Cultural Etiquette in Myanmar
Myanmar is a deeply spiritual country and the people are incredibly kind and generous. Part of travelling responsibly is of course to observe and respect local cultural practices. But it can also help you avoid an embarrassing faux pas. Here are Panoramic Journeys’ list of DOs to help you travel responsibly in Myanmar.
Before your journey:
- Do read up about Burma, about politics, the local culture and cultural etiquette.
- Do, if you wish, bring useful gifts such as books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, flash discs, or even an old laptop to donate to one or more of the projects that we are currently supporting.
Whilst you are in Burma:
- Do come with sufficient cash to purchase Christmas and birthday presents for years to come! Engage with the market sellers and crafts people that you come across.
- Do give time to any cultural exchange that you have whether it be a conversation with a rickshaw driver, a chat with a crafts person or a exchange with a market stand holder.
- Do be mindful and considerate when taking photos - avoid rushing in with your camera poised.
- Do greet with a smile and or a small nod or bow. Shaking hands is not customary as is any form of physical contact to greet people especially strangers. Touching of the opposite sex in particular will be frowned upon.
- Do wear appropriate clothing when you visit religious sites (cover your shoulders and knees!)
- Do show respect and use appropriate terms when addressing people. Use U (which stand for Mr) or Daw (which stand for Ms/Mrs). It is considered rude to simply use first names.
- Do speak slowly and clearly.
- Do avoid overtly public displays of affection such as hugging and kissing
- Do avoid touching any adult or child on the head. The head is considered the highest 'spiritual' point of the body.
- Do avoid touching feet or pointing feet in the direction of other people. Feet are the lowest spiritual point in the body.
- Do avoid stepping over any part of a person, as it is considered rude.
- Do accept or give things with your right hand.
- Do let the oldest go first. Whether it's through a door or to be served a the table
- Do take your shoes off when visiting locals in their homes - most locals don’t wear shoes in their homes.
- Do remove footwear in all religious places, including socks.
- Do treat Buddha images with respect.
- Do respect Buddha –don’t put Buddha statues or images on the floor or somewhere inappropriate.
- Do treat sacred objects with utmost respect. They should not be touched.
- Do show respect to monks, nuns, and novices (even if they are children).
- Do leave a donation when possible.
- Do greet a monk respectfully but do not offer your hand to shake hands with a monk. Women in particularly must avoid touching monks.
- Do sit lower than a monk and elders.
- Don’t offer food to a monk, nun, or a novice after noon time.
- Do show your thanks and appreciation but please don’t hand out money and gifts indiscriminately as this creatives a begging culture
When you get back home:
- Do talk about your travel experience and as much as possible share it with others. You could for instance contribute to the responsible tourism movement by adding your story, photo, video, opinion piece, poem or anything you can come up with onto Tourism Transparency website. Or even share it with us. We’d love to share your story with the PJ family and prospective travellers.