BURMA FREQUENTLY ASKED
Burma is a conservative and as this country was closed to tourists for so long, it has been influenced less by Western culture than the rest of Southeast Asia. For those of you who are visiting Burma for the first time we have provided some cultural information to help you fit in and travel as a responsible tourist.
- It is best to cover as much of your skin as you can while in public in order to be respectful of the local culture and not to attract too much attention to yourself.
- When visiting religious sites you should wear trousers and long sleeved shirts as shorts and sleeveless tops will cause offence. Ensure your shoulders and knees are covered.
- You should remove shoes and socks before entering a pagoda or monastery.
- When you sit down your legs should not be stretched out and your feet should never face the Buddha.
- When visiting a monastery or gompa it is customary to give a donation for its upkeep.
- At hot springs, rivers and lakes where it is pleasant to take a dip, it is fine for men to go bare-chested while bathing but they should not go nude. Women should be as modest as possible in these situations.
- Displaying physical closeness in public places is frowned upon in Burma, never kiss in public.
- Do not purchase antiques although it is always a good idea to buy arts & crafts from local shops around heritage sites.
- Do not give presents (sweets, pens etc) or money to children as this will foster dependence and expectations of gifts from future travellers
Local customs are well explained on the website Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists run by the Burmese government and Burmese Tourist Federation
There are four so-called “must see” places in Burma (Myanmar), these are: Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
Bagan is truly one of the wonders of the world and a highlight of any trip to Burma. Across a 40 square kilometres area of savannah landscape there are 2,230 temples and pagodas with their gilded cupolas sparkling in the sun.
We suggest you take the option for a sunrise balloon ride over Bagan (October to March only and must be booked in advance). From the basket there is a wonderful view of the many pagodas and temples scattered over the Bagan plain and the Irrawady river as the sun rises in the sky.
Mandalay is the cultural centre of Burma and has long been known as a centre of skilled craftsmen. Mahumuni Pagoda in the south of the city is known as one of the three most important shrines in Burma along with Schwedagon in Yangon and the Golden Rock in Kyaiktiyo. There is a beautiful teak called Shwenandaw monastery built by King Thibaw in 1880. Sunset from Mandalay Hill is impressive with panorama view of the city as well as Irrawaddy, Mingun and pagoda-covered hills of Sagaing.
Around Mandalay there are many interesting remnants of several former Royal capitals dating from different periods in the regions history: Ava (Inwa), Amarapura, Sagaing and Mingun. At Amarapurna watch the sunrise at the longest teak bridge in the world at U-Bein Bridge.
At Inle Lake you take a long-tail boat to your hotel on the lake and along the way you are likely to see the famous leg-rowing fisherman and the floating gardens. If you have time we suggest you visit Sankar in the far southern region of Inle Lake to see 108 ’sunken’ stupas from the 16-17th centuries, these are partially underwater for a few months a year. This boat journey will take around 2 ½ hours and is an opportunity to get far away from the more touristy areas.
In Yangon you will see the glittering Shwedagon pagoda and the colonial buildings from British times.
We suggest the fifth “must see” is to take the boat cruise along the majestic Irrawady river from Bagan to Mandalay. There are three boats that operate a day cruise to Mandalay or you can take the comfortable RV Paukan 3 day cruise stopping at places along the way. A river cruise is the best way to travel in Burma as you get views of the passing countryside and river activities.
We recommend for any trip to Burma you visit some places beyond the four or five “must see” locations described above. In our Cultural Tours of Burma we include visits to the former British hills stations at Maymo now known as Pyin Oo Lwin; Kalaw and Loi-mwe near Kengtung. Other places of interest well worth visiting are: Pindaya with a limestone cavern filled with thousands of Buddha statues and also Mount Popa. Mount Popa is a two hour drive from Bagan which is said to be home of nat spirits and is one of the most important sites of nat worship in Burma. At the end of a tour of Burma the best place to spend a few days to relax is the beautiful Ngapali beach.