We recently shared our guide to luxury travel in Myanmar and now we are back to talk about responsible tourism.
Travelling responsibly in Myanmar is incredibly important given the country’s recent past. Only open to tourists in the last decade, Myanmar’s tourism industry is still learning and the benefits are only now beginning to reach across the breadth of the country.
Myanmar is in a unique position: both in danger of being exploited for fast tourism growth and also open to observing the lessons learned by its neighbours when it comes to sustainability. If sustainable tourism practices are put in place from the beginning, Myanmar could soar ahead and avoid the negative impacts of tourism before they even begin.
And while it is the tourism industry who have the power to affect legislation and practice, there are plenty of things that travellers can do to make sure they are travelling responsibly and inspiring others to do the same.
Here are 6+ Tips for Responsible Travel in Myanmar
Responsible thinking in Myanmar
The first rule is the easiest to implement but is often overlooked by visitors travelling to a new destination. In order to understand the specific situation that Myanmar is in, its place in the world and in the tourism industry in Asia, do your research. Educate yourself on the history of Burma, its current political climate and the cultures and traditions of its people. This will help give context to your trip and your interactions with people, making sure you respect them, their past and their culture.
Responsible spending in Myanmar
We strongly encourage you to spend your money directly with local people and businesses, rather than government-run establishments. Skip your hotel restaurant to eat on the street. Food here is much cheaper, just as delicious and your money will go directly in the hands of the chef! Searching for small family-run hotels and souvenir shops also helps spread your tourist dollars where they are needed most: with enterprising local people!
Use this guide to help you find local delicacies.
Responsible places in Myanmar
Our favourite piece of responsible travel advice is to go off the beaten track. Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake are must-see destinations, but hiding just outside of these tourist hubs are beautiful rural areas with their own unique activities and cultural highlights to experience.
In Yangon, you can hop across the river to spend time in Dala. In Bagan, seek out Salay, Pokkoku and nearby Mount Popa for a dose of village life and countryside vistas. And when planning a trip to Inle, why not consider trekking there to spend time with the hill-tribe communities on the way?
Just like spending locally, spreading your business around the country will help more people benefit from tourism.
Responsible transport in Myanmar
Skip buses and taxis in Myanmar in favour of two-wheeled vehicles: trishaw rides and bicycle adventures. You’ll find trishaws in most tourist hubs and you can either use them as a taxi for short distances or hire them out for a sightseeing tour. Make sure to agree on a price before starting your journey and make sure the price you reach is good for you and for the driver.
Another fun and green way to get around is to cycle yourself. Bicycle tours of Bagan and Inle Lake are incredibly popular and a perfect way to soak in the atmosphere at a slower pace.
Respectful Travel in Myanmar
Whatever you do, do not wear shoes or socks into a temple. Many tourists ignore this rule at sunrise in Bagan, as they worry about having cold feet on the old stone temples. This is incredibly disrespectful of local culture and should not be a question of personal comfort.
Also be respectful when using your camera around people in Myanmar. Locals may not want to have the picture taken and this is their choice, not yours. Read more about responsible photography here.
Responsible Wildlife Interactions in Myanmar
Myanmar has a unique relationship with the Asian Elephant. The country has one of the largest elephant populations in Asia and one of the largest intact habitats for elephants too. Yet, elephants continue to be contracted into the logging industry to this day, a practice that has been banned in neighbouring Thailand.
The Myanmar Timber Enterprise, however, have created a system whereby elephant labour is deployed to extract timber in a way that keeps the forests, their home, relatively intact. To maintain the good health of these 4,000 or more elephants, Myanmar has more elephant experts, trainers and vets than any other Asian nation. It seems then, that there is the potential for sustainable elephant numbers.
Retired logging elephants are often drafted into the tourism industry as a way to pay for their expensive upkeep. Therefore, as a tourist, you can play your part by making sure that your elephant interactions are as responsible as possible. We recommend Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp, outside of Kalaw.
Also, remember to look out for poached elephant products in the markets and steer clear of purchasing anything with even the smallest amount of ivory.
Why not also add these social enterprises to your to-visit list in Myanmar and make a small contribution to community development:
- Yangon Bakehouse
- Linkage Restaurant, Yangon
- Shwe Sa Bwe, Yangon
- The Verandah Youth Community Café, Hpa An
As with all our destinations across Asia, we also encourage you to:
- Dress appropriately, especially in temples and religious sites.
- Throw away your rubbish in designated bins and recycling areas, even if you see locals doing the opposite.
- Not visit orphanages or similar institutions; this is not a good use of your time or theirs. Here are some alternatives.
- Not engage in public displays of affection.
- Not give money to people begging. If you want to help, seek out a local homeless charity of similar community organisation.