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6 Amazing Things You Can Only Do in Myanmar

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Travelers to Myanmar may feel some trepidation—and with good reason.

With decades of military rule and armed conflict marring the peace, the country was all but closed to travelers until 2011. But Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is on the brink of change, particularly if Aung San Suu Kyi succeeds in leading the country to democracy—and as a destination, it has so much to offer. People in Myanmar are perhaps the most welcoming in the world, and the country is home to a host of unique cultural landscapes, from elaborate bridges to the world’s largest book to one-leg fisherman rowers.

Here are some experiences you can probably only find in Myanmar:

1. VISIT TEAHOUSES INSTEAD OF BARS.

Tea consumption is a Burmese way of life. Instead of bars, teahouses serve as the social gathering places. Every neighborhood has at least one of these corner shops, and they are easily recognizable by the small plastic tables and stools that spill out on the street. You will even see many peaceful Buddhist monks sitting in these shops, enjoying warm cups of brew. A few famous tea shops are also open 24 hours, so they're a popular late-night place to go when hungry. Many establishments are family-run, with teenage boys usually serving the tea with bright smiles.

2. WITNESS ONE-LEG ROWERS

Myanmar’s Intha fishermen live in colorful floating villages held up by bamboo and situated on Inle Lake. They row 10-foot long canoe-like boats with one leg wrapped around a single oar, which leaves their hands free to manipulate their fishing nets. This is the only place in the world where fishermen row with their legs, which takes a high level of balance, agility, and strength. The fishermen have to determine the right amount of pressure to put on the free leg while the other leg steers, turns, and uses the oar to slow the boat down. Basic fishing equipment helps the men catch Inle carp and other fish.

3. SEE THE WORLD’S LARGEST BOOK.

The gilded Kuthodaw Pagoda, called “the world’s largest book,” is a collection of 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings. The pagoda was built by King Mindon Min circa 1860, and took 8 years to complete. The texts were copied from ancient manuscripts written on dried palm leaves, with the letters carved out of the stone and inlaid with gold leaf. Each marble slab is 5 feet long, 3.5 feet wide, and enshrined in a Dhamma ceti, or a cave-like structure. At the 730th slab, there is information on how the world’s largest book came about.

4. WALK THE WORLD’S LONGEST TEAK BRIDGE.

At three-quarters of a mile, the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura is the longest teak bridge in the world. The local then-mayor, U Bein, salvaged the wood from pieces of the dismantled teak palace at Amarapura when the capital moved to Mandalay in the late 1850s. The bridge is a central part of the community, a place where you see monks walking their bikes daily, women carrying produce home, and fishermen restoring colorful well-used boats in its shadow.

5. VISIT THE ONLY OVER-WATER BURMESE CAT SANCTUARY.

The luxury Inle Heritage House is a collection of six bungalows perched on stilts above Inle Lake, with its own organic garden and organized Myanmar cuisine cooking classes. The most intriguing aspect of the property, however, is its feline residents: the 40 rare Burmese cats that laze around the on-site Burmese Sanctuary. This safe haven was created when the pure Burmese cat bloodline was at risk of extinction. Feline accommodations include indoor lounge chairs and an outdoor play house situated precariously close to the edge of Inle Lake. Guests are welcome to play with the friendly, agile cats.

6. MARVEL AT THE ONLY MAJOR BURMESE ROYAL PALACE BUILDING TO SURVIVE WORLD WAR II.

The teak-carved Shwenandaw Monastery is the only major Royal Palace (the former royal residence) building in Myanmar to survive World War II bombing. When King Mindon built the Royal Palace in 1857, he used the building as his personal living quarters. After the king died, his son took charge and placed it outside of the palace grounds, where it was converted into a monastery in 1880. The building is comprised of large teak pillars and carved panels depicting scenes from the Jataka tales, which recount the previous lives of the Buddha.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

Buy on Amazon.

3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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