When you think of Myanmar you would be forgiven if you come to realize you don’t actually know a lot about it. The country had been formerly closed off to tourists and outside influence for many decades as a result of the ongoing civil war between a numbers of ethnic minorities, and therefore it’s not as well-known as many other countries in the region. While this conflict is still ongoing in some parts of the country, those parts are closed off to tourism and so any tourists who venture to this unique, interesting and unusual area are unlikely to experience anything related to the conflict.
Visitors to Myanmar these days will find that it’s relatively easy to get around and have some of the comforts of more developed nations. In recent years the government of Myanmar has made an effort to develop its tourist infrastructure to help drive tourism to the country. Formerly, visitors to Myanmar would have difficulty accessing the local currency – often needing to trade US dollars on the ‘black market’ with currency traders in cafes and such. These days though, you’re likely to run into ATM machines throughout the country, mainly in the cities in hotels and the like, so gone are the stranger days of travel in Myanmar.
Explorient has a number of unique tours to Myanmar, focusing on the naturally beautiful side of the country with a whole host of excursions to the likes of Inle Lake or Bagan and tours of the cities Mandalay and Yangon. Along with touring Myanmar comes the question of its etiquette and customs, and if you’re curious to learn about them in advance of your trip to this unique area of the world, we have you covered with this handy guide to the etiquette, traditions, and customs of Myanmar.
Myanmar – The Last Frontier
In the past, Myanmar experienced a lot of problems relating to the government. So much so that the government would often employ spies to watch over the regular people to ensure they weren’t saying or doing anything bad with regard to the governmental regime that was in place. These days, it’s far more relaxed and you won’t find anything of the sort in the country after it had a general election in 2010, released a number of military prisoners and the military junta was more or less removed from absolute power. The current leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has played a pivotal role in helping to mend some of the human rights abuses of the past governments and military juntas, however, the military today still holds a lot of power in politics.
The etiquette and customs of Myanmar are interesting, to say the least. It’s suggested that due to the sensitive issues that the country has experienced (and still does to this day) that care is taken not to discuss politics or ethnic issues. For the rest of the etiquette, you may like to learn about, read through these few points to familiarize yourself with Myanmar’s proud customs so you know what to expect.
In Myanmar, as with much of South East Asia, the feet (the lowest part) are considered impure and dirty and pointing them at shrines, temples, people and sacred sites or objects (including statues or pictures of the Buddha) should be avoided at all costs. The head is the most sacred and is seen to be where the soul lives, so touching people on the head – even to ruffle children’s hair – should also be avoided.
If you’re in a place such as a homestay or similar, do not sit on your sleeping pillow due to the sacredness of your head. Anything your head touches should be respected as something of a vessel for the most sacred part of your being.
Photography in Myanmar is a popular hobby. Not only this, but you may be asked to pose for a number of photos with locals who will be thrilled if you agree! Taking photos of monks meditating is generally considered especially rude, as is taking photos without someone’s permission. Locals, however, are often more than happy to pose for you if you ask politely. In the past taking photos of religious structures and Buddhist statuary was frowned upon but is typically tolerated now, especially at bigger, more popular shrines and temples like the Shwedagon Pagoda. Be sure to bring your camera and practice getting some gorgeous shots of various scenery throughout Myanmar on Explorient’s Luxurious Myanmar tour.
Public displays of affection in Myanmar are generally frowned upon, and there are even signs in some places such as on trains saying ‘no kissing’. Displays of affection, even hugging or holding hands should be reserved for when you’re in private.
Monks and Locals
Monks (and locals in general) in Myanmar are genuinely curious about outsiders, due in part to the country having been closed off to the outside world for so many years. Many people will stop you to chat, and some may even invite you for tea. In the past, some people have shared stories of just tea after tea with locals because they kept being invited for tea – so much so that some days were nothing but round after round of tea with locals! Be prepared for questions galore when you visit Myanmar on Explorient’s Splendid Myanmar Waterways tour.
Giving Things To Children
In a lot of cultures, sometimes giving small gifts to children is something that is welcomed and encouraged. In Myanmar, however, the locals prefer that you don’t give things to children as it can encourage a life of begging. When in doubt, avoid handing over anything from small change to gum or candy.
Lighthearted bartering is accepted practice in Myanmar, but be wary of purchasing anything of questionable backgrounds such as things made from animal products like ivory or things that could be made from things like tigers, elephants and more. Likewise, you may be tempted to purchase something laden with jewels or made from precious stones, but it’s a good idea to avoid these types of buys to, as a way to protest the general exploitation of the country’s natural resources like jade, as an example. You’ll get an up-close and personal look at markets and shopping on your Thailand and Myanmar Spectacular tour with Explorient.
Respect for The Buddha
As with Thailand, Myanmar has a deep respect for the Buddha and any Buddha-based items, pictures, statuary and more. So much so that there are laws in both countries pertaining to the use of Buddhist imagery in things like tattoos, on clothing and more. It’s generally a good idea to stay away from wearing anything that might depict Buddha in a potentially derogatory, joking or inappropriate manner as the punishment is imprisonment and the authorities in Myanmar are not above punishing foreigners for their indiscretion. When in doubt, leave Buddha out. You’ll experience the reverence that the locals have for Buddha when you visit Myanmar on Explorient’s Myanmar Highlights tour.
Humility and General Manners
Humility is king in Myanmar, and so you should try to act in accordance with this custom. For example, do not boast or flaunt your wealth, stature or act as though you are generally better than anyone. Honor elders with respect by waiting until they have been seated before sitting before they begin eating before you do and the like. Also do not spit in front of elders nor step over them if they are seated on the floor. If you’re going to yawn, turn your face to the side and cover your mouth. Don’t get involved in arguments or disagreements and try to be humble in all things. You will find you get treated very well when you practice humility and quiet grace in Myanmar.
If you’ve been planning to visit this unique and wonderful country for some time, you’re in for a treat. There are so many fantastic things to see and do in Myanmar that you won’t regret visiting it for a single moment, and you’ll leave with wonderful memories you’ll enjoy for years to come.