Myanmar Travel Information - What To Wear

by Lissie

Myanmar (Burma) is a conservative Buddhist country. Its highly inappropriate to dress as if you were on a Thai beach.

Myanmar Tourism - Undeveloped

Travelling to Myanmar is not quite the same as planning a beach vacation in Thailand. Myanmar, sometimes known as Burma, has been out of the mainstream of SE Asian tourism for long time. In 2011 there was a huge increase in arrivals with about around 300,000 visitors - but in comparison to Thailand's 14 MILLION arrivals - this is a sleepy backwater. 

What does this mean for the tourist? You're a bit unusual if you stick to the tourist spots of Yangoon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan. If you venture outside of these you are a lot unusual and you will be stared at and commented on anyways. 

If you happen to European, blond, tall or have a beard or curly hair you will garner even more interest - as the locals are none of these. 

Woman at Shewdagon Pagoda, Yangoon
Woman at Shewdagon Pagoda, Yangoon

Myanmar is a Buddhist Country

Arguably Myanmar is one of the world's most Buddhist countries, with over 85% of the population claiming allegiance to the ancient religion.  Buddhist tend to dress modestly, and Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world where you will see the majority of the population, still wearing the traditional long sarong-like garment known as the longyi, which looks similar to a sarong or dhoti worn in other countries in Asia. 

For a tourist - this means that the Burmese don't walk around half naked.

What does half naked mean? Basically male or female you should be walking around topless - even menwith shoulders and upper arms exposed (no shoe string tops) bare midrift - no hipsters or cut off tops 

Most local women will wear long skirts, longyis (which are ankle length) or trousers. Men will wear trousers or longyis. 

Yes I know its hot - and you can probably get away with wearing shorts - but bring long ones: to the knee or below. 

Every time you visit a building, pagoda, stupa, or home, you need to remove your shoes. And your socks if you are wearing them. You do NOT want to be wearing shoes if you are sightseeing - instead you need slip off sandals, tevas or similar, which you can easily remove and either take with you or leave at the temple entrance. 

There is however no prohbition about covering you head in religious areas, or indeed a requirement to do so. 

Monks in Yangoon
Monks in Yangoon
School Group in Bagan, Myanmar
School Group in Bagan, Myanmar

Travel Packing Clothes List for Myanmar

Myanmar is generally hot and humid except in the highlands in the "winter" season (November to March) when it can get cool at night. 

Although you can probably walk around for weeks as a woman wearing shoe-string straps and short shorts, don't go home and whinge that the locals stared at you and wouldn't really talk to you? Lets face it if someone walked around your home town wearing crazy clothes and smelling a bit - would you want to talk to them?

No one will probably tell you that you are dressing inappropriately -and almost nothing you do will make you pass as a local - but you can at least attempt to vaguely adhere the local norms of dress.  Western women travelling wearing a longyi have reported much approval from local women - its a nice way to make a ocnnection even if you don't share a language. 

Dressed for the temples, Cambodia
Dressed for the temples, Cambodia
Inle Lake market, Myanmar
Inle Lake market, Myanmar

For Myanmar for a month long trip I'd pack something like 

  • 3 shirts, short sleeve  
  • one warmer top for a/c buses and the northern hills  
  • 2 pairs of mid-calf 3/4 length pants  - 
  • sarong - or buy a longyi in Yangoon. I always have a sarong with me because its so useful as a cover up on the way to the bathroom, a sheet, a towel or even a bag 
  • one pair of tevas or other lightweight shoes (I personally can't wear thongs all day walking)  - 
  • one pair of light weight walking shoes  -
  • two pairs of socks, 3-4 pairs of underwear  -
  • one swim suit - 2 piece tankini for women - can double as underwear 
  • sun hat 

Suggested Travel Gear for Myanmar

ExOfficio Women's Nomad Roll-Up Pant

ExOfficio has lots of devotees - these are good length particularly for women

Teva Men's Tanza Sandal

Classic design - I've been wearing these for years - they work on the beach, in town, or in the shower, don't get a leather version - that will go mouldy fast in Burma's humidity

Teva Women's Omnium Sandal

A cross between and shoe and a sandal - could be a good option on rough roads and ancient monuments

Kenneth Cole Women's Desert Oasis Tankini

Swim suit or another layer under a shirt for warmth, spare underwear, multi-functional is the way to go!

Kenneth Cole

How To Tie a Longyi in Burma - for men

Bonus - includes the version for playing football!

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About the Author

I'm Elisabeth Sowerbutts, I took my first trip when I was about 3 years old, and I haven't really stopped travelling since. I've been to every continent, except Antarctica, and done everything from backpacking to being a business traveller. I spent six months solo travelling through South America and another six months backpacking through India, Nepal and SE Asia. 

My partner didn't used to travel much but I've passed the bug onto him now. Our more recent adventures include Europe in the middle of winter, Thailand, and 35,000km's through Australia's outback. 

I've lived in England, Scotland, Canada and Australia, and currently I'm back home in New Zealand 

I write a popular travel tips blog called: Lis's Travel Tips

I've also published my first book on Vacation Packing: Save Your Back, Time and Money

Updated: 06/04/2013, Lissie
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Lissie on 03/05/2012

You can't - most of us don't even bother trying to look like a local!

Mladen on 03/05/2012

I am afraid I am blond, tall (6 feet), and can grow beard. How can I get unnoticed there? :)
This is excellent article on Myanmar Travel Information: What To Wear. It is always good to prepare for visiting other country with completely different culture than ours.

Lissie on 01/13/2012

LOL Jimmie - well that's mainly the guys - but you'd be surprised what you see in Thai party spots!
I'm hoping to visit later this year - I tried to go in 1989 - but that's a whole other wizz!

Jimmie on 01/13/2012

"you should be walking around topless" Whoa!
I had no idea that you should also remove socks. Myanmar is an Asian country I never visited. These culturally sensitive tips are helpful.

ohcaroline on 01/13/2012

Good information to know if you are heading that way. I know very little about the country except what I see on the news.

katiem2 on 01/13/2012

Very cool, thanks for the info on the best myanmar travel wear, I'm ready to jump a plane and go enjoy this beautiful travel destination. Thanks, Katie

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