Dos & Don'ts

Myanmar is the land of thousands of golden pagodas and adheres to a set of cultural rules like any other Buddhist countries in Asia. Therefore visitors are advised to bear some general things in mind about native culture as there are some customs and beliefs held in Myanmar that travellers need to be aware of before coming to the country so that it won’t be offensive to any of the locals.

The very important concept in Myanmar is “Cetana”, which means goodwill, good intentions and sympathy which can be presented in various ways and should be practiced at all times. This is admirable because there will always be someone else to help you once you asked for it if you ever need anything. Like service providers in the west, those who drive cabs, carry your bags or perform other tasks usually expect to be tipped in Myanmar. It would be very polite and the best way to give verbal thank you to show your appreciation for everyday help from others. The followings should be noted to avoid offending anyone.

• Typical Character - Friendly, helpful and honest but proud. Treat everyone with respect and you’ll be respected.
• Speaking - When addressing people, don't leave out U (which stands for Mr) or Daw (which stands for Ms/Mrs). Try to speak slowly and clearly. If possible, try to speak Myanmar language: a simple “hello – mingalarbar”, “goodbye – ta tar” and “thank you – kyay zue tin par tal” is always greatly appreciated!

• Manners – not always necessary to shake hands. Men do not shake hands with woman or a lady, although handshaking is the normal form of greeting and appreciated. Men should not touch a woman or a lady even in friendliness. Do not hug or kiss in public. Do not touch any adult on the head. Do not point your feet at anybody or anything. Do not step over any part of a person, as it is considered rude. But if you must, always ask to be excused first. When you offer something to a monk or nun or an elderly person, use both hands. Accept or give things with your right hand or both hands in order to be polite. Sit lower than a monk and elders. Women should not sit on the roof of buses or boats out of politeness to the men or elders sitting underneath. Nor should anyone sit in chairs on the same level as monks or nuns and certainly not higher.

• Eating – eat only in decent restaurants for hygienic purpose. When not available, always eat heated food. Do not eat food purchased from street vendors. Do not drink tap water. Drink only bottled water and soft drinks that haven’t been opened yet. Let the eldest be served first.

• Visiting – shoes should always be left at the door when visiting somebody’s home. One should also remember that carpets, mats and other kinds of floor covering are meant to be sat upon, so walking on them especially with your shoes on should be avoided.

• Religion – avoid shouting or laughing and never wear shoes and socks inside a pagoda or monastery, as they are not allowed, although some monasteries allow footwear in the grounds. Do not play loud music in these areas. Note that Buddhist monks are not allowed to listen to music. Monks and nuns should not be touched. Women should be careful not to let any part of their body touch a monk’s robes. Treat Buddha images with respect and do not put Buddha statues or images on the floor or somewhere inappropriate. Do not pose or sit with Buddhist images. Do not touch sacred objects with disrespect. Tuck away your feet. Don’t point it toward the pagoda or a monk. Don’t offer food to a monk, nun, or a novice after noon time. Show respect to monks, nuns, and novices (even if they are children). Do not give money directly to a monk. Leave a donation when possible. Do not step voluntarily on a monk’s shadow. Do not thrust a camera into a monk’s (or anyone’s) face for a photo.

• Dressing – traditional; therefore visitors should avoid alluring dressing in public. In a pagoda, men and women should avoid wearing sleeveless shirts or revealing clothing.

• Do not sit with your feet on a table or sprawl yourself out on the floor. However aggravated you are, do not lose you temper in public as it will cause everyone involved to lose face. Furthermore, touching someone older than you on the head may also be interpreted as an act of aggression and should be avoided. It is also worth bearing in mind that, apart from the religious persons, age, rather than wealth or professional position, is the most important criterion of social standing. In short, respect for elders above all.

• Don’t raise political questions and issues in inappropriate situations; let a local direct the conversation.

• Exercise care in handing over anything to a local that could carry political overtones (political magazine, etc.)
Do not accept any kinds of drugs here. Penalties for drug-trafficking range from five years’ imprisonment to a death sentence.