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Cultural Tips — Myanmar

Hello Summer Family!

Our exciting journey is around the corner, we are hoping you are getting excited and preparing for packing. You may have already received your Course Preparation Manual in the mail complete with packing list, and we want to provide you some cultural tips to help you while deciding what makes the cut of coming with you on your one month journey. We want to be as culturally appropriate as possible because we are entering into our generous homestay family’s home, elder’s people houses and monasteries. While they open up their home to total strangers like us and providing everything they have for the comfort of their guests, we want to be as respectful as possible.

So, what does it mean to be culturally appropriate? To understand that we need to take off our own Western cultural glasses. In cultural spectrum, Myanmar is a highly collectivist culture which focuses on the group and how your actions affect others. Therefore, showing respect to others, especially to elders and communities are valued in Myanmar culture. How you present yourself in the community is very important. It is not about expensive clothing and dressing up. It is about cleanness and tidiness. It is important to look clean both on your clothing and yourself. In collectivism, modesty is vital to practice in everyday behavior. Being gentle and humble are appreciated in the group culture and showing off individuals will not be honor in Myanmar culture.

Myanmar is very much relationship-oriented. Myanmar people are very friendly. Your smile will melt their heart and dressing appropriately will help everyone feel comfortable. The main focus of the clothing is to not be revealing (this goes for both genders). You will soon see in traditional dress for men and women- that they cover their shoulders, knees and do not show cleavage. NO tank tops and no shorts for all genders. You can buy traditional “longyi” at any local market and they are inexpensive and very comfortable to wear in the environment. We can also support local economies this way and it’s expected dress in most places.

Purchase: Most of the things needed for the travel, you can purchase at local Myanmar market. We can send you to the local market to buy traditional longyi and a few things to pick up what you need.  You will be wearing them most of the time in Myanmar.

Weather: July in Myanmar is monsoon seasons. It is likely to be rain Every Day for a time. You might want to bring a rain-coat or buy a Rain Poncho here in Myanmar. It will be helpful to pack quick dry clothes. In Shan State, where we will go for homestay is cooler than the other places in Myanmar. The temperature can drop up to 5/6 degree Celsius. We recommend you to bring at least one warm layer. During the day, it will be hot.  

Shower: Pack a quick dry towel and small amount of toiletries. You will need them for the homestay and monastery stay.

Sleep: NO sleeping bag is needed. Every homestay and monastery has blankets and mosquito nets.

Don’t point your feet: It is not acceptable for anyone, including visitors, to point their feet at someone or something, especially figures of the Buddha. It is considered very rude, as feet are considered to be the most disrespectful part of the body. Keep feet off furniture, as well.

Shoes: We are trekking along the small trail so we are good with normal running shoes. You don’t need heavy hiking boots. Otherwise, you are just putting extra weight on yourself. A pair or sandals or flip flop which are easy to take off is necessary for everyday use. In Myanmar, when you enter into temples, monasteries, and houses, you have to take off your shoes. Remember it will rain often so try to either pack shoes you don’t mind having very wet, waterproof running shoes (Gortex). Chacos are great for the hike we will be doing.

Never touch someone’s head: In the same way that feet are considered to be disrespectful, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of a person’s body. Because of this, it is extremely bad-mannered to touch anyone’s head, even if it’s done in a friendly manner. Some might consider it to be okay to touch children’s heads but to be safe, avoid touching this part of the body, no matter a person’s age.

Materials: You will need a “daypack” to put pen and notes plus water bottle and rain coat, etc. Bring a pen, and notebook for journaling and reflections. Headlamp or flashlight is needed for the countryside. You might want to bring one or two books, we can exchange among the group like a small reading club. Book recommendations about Myanmar:  The Land of Green Ghosts and anything by Aung San Suu Kyi. We recommend you to bring your Lonely Planet and definitely your Burmese phrasebook.

ATM/Money: If you are bringing cash, it has to be new clean notes. Money exchangers will not take money with even the smallest of folds or writing on them. Recently, ATMs have been installed in most towns. Mostly there are no problems with cards like Visa or Mastercard but it would be great to inform your banks that you are going to Myanmar.

Avoid using your left hand: Visitors who use their left hand to accept or give things can be considered especially rude. Instead, be sure to only use your right hand or both.

Avoid spending your money all in one place: Spread the wealth a bit and spend your money at local establishments and at as many of them as possible. Spending all of your money in one place is not going to help many people. Instead, explore each city and sample the street food stalls, steer clear of internationally owned accommodation options, and support the locals.

Don’t drink the tap water: Those environmentally friendly travelers will be sad to hear that the tap water, like many other Southeast Asian countries, is unsafe to drink in Myanmar. A bottle of water should cost anywhere from 200-500 kyat, and many of the hotels and hostels around the country will have free purified water on offer.

If you have any questions, post them on here and we will respond to everyone.

We’re looking forward to seeing you all soon!

Ei Shwe Zin, Micah and Siang