurs helming the boats and selling their wares. Try the barbecued chicken marinated with spicy coconut sauce for a delicious treat!
Boats in Pengkalan Datu Floating market, Kelantan Malaysia / Shutterstock
The Kelantan Wakaf Che Yehnight market offers a wide selection of Malay batik and kain songket cloths and garments, as well as handicrafts for which Kelantan is known. The market is so lively that several locals and travelers described it as a shopping nightclub. Be prepared to bargain!
There are so many beautiful markets, it can be challenging to choose, but no matter which one you visit, you’ll feel the pulse of Malaysia.
Whether dance is your passion or something you’ve always wanted to explore, you’ll be in awe of the dazzling costumes, lively music, and cultural heritage that come alive in Malaysian dance performances. Malaysian dance has evolved from ritual-based to the mesmerizing, complex art forms they are today.
Nothing is more authentic than experiencing the traditional dances of Malaysia. Known to be a prominent part of Malaysian heritage, revel in dances that narrate life events honoring warriors, celebrating the harvest, or expressing a playful mood after a hard day’s work. Be sure to take in a show of the traditional multicultural Malaysian dances like those by the Iban people, pictured here staged at the Sarawak Cultural Village, located at the base of sacred Mount Santubong. The Sarawak Cultural Village is a living museum devoted to preserving the cultural heritage of the various Malaysian ethnic tribes.
Dancer performing at the Sarawak Cultural Village / @sotravelbzh / Instagram
The highlight of cultural festivals, weddings, and social functions, traditional dances and dancers in spectacular costumes bring the Malaysian cultural mosaic to life. Be sure to discover the Malay ensemble of enchanting dances and have fun tracing the origins of various dances. The most popular traditional dance is the Joget, which is a fast-paced, lively dance with roots from Portuguese folk dancing. This dance style was introduced to Malaysia during the early 16th century during the spice trade.
Now we head to the country of Myanmar to learn about their local traditions, including life on the water.
To truly explore the time-honored traditions that make up the spirit of the country, and have a culturally stimulating trip, head to Myanmar. Together we will explore some fantastic sites to tour.
The World's Largest Book (Kuthodaw Pagoda)
Steeped in the DNA of the Myanmar people are dedication and respect for Buddha, illustrated when entering revered shrines like Kuthodaw Pagoda, an active place of worship with scores of monks, pilgrims, and followers. Kuthodaw Pagoda, a Buddhist Stupa, is located at the base of Mandalay Hill. Hundreds of stone tablets that make up the world’s most massive book surround this temple, and visitors can enlighten themselves by reading over 700 marble tablets that contain all of Buddha’s teachings.
Visitors show their respect by wearing Pa Soe (for men) and Longyo (for female), the national outfit, and customary Burmese dress that spreads its spirit to visitors. Similar to a sarong and worn daily, this attire can be found on all the population from young to elder. Longyi is long enough to show respect for your surroundings but comfortable and light for the hot weather.
We recommend purchasing a Pa Soe or Longyi and a pair of colorful velvet sandals at the beginning of your trip and wearing it throughout to get the true essence of Myanmar.
A couple wearing Longyi at the Kuthodaw Pagoda / @Instamyanmar / Instagram
The Inle Lake
Inle Lake, one of the most spectacular lakes in the world, is located in the Shan Hills of Myanmar and it is the best enjoyed with a sunset or sunrise boat ride. Expect to be in awe of the beautiful colors, serene water, and everyday village life including the Intha fishermen.
The Intha fishermen are known for their rare technique for catching fish in shallow water. They fish standing on one leg on the boat with the other wrapped around the oar, all while holding a large cone-shaped fishing net. The technique is believed to have originated in the 12th century and was used to steer around the garden floats and aid in fishing. Truly fascinating and impressive, the Intha men’s fishing technique is a must-see on the Inle Lake!
Intha fishermen fishing on Inle Lake / @Instamyanmar / Instagram
Nature lovers, prepare to be dazzled by Indawgyi Lake is located in Mohnyin. It is a picture-perfect place to see birds, a plethora of rare animals and 10 endangered species.
To get the most of your visit, take a ride on a motor canoe. Experience the impressive variety of wetland creatures and daily life of riverbank villages.
Myanmar, Indawgyi Lake / @oldmanshine / Instagram
We can’t wait for you to discover the culture and heritage of these two breathtaking countries first hand! From food markets to experiencing traditional clothing and dance, and wondrous sites, we know your trip to Malaysia and Myanmar will be remarkable.