For first-time travelers to Myanmar, there are only a few customs with which one should be familiar.
- All who enter a monastery ground or pagoda must remove shoes and socks. It is a good idea to have easily removable footwear (such as thongs) to facilitate this custom. What is commonly referred to as “Burmese sandals” are readily available at markets and are inexpensive.
- Women should not wear shorts or revealing clothing, although slacks are acceptable. (No halter tops, mini skirts, tight sweaters, etc.)
- As a guest in Myanmar, one should refrain from political involvement. It is perfectly safe to travel in our country so long as proper guest behavior is exhibited.
- Your guide will advise whenever it is inappropriate to photograph a site or a person. For your safety and for the dignity of others, please refrain from photographing people or places you have been told are inappropriate. (For example, do not photograph military installations, bridges, guard posts, etc.) and never photograph any person without asking permission. Myanmar people are generally friendly and accepting of having their picture taken, but it is polite to first ask, or have your guide ask.)
- Away from major cities and western-style hotels, facilities are not always up to standards of modern countries. It is a good idea to carry toilet paper and individual hand wipes. Please understand that rural people in Myanmar have a simple way of life. They willingly share with foreigners, but respect for their way of life is imperative so as not to insult them. Please refrain from demeaning comments in the presence of any Myanmar citizen.
- Please do not encourage begging by indiscriminately handing out money or gifts to anyone. This includes children. Any gift should be properly handled through your guide who will advise you when it is appropriate, such as when someone does you a favor. It is, however, appropriate that a gift be an item instead of money. It may be a good idea to carry a couple of small things to use as gifts should the occasion arise.
- Myanmar is in infancy on its environmental programs. However, we request your cooperation in not littering or otherwise contributing to problems we are working to solve.
- In some religious areas, women are restricted from entering certain areas. If you do not see a women in a particular area, make sure it is all right for you to enter if you are female. Also, women are not allowed to touch a monk. If introduced to a monk, a bow of the head instead of a handshake is appropriate.
- It is appropriate for any person to drop a small contribution into a donation box at a monastery or pagoda, especially if there is no entry fee for visiting the site.
- Allow the guide to handle all controversies with zone guards, immigration, or any authority figure.
- In restaurants, ask your guide when it is appropriate to leave a tip. Sometimes, such as if an owner is also the server, it is inappropriate to leave tips.
- Tipping is not as widespread in Myanmar as in some other countries, but it has become acceptable in tourist areas. When in doubt, ask your guide.
- It is appropriate to tip hotel baggage employees in a discrete manner. However, make sure tipping has not already been arranged by your tour agent or guide.
- When giving tips to guides or drivers, it is appropriate to place the tip in an envelope before delivering it.
- The Myanmar people are generally a quiet, calm people. Loud behavior (especially in anger) is unacceptable. It is best to keep voices at a low level when conversing in a restaurant or other public place.
- Myanmar is still becoming accustomed to visiting foreigners. It is not considered impolite for people to stare, and you may find people actually gather around to stare at you, especially in rural areas. At first, this can be disconcerting, but please understand that the people mean no rudeness by this behavior. They are merely curious and hop to have a chance to interact with you. It is all right to strike up a conversation with curious people, or at least to smile at them.
- Only recently have environmental issues in Myanmar become a priority. A few citizens are working hard to educate the general public and to help instill good environmental habits among our people. Any suggestions given in the spirit of helpfulness will be appreciated, for we are still learning.
Above all, remember that people are pretty much the same everywhere. They are curious and friendly, eager to meet others and make friends, and want you to enjoy your visit to their country. Small efforts to be understanding and polite go a long way whatever country you visit, and people are forgiving of small mistakes so long as the effort for respect is made.