If you’re heading to Myanmar, no doubt you’ll have heard that you need to dress conservatively. It’s true, you do need to put some extra thought into what to wear in Myanmar but in my experience, some of the info out there is a little exaggerated.
When I was researching for my trip, all the articles and guidebooks I read constantly reiterated that no shoulders or knees were allowed, for guys and girls. I really took the advice to heart as I didn’t want to offend anyone or draw extra attention to myself. Every top I took had sleeves and apart from pyjamas, I only had one pair of shorts that was just above the knee.
Talking with other travelers around me, I realised I could have been a bit more relaxed with what I was wearing.
So, for anyone else out there wondering what to wear in Myanmar, here are my best tips.
Please note, this is based on my experience – because Myanmar is changing so quickly, yours could be different depending on where and when you go!
Quick Cheat Sheet:
– Have a longyi or scarf on hand to cover up for temples and more conservative areas.
– Thick-strapped tank tops are fine.
– Go for a balance; if you are wearing a tank top, wear longer pants.
– Shorts are fine, as long as they are longer.
– In touristy towns, locals said it was fine to wear short-shorts if you had a cover-up with you as well.
– Bring a long t-shirt to wear over your swimwear (guys and girls).
Things to Note:
What was deemed acceptable varied from place to place. There are plenty of fashionable young locals wearing conservative western-style clothing, i.e. with sleeves of some sort and bottoms below the knee. As for tourists, most people wore longer pants or skirts, but in tourist meccas like Inle Lake, plenty of people were wearing short-shorts. A Burmese woman I spoke to said that locals understand tourists are from another culture and as long as they made some effort to cover up, they weren’t going to offend anyone. This however, was in touristy Inle Lake.
In some of the smaller towns and villages I visited, I would recommend covering up a little more – particularly in “local” areas, like markets. I would have felt uncomfortable wearing what I would usually wear for 30 degree weather – a tank top and short shorts. Knee-length shorts and a t-shirt are a great option, just avoid plunging necklines.
Long, cool pants are great
I made myself a pair of loose, linen pants (using Burda 6938) that were honestly the best. I literally wore them all the time, they were so versatile and comfortable!
You can easily pick up a pair of elephants for $2 which I did as well. While a lot of people had a longyi (what everyone in Myanmar wears) or scarf to cover their shorts and bare shoulders for temples, wearing my pants meant I didn’t have to! It was so great to have one less thing to carry and to just be able to walk straight up to a temple.
It’s not that much of a hassle to carry something to cover up but if you’re looking for something easy, get some pants! Especially in Myanmar where there are temples and monasteries absolutely everywhere.
Sandals – rugged ones
You see these babies? I wore these Teva sandals 24/7. Best decision I ever made to get them.
Why rugged sandals for Myanmar?
– It’s hot, dusty and sometimes dirty.
– Squat toilets, just saying.
– You are always removing your shoes.
– You’re barefoot all the time – your feet will be grubby and ruin any ‘nice’ sandals.
– You will do a lot of walking, so something comfortable is a must.
Plus side, you can get an awesome sandal tan, which I still have!
T-shirts, t-shirts and more t-shirts
I bought so many t-shirts with me and it was great. Cool, comfortable, no risk of offending anyone and it made me feel like me. I live in t-shirts at home so they helped me to feel more like myself while wearing rugged sandals, baggy pants and other things I never wear at home.
Yes, I wasn’t kidding. I did wear these pants ALL the time.
Bring something nice
I bought two tops that were a bit nicer and I was glad I did. I wasn’t clubbing (though there are clubs in Yangon that some of my friends liked) but having something nicer to wear at a restaurant or for rooftop drinks (every hostel in Myanmar has a rooftop common area it seems) was great. People in Burma are also no slobs, their longyis are beautiful and men often wear crisp white shirts with theirs, while the women all wore such pretty tops.
I felt like a real slob sometimes but I got over it, being blonde and not the tannest, I stood out like a sore thumb anyway.
Maxi skirts are popular
Heaps of female backpackers wore maxi skirts, like so many I was tempted to start wearing them even though I’m firmly a pants girl. So, bring a maxi skirt girls, they’re popular and practical.
Men and women in Myanmar mostly swim fully-clothed; longyi, shirt, everything. I took a one-piece (not a revealing, plunging style like what’s popular at the moment) and it was mostly okay. When swimming in Hpa-An with a friend who wore a bikini with a t-shirt, we were asked multiple times to cover up and were stared at a lot. However, when I swam by myself, I was still stared at (that’s normal for Myanmar) but no one asked me to cover up. For guys, wearing swim shorts and no shirt seemed to be okay, some Burmese guys wore no shirt but most wore a t-shirt.
This wasn’t at the beach though, I didn’t go to the coast so I can’t comment on what’s appropriate there.
My advice would be to bring something to wear over your bikini for public swimming (outside a hotel), my one-piece seemed fine but from my experience, a bikini wasn’t appropriate or worth the hassle.
Bottom line: What to wear in Myanmar
Avoid short shorts and plunging necklines. But feel free to bring longer shorts, lightweight pants, maxi skirts or pick up a longyi while you’re there. It’s your call on swimwear, but I would honestly recommend bringing something to wear over a bikini for public swimming.