Myanmar has seen a steady uptick in tourism in the last four years but it is far from being ‘overcrowded’. And thanks to the local’s deep respect for culture and tradition, the modern world has had little influence on the daily ways of life.
For visitors, what this means is that you don't have to go too far out of your way to experience authentic Myanmar culture. In fact, simply stepping out of your hotel early in the morning will reveal street scenes quite unlike what you would find back home.
Real grocery stores are starting to appear in the main cities of Myanmar, but the vast majority of locals rely on morning fresh markets for their daily needs. A walk through a neighborhood market will find you set amid stalls of fresh produce, butcher shops, and noodle stalls. Watching the interaction between the vendors and the buyers is always interesting plus you will get a chance to see unusual items not found back home!
Drinking tea in Myanmar is not just about quenching your thirst. It is a social ritual! At tea shops throughout the country, locals gather to chat with friends, negotiate business deals or to watch movies. Of course, there is food as well but quite often patrons linger over cups of sweet, milky tea and plain watery green tea that is served for free. Don’t be shy — even if the staff does not speak English it is quite easy to order a drink through gestures. Or stick to coffee, which is the same word in the Burmese language!
Once the sun sets and the work day is finished, Myanmar residents head out for an ice-cold beer. The best place to drink is at a ‘beer station’, a casual open-air restaurant selling draft beer and barbecue. The atmosphere is relaxed and the food and beer are cheap! Gathering here you will get a sense of the social culture of Myanmar and likely be invited to join a table of locals for a drink.
Anywhere in the early morning
Myanmar wakes up early! There is something magical about taking an early walk when the streets are relatively quiet and the soft morning light illuminates the buildings. At this hour locals are up for their morning exercise, vendors are on their way to the markets and monks are out collecting their daily rations from Buddhist residents. Find a place to sit and enjoy some people watching or join in the morning exercise routines with the locals. Even if you are not a morning person it is recommended to pull yourself out of bed at least once during your Myanmar holiday- you can always take a nap later in the day!
Like much of Asia, Myanmar is obsessed with football (soccer). If an English Premier League is on television, head to a beer station or tea shop to join local fans watch the game. Myanmar also has its own national league and games, particularly in Yangon and Mandalay, are well attended. If you are lucky enough to be in town when the national team is playing, you should definitely go watch! It is great fun to be in a stadium with thousands of fans chanting ‘Myanmar’ as their team competes with regional rivals like Vietnam and Thailand.
During the winter months (October to March) Yangon has a full calendar of weekend concerts. Mostly happening around Kandawgyi Lake and at the Myanmar Convention Centre, these evening gatherings are usually packed with local fans and are a fun way to see Myanmar’s residents ‘letting their hair down’. The music ranges from pop to hard rock and everything in between. Ticket prices are cheap – usually around $5 USD per ticket, and you are almost certain to make some new friends who will want to take photos with you.