Because each place is different in term of practices and customs, it is necessary for tourists to know the do's and don'ts in their chosen destination. In the city of Yangon, there are some cultural rules that should be strictly followed, especially when it comes to visiting pagodas and interacting with monks.
Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and 98% of the population consists of practicing Buddhists. Spirituality is very important to the people of Myanmar, and they treat their elders and monks with great respect. Visitors should respect religious custom when visiting Buddhist religious sites, and interacting with monks. The customs and traditions of Myanmar are very similar to those of other Southeast Asian countries. Below are a few Dos and Don’ts to help make your trip more enjoyable.
• At religious sites, always remove your footwear and socks
• Dress modestly when visiting a paya
• Treat Buddhist images with respect
• Avoid shouting or laughing
• Be discrete when taking photos or video
• Don’t point your feet toward a paya or a monk
• Don’t play loud music in these areas. Note that Buddhist monks are not allowed to listen to music
• Do not put Buddha statues or images on the floor, or in an inappropriate place
• Show respect to monks, nuns, and novices
• Don’t offer to shake hands with monks
• Sit in a lower position than monks and elders
• Don’t offer food to a monk, nun, or novice after noon time
• Women should not touch monks
• If there is no admission fee to a paya, you may leave a donation
• Footwear should also be removed when visiting a private home
• It is not always necessary to shake hands
• Public displays of affection are frowned upon
• Avoid touching an adult on the head
• It is considered rude to step over any part of a person
• Accept or give things with your right hand, or both hands
• Most public bathrooms do not have toilet paper. Carry tissue with you
• Don’t leave expensive items in your room. Use the safe deposit box
• Drink only bottled water, or unopened drinks
• Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is advisable, and should include emergency air evacuation, and should cover the activities you will participate in
Crimes against tourists are taken very seriously here, and Yangon is actually one of the safest big cities in the world. Most visitors, including female travelers, will not have any problems. Carrying large sums of money, and even walking down dark streets at night, is rarely a problem.
However, there have been isolated incidents involving tourists. It is best to let common sense be your guide, and take the precautions you would take in any big-city. Always be aware of your surroundings, and never leave valuables unattended.
The state of health care in Yangon is not up to the standards of even other Asian countries. Public hospitals including the Yangon General Hospital lack many of the basic facilities and equipment one would expect to find in a hospital. Private clinics and hospitals have the best medical facilities, and internationally trained doctors, but are quite expensive.
For minor illnesses and injuries, your hotel can give information about private doctors with experience treating foreigners, or your embassy may be able to recommend a doctor or clinic. However, for any serious illness or injury, you will need to go to Bangkok or Singapore for treatment.
- Water – Do not drink tap water. Drink bottled water only.
- Disease – You can prevent most common illnesses by using common sense, and they can be easily treated with medicine. Infectious diseases are rarely a problem for visitors here.
- First-Aid Kit –Bring a small medical first-aid kit to treat minor illnesses and injuries. Vaccinations – Before you go, consult your physician or health clinic for vaccinations you need based on your medical condition, and health history.
- Medication – You should bring a supply of prescription medications you are taking. Specialized medications may not be available here, and over-the-counter medication may be of dubious quality.
The currency of Myanmar is the Kyat (pronounced like ‘chat’). The exchange rate for the Kyat is somewhere around 800 to 900 Kyat to one US dollar. The Kyat comes in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 denomination notes. There are NO coins. The Kyat is the only official currency of Myanmar, but most hotels quote prices in US dollars, and some businesses accept dollars.
Also, entrance fees to various attractions; paya, museums, etc. are in US dollars. In fact, some places may not even accept Kyat. You will need to always have an amount of dollars with you. Also, be sure you have dollar bills in good condition, and preferably new bills. US dollar bills that are badly used, old, torn, dirty, written on, or heavily creased may not be accepted. In Myanmar they seem to be pretty picky about this.
Note: Visitors are no longer required for to bring a certain amount of money, and it is not required to exchange money into FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificate).
It is actually illegal to exchange money except at the Currency Exchange Centre, and at government approved exchange banks. Unfortunately, government approved exchange banks are not convenient, and do not offer favorable exchange rates. However, some hotels can exchange money. It is said that the best place to change money is at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, the money changers around the Sule Paya are notorious for cheating, and should be avoided.
When you exchange money at private money changers, you do so at your own risk. There is an official currency exchange counter in the arrival hall at the airport, but the exchange rate is quite low. It may be best to just exchange the money you need right away, and exchange more money when you get to town.
Note: The Myanmar Kyat is not convertible outside the country.
ATMs & Credit Cards
Currently there are NO ATMs that can be used for international transactions.
In spite of recent events, Myanmar is still a very cash-based society, and presently very few places accept credit cards.
Note: Visitors should bring enough cash for their entire trip.
Mobile Phones / SIM Cards
As of now, tourists can buy SIM Cards with one-month validity at shopping centres for about 50,000 kyat. Outgoing calls are 300 kyat per minute, and incoming calls are 50 kyat per minute.
There are only a few shops in Yangon that sell these SIM cards, but your hotel may be able to assist you.
Internet access has improved greatly in recent years, and there are now quite a few internet shops in Yangon. Rates are not expensive, but speeds are still slow at times. Most hotels offer internet access.
There is still some censorship of the internet by the government, and sites like Yahoo! and Gmail may not always work, but most places know how to get around this. The rate is around 400 to 600 kyat per hour. For those with a laptop, some cafés and restaurant offer free Wi-Fi.
Myanmar is 6 1/2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Under the law, homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar. But gay travelers do not seem to be harassed, and do not have any special problems. But as previously mentioned, public displays of affection, whether straight or gay, are not acceptable, and restraint is well advised.
Drug trafficking is taken very seriously, and the penalty for drug trafficking ranges from a minimum of 15 years imprisonment, to the death penalty.
Private businesses and government offices in Yangon are generally open from 09:00 to 17:00. Government offices use any excuse to close, and they do have a lot of holidays, but they are not closed for lunch.