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There are plenty of things to do and eat in Myanmar, but travelling here isn’t a piece of cake. There are many obstacles, such as language, infrastructure, and transportation, which can make travelling here more difficult than somewhere like Paris. Here are some useful things to know before you come.
The Myanmar language is not easy to learn. If you can, try to learn a few words. Useful ones are mingalarbar, which is a common greeting, and je zu bah, which means thank you. Knowing at least these two phrases will get you quite far and gain you lots of smiles when interacting with the locals.
This one is mostly for women, but men should take heed, too. When you’re entering a Buddhist temple or pagoda, follow all rules, such as no shoes, no socks, no spaghetti straps, no short shorts. For females, be especially mindful when it is hot outside. While it is tempting to wear shorts, short dresses, and crop tops or tube tops, the stares you will receive are not worth the extra heat. When you’re in Myanmar, adhere to its conservative culture.
This applies not just to Myanmar, but it is a useful tip nonetheless. You will likely be travelling for long periods on public buses, trains, and taxis, and touching many things. Bathrooms, let alone those with hand-washing stations, are hard to come by.
Similarly, bring tissues. You can find them easily in any little convenience store in Myanmar, though most will be scented. Many toilets are squat style and sometimes don’t provide toilet paper. So, better to bring your own.
Smiling is universal. Whether you are smiling at strangers, grabbing a taxi or ordering food, always try to smile. Myanmar people are extremely friendly and they will respond positively to your body language. Locals will trust you a lot more if you smile, especially if you are in a rural area. In some parts of Myanmar, foreigners are a rare sight and you may get stares. If you smile, they will inevitably smile back and you will have a pleasant exchange.
Taxis in Myanmar are not yet regulated. Getting a taxi from the airport to downtown can be a hassle, especially if the driver is overcharging you. However, don’t be afraid to haggle. A standard fare from most places in Yangon should be between 2,000-5,000 MMK (US$1.50-3.70) and between 8,000-10,000 MMK (US$6-7.40) to the airport or Aung Mingalar Bus Station.
Sometimes, your bus ticket might say 6 pm but the bus doesn’t arrive until 6:30 pm. This means you’ll arrive at your destination later, too. You can try to plan ahead for these delays, or you can just remain flexible and understand that everyone around you is also in the same boat. It can be frustrating for travellers on a tight schedule, but time is handled much more loosely here. You should also be aware that food, bathrooms, and other amenities will not be the same as in other countries. Maintaining an open mind will allow you to have a more enriching experience.
You should always give yourself plenty of time, too. Things will not always work out as planned. You may want to stay in one place longer because your overnight bus exhausted you more than you expected. In that case, you should give yourself a couple of days to rest. A packed itinerary is fun, but there should be time to relax as well.
Even people with iron stomachs are susceptible to “Burma Belly”, an affectionate name for getting the runs or vomiting from food poisoning in Myanmar. Though sanitation is improving across the country as tourism continues to develop, it is still a problem for many travellers. Bring Immodium or Pepto Bismol with you at all times. It’s no fun travelling when you’re sick, but worse when you can’t control your symptoms.
Communication is usually not too difficult for tourists because most tour guides, service staff, and drivers will speak English. However, if you’re having trouble with English then using hand gestures and even Google Translate will help you communicate. Just make sure you stay respectful at all times — people in Myanmar are typically very calm, and yelling at them will only cause more problems.