When you first arrive in a country very different from your own, it is common to feel overwhelmed, alone, self-conscious, and a wee bit scared. This unique combination of feelings is often referred to as culture shock. While not entirely harmful, it can take away a bit of the excitement when visiting a place as unique as Myanmar. Learning about a few intricacies of your destination before you step on that plane can reduce the severity of your culture sock and help you enjoy your Myanmar tour a little better.
There are more than 100 ethnic groups in Myanmar.
You may just start to feel as though you have a grasp on the nation's culture, and then step into another part of town where the culture is entirely different. For the most part, the Myanmar people have not yet become westernized. They still wear traditional clothing, which includes skirts for men and traditional, paint-like makeup for women. However, there is a lot of variation in these fashions between ethnic groups.
The locals are, for the most part, gentle and welcoming to strangers.
In some parts of the world, you would be right to feel threatened or out of place if approached by a local. However, in Myanmar, the people are known for their friendliness. When they approach you and attempt to offer you food, show you their work, or talk with you, they are showing a genuine interest in your culture and your purpose for traveling. Interact with them; don't shy away from them. You'll come to really appreciate their friendly nature.
After years of isolation, Myanmar is slowly becoming more open to visitors and international ideas.
As recently as 2008, Myanmar was one of the most isolated countries in the world. You will feel this isolation as you walk through the streets and feel as though you have stepped back in time. Technology seems so far away, as the people still use horses to get around. However, in some of the more populated areas, you will notice small glimpses of the beginnings of globalization. Billboards for products like Coca Cola can be seen in some more populated city centers, and some larger worldwide companies have begun to host their conferences there.
There is a long history of human rights violations in Myanmar, and since most people have known no other way of life, they are (sometimes scarily) accepting of it.
The nation was led by an oppressive militaristic government until 2011. Civilians were forcibly relocated, and children were forced into labor. If you hear any Myanmar people speak about these times, you may be surprised by how lightly they take it. Though most realize that what they lived through was not right, they are not as angry about these violations of their rights as you might expect, since for most of them, this was the only way of life that they knew.
Visiting Myanmar is true to be an eye-opening experience that expands your worldview. Surely, you will feel a bit out of place when you first arrive. However, by learning as much as you can about this nation's history and culture before you travel, you can minimize culture shock and have a more enjoyable experience.