Dos & Don'ts in Myanmar: Etiquette Tips for Travelers

Learn from the mistakes of Nicola Donovan, who shares her tips on what you should and shouldn't do as a traveler in Myanmar.


Riding the 3-4 hour circular train around Yangon Photo © Getty Images/jin chu ferrer

Etiquette at Homestays

Although the thin mattress on the floor may not be the comfiest, don’t sit on your pillow to try and cushion your behind. In Burmese culture, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, while the bottom… Not so much.

Every household will have a family shrine: be mindful of how you’re positioned when sitting around it. It’s considered disrespectful to point your feet – which are considered impure – towards the shrine, other people, and at images of Buddha.

Speaking of feet, shoes should also be taken off when entering a household – so make sure you’re wearing matching socks.

Dressing Appropriately

While visiting places of religious importance, dress respectfully by covering your shoulders and knees. Beat the heat by donning a traditional longyi that the majority of the locals wear – it’s a traditional piece of cloth that resembles a sarong, and is super comfortable.

Be mindful of your clothing when visiting villages too. As the locals say, you’re visiting rural communities, not taking a beach holiday – so leave some things to the imagination.

Photography Etiquette

The locals are extremely curious about foreigners, so don’t be surprised if you have a line of locals wanting to take photos with you, and claim you on Facebook as ‘my new friend!’ Even the monks play tourist at popular sites, taking photos of one another on their smartphones.

There are plenty of insta-worthy locations in Myanmar, and you’ll definitely be tempted to snap pictures of the locals in their traditional clothing and thanaka makeup. But before you take photos of others, simply ask if it’s okay first.

The locals are incredibly friendly, and in most cases will be happy to pose for you. Taking photos of meditating monks, however, is considered especially rude. Snapping Buddhist images is also considered disrespectful, but is now mostly tolerated from foreign tourists.

Learn from My Mistakes

There’s a good chance when traveling through Myanmar that you will come across some friendly Monks.

Seeing it as an opportunity to practice their English, a monk will inevitably introduce himself to you at some point. If you’re a woman, don’t try to shake their hand – I found out the hard way. It’s a rule that they can’t touch females, and my handshake was left hanging.

Giving gifts to children is also not encouraged. My (assumed) good deed of gifting a notepad and pen to a local girl turned out to be the opposite. Turns out the locals view giving gifts to children as encouraging them to pursue a career in begging.

And because I’m so good at making mistakes, here’s another – kissing in public. Affection between loved ones should only be shared when in private. You’ll even see the trains displaying ‘no kissing’ signage. 

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  • Bernadette said

    Thank you nomads for this article and the one on permits you were a great help

  • Bernd said

    Thanks also from me :)

    Bernd from austria

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