Dos and Don’ts in Myanmar
As I said in my article about Responsible Photography, there are many things in Myanmar that will catch your attention: men wearing skirt (longyi), women with the yellow thanaka make-up, locals doing the laundry or bathing in the river, monks meditating or asking for alms, and more.
It is very important to respect their culture and traditions but sometimes we don’t know what is ok or not ok.
Myanmar Tourism Federation, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Hanns Seidel Foundation and Tourism Transparency have put together a very useful guide with funny cartoons from different local cartoonists to show tourists about Myanmar culture and customs. Here are some of them with my comments:
You’ll see a lot of these showers. Please don’t take out your camera. I have to admit curiosity is huge and it’s difficult not to look but your camera is another level of not respecting their privacy.
Smile and say hello. Myanmar people will touch your heart with their warmth and sincerity, their kindness and generosity. One of my favourite moments is when I go to a teashop and meet locals. They are so friendly and very curious of what you are going to order and why you are visiting their country. The minimum opportunity they’ll have to talk to you, they will and although the language is usually a barrier, sometimes just with smile and gestures is enough to have the highlight of your day. Please learn a few words in Burmese, they LOVE hearing you trying to speak their language and really appreciate your effort to immerse yourself into their culture.
Don’t point with your foot. It means disrespect. The same when you are in a temple and you sit facing Buddha. Your legs should not be stretched and your feet should never be out in front when sitting. Sit criss-cross or with your feet beside or behind you to show respect.
This one everybody should know but I like the cartoon. So… yes, wear decent clothes when visiting religious sites. Cover your shoulders and knees, and take off your shoes and socks when entering a pagoda area (yes, your socks too). It’s not only inside the pagoda, but also in it’s surroundings. Sometimes the floor is not very clean and you even have to walk up long stairs with monkey’s pee or pigeon’s droppings, but those are the rules. It’s easy to cover your shoulders with any cloth you have and for your knees, go ahead and buy a longyi :) If you don’t have one, they’ll have one you can borrow at the entrance of the main Pagodas.
Don’t touch anyone on the head. The head is the highest part of the body and therefore the most esteemed. The opposite happens to the feet, they are the closest to the ground and that’s why it’s disrespectful to point with them.
Women solo travellers are very safe in Myanmar. It is one of the safest countries I have lived in.
Avoid kiss in public. They don’t like it and we just have to respect their culture. So, to all romantics travelling to Myanmar… no kiss until you are back in your hotel.
Don’t disturb people praying or meditating. I know sometimes it’s the picture-perfect situation when you see a monk meditating but please, don’t do it or if you do so, go far, no flash… Also, don’t talk very loud, don’t walk just in front of them… just respect their moment.
Spread your wealth. Buy things in different stalls and shops so more people can do some business. Try different tea-shops, buy water and snacks from different shops, use trickshaws and not always taxis,…
Myanmar is a very cultural destination. You should learn about Myanmar traditional festivals and ceremonies so your experience is much better. Myanmar people are very happy and proud of their traditions and are delighted when tourists participate in their festivals.
Relax and enjoy your holidays!
For more information and full Dos and Don’ts pdf to download, check out the Dos and Don’ts for tourists official website.
If you need any help to plan your trip to Myanmar, visit Plan Your Trip or contact me. I’m happy to help you!