What to Know Before Going to Myanmar

What to Know Before Going to Myanmar

Posted January 11, 2017

Myanmar opened their doors to tourists a few years ago, igniting travelers’ desire to experience Burmese culture.  Although the interest in traveling to Myanmar is growing, the country is still largely unexplored by tourists so knowing what to expect before your trip is invaluable.   While the people of Myanmar are welcoming and friendly to travelers, there are etiquette rules and tips you should follow to ensure a smooth trip and successful interactions with locals.

Dos and Don’ts:

  • DO have plenty of crisp USD bills that are clean (no stains, creases, or marks) and made after 2006.  Due to counterfeiting concerns, Myanmar is very strict about this and will not accept torn or dirty money.  They also will not accept USD with a serial number (top left corner of the note) beginning with the letters “AB” or “CB”.  Although there are ATMs, there are only a few in each city so bring cash to exchange in banks for local currency.  Please note:  the higher the denomination of bills, the better the exchange rate. 
  • DO use both hands when offering something to a monk or elderly person.  With the exception of casual interactions at shops or restaurants, show politeness by using either your right hand or both hands when giving or receiving objects. 
    *However, women are not allowed to touch a monk. If you would like to give them something put it down before them and they will pick it up. 
  • DON’T point your feet or aim them at Buddha as it is considered bad form.  Don’t show the soles of your feet in public either.
  • DON’T eat or pass things with your left hand – it is considered rude.
  • DON’T discuss politics – it is a touchy subject for everyone and there are consequences if the police hear something “undesirable.”
  • DON’T show public displays of affection – locals are very conservative and are offended by this.
  • DON’T handle or touch any animals you may encounter, including dogs and cats.
  • DON’T touch anyone on the head and avoid touching any monks that you meet.  Men should also not shake hands with or otherwise touch Burmese women.

Pagoda Etiquette:

Remove footwear and hats when entering pagodas and religious places – we recommend packing flip flops for the days you are visiting pagodas.  Shoulders should be also covered and long pants are more appropriate than shorts for both men and women.  Also don’t touch, sit near, or climb on a Buddha statue or the raised platform; get permission before taking photographs; never take pictures during worship; keep your voice low; and don’t chew gum while inside.

Tips/What to Know:

  • Because of the country’s frequent power outages, carry a flashlight whenever you are away from your room in the evening. 
  • When you are in a public place that offers seating of differing heights, never sit at a higher level than a Buddhist monk as this is considered offensive.
  • To beckon someone (a waiter or taxi, for example), always cup your hand down, rather than up; finger pointing or beckoning with the palm of your hand is considered the rudest of gestures.
  • Losing your temper or yelling in public will cause both you and the recipient of your anger to “lose face” – something to be avoided at all costs.  Nor will yelling help you get what you want any faster, if at all.  It is essential that everyone maintain their dignity in personal interactions.
  • Insulting religion is a prosecutable offense.  An “insult” can include tattoos or t-shirts with religious figures, posting negative comments on social media, or writing or speaking anything bad about religion.
  • Don’t be startled to see women’s faces covered in a yellow-white paste – it is made from ground bark, offers protection from the sun, and promotes smooth skin.  Along with this, most locals chew on betel nuts which leaves their teeth stained dark red.

If you are interested in visiting Myanmar, check out our popular small group tour, Mysteries of Myanmar:  http://odysseys-unlimited.com/tours/asia-and-far-east/mysteries-myanmar