Travel Tips: Do's & Don'ts in Myanmar
Societies and people are different and not intending any offence, one might yet offend. Myanmar has only recently opened its doors to foreign travelers; after years of relative insulation from the outside world, the Burmese now have to contend with droves of foreigners with no idea how the locals work and live.
Myanmar people accept foreigners happily and are tolerant of ways and mannerisms which must seem odd to people brought up in a life of proprieties. Your practice and performance of similar proprieties can make your visit most pleasant, beneficial and appreciated.
Learn a few words from the local language; use them when you can. 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. 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. These two words go a long way in fostering goodwill as you travel in Myanmar: Min-ga-la-ba = Hello, Che-su-bar = Thank you.
Go local. The Burmese appreciate the effort of your trying to observe their way of living. Try wearing Burmese clothes, like the Longyi (for women) and Pa-so (for men). These are worn in place of pants or skirts, as they have plenty of ventilation compared to their Western counterparts.
Try wearing Thanaka. Thanaka is a paste made from thanaka tree bark, and is painted on the cheeks and nose. The Burmese say thanaka is an effective sunblock.
Don't disrespect the Buddha. Images of the Buddha may be used in a lighthearted way in the rest of the world, but Myanmar marches to the beat of a different drum.
Remove footwear (including socks) before entering pagoda grounds. In some places, in some countries, footwear may be permitted up to the building in which the Buddha image is enshrined, footwear being removed only when the temple is entered. In Myanmar, it's considered essential to remove footwear before entering the compound in which the pagoda or temple is sited.
Wear decent clothes to the pagoda or monastery. Don’t go dressed to the pagoda or monastery as you would to the beach in loose blouse, semi see-through or short shorts. The rule against short pants, apply to men too.
Watch where you point that camera. Stupas and landscapes are fair game for tourist photographers; people aren't. Always ask permission before taking a shot of locals. Just because women are bathing out in the open doesn't make it OK to snap a picture; quite the opposite.
Travel is not just to see but also to feel, to absorb a new attitude to life and to be absorbed by it. The suggestions mentioned above may help you avoid possible unpleasantness and save you from mental discomfort. On the other hand, doing the right things will please the locals and help you set up a geniune and happy relationship.