It’s quite easy to follow the rules here in Myanmar, however among the small number of tourists we’ve come across here in Mawlamyine, we have seen several who were clearly unaware of what is OK and what is not. In a country with such amazingly friendly people, we as visitors should be doing everything we can to make sure that we respect their unique culture and do not take advantage of their hospitality.
Thankfully the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism have released a booklet called “Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists – How you can visit Myanmar responsibly”. I have selected what I see as the 10 most useful, and sometimes less obvious of the 30 tips for anyone considering visiting Myanmar.
1. “Don’t take any photos that may make people feel embarrassed.” – The main example given here is that you should not take photos of people who are bathing. Many people in regional areas do not have running water in their home, and therefore bathe at a water source often in front of the home. Whilst they are not naked, they are less clothed than normal, so please put your camera away!
2. “Don’t point with your foot.” – In Myanmar the feet convey messages and pointing with your feet is a sign of disrespect. Many people in marketplaces will be on the floor below you, so whilst it may be convenient to point at an item using your foot, please don’t do this!
3. “Wear decent clothes when visiting religious sites.” – You will spend a lot of time visiting pagodas and other holy sites, and you should always wear appropriate clothing. This means knees, shoulders and cleavage should be covered, and no footwear is to be worn. Outside of religious sites (except for maybe in a very large city like Yangon) you will notice that people still dress very modestly and I recommend you do the same. If you wear a mini skirt, low cut top etc. be prepared for some very disapproving looks!
4. “Do tuck away your feet.” – Don’t sit with your legs stretched out in front of you, especially in front of the Buddha. The soles of your feet facing someone is disrespectful.
5. “Don’t touch anyone on the head.” – This is considered aggressive, don’t do it.
6. “Don’t kiss in public.” – Public displays of affection are highly frowned upon, save it for the hotel.
7. “Don’t disturb people praying or meditating.” – Whilst it seems completely acceptable to use your phone at pagodas and even have the world’s loudest ringtone, do not mess with people praying. Don’t speak to them, and don’t take photos of them!
8. “Don’t touch the robe of a monk.” – The robes are very sacred and this one is a huge no-no. I’ve seen people try to put their arms around monks for photos, and it’s a terrible idea. It’s OK to ask them for a photo, but don’t touch them!
9. “Giving money or sweets to children is not advisable.” – Myanmar is trying to avoid creating a culture of dependency on tourist/charity handouts. Don’t contribute to this!
10. “Don’t go where you are advised not to go.” – We all like a bit of adventure, but the fact remains there are still some unstable regions in Myanmar. If a local says not to go there, it’s a good idea to listen.
We hope you find these useful and enjoy your time in this beautiful country.