What to wear – Myanmar

I had the great pleasure of travelling to Myanmar recently with my magic friend Peggy. We actually put in a lot of time planning it since we have both heard how difficult it would be to travel internally (with flights). And by that I mean, Myanmar may have been the last Southeast Asian country to really open up to foreigners thanks to the infamous house arrest and treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi. Ever since she was released in 2010, Myanmar has seen a steady rise in tourism with foreigners near and far coming in to see the beautifully preserved buildings, temples and tranquility of its different states. I for one had been waiting excitedly for the chance to enter the country.

In a way it was a tough country to pack for seeing that it was going to be between 35 to 40 degrees Celsius while we were there… yet they are a conservative country. I didn’t Google up pictures of the country but instead relied on old judgments on what could be acceptable in a conservative country… that was also very very hot.

The packing

  • To be safe, I erred on the side of caution and packed a long skirt, long pants and a long jumpsuit. Polyester, polyester, cotton. Hot, hot, ok not so hot.
  • For tops, I packed loose breezy and sleeveless one’s. All of which were not too low cut as to see my cleavage
  • I made sure I had enough clothes that covered me from my top all the way to my ankles. Or if not so, at least calf length
  • Given that I knew I was going to be climbing up temples, and biking or hiking as well, I did actually pack two pairs of shorts. I thought if it ever reached a point where I couldn’t deal with the heat, I would have to put it on

DSC_0015(My fav jumpsuit and me, I brought a separate blouse for when I thought my top was too low)

The alternatives

  • I had also brought one white blouse along for the ride, which I could easily carry with me and wear to cover my shoulders if needed. Re: temples. Or if I landed and realized they were even more conservative than I had thought and wouldn’t appreciate showing shoulders. The blouse was also a better alternative than a pashmina or scarf for me since I was carrying along a heavy handbag with my camera
  • The long skirt I had packed was also easy and light enough to crumple up and throw into my handbag to bring along when I need to climb the temples. I just pulled them up over my shorts and hiked.

What they wear

Part of what made Myanmar so magical was that all the locals retained their traditional wear, but jazzed it up and modernized it of course. Members of both sexes typically wear the longyi. A long piece of cloth wrapped around your waist. It goes the full length from your waist to your ankles, and comes in a myriad of bold, pastel and feminine colors for the ladies, and dark, small patterns for the men.

DSC_0194(Everyone longyi!)

They also wear this to formal functions btw, which was evidenced by our guide showing up in a nicely ironed dress shirt… tucked into a longyi. I saw perhaps at most two people in jeans the entire time I was there.

For the ladies, they wear short and tight tops on top of the longyi. Resulting in a flattering outfit that is still not too overtly sexy. Some do wear sleeveless tops, but all have a high neckline. Even if they had peekaboo effects and cutouts going on.

DSC_0027(The numerous options in a single stall)

You can always buy a longyi the minute you get there if you worry that what you packed isn’t appropriate. If you head over to Bogyoke Market in Yangon you will find a variety of these skirts which can set you back between USD 5 to USD 10 depending on the pattern.

I got one, and true enough it was actually quite cooling, since the flaps allow for a breeze to pass through and its (mostly) cotton build helps absorb your sweat. It also really helps you blend in with the locals as my friend and I realized.

DSC_0187(Fitting in with the longyi)  

So if you’re heading to Myanmar, be prepared to be covered up unless you’re ok with being blatantly stared at. They are of course forgiving to foreigners, but trust me you will feel out of place unless you have things that go at least beyond your knees slightly. For the heavily touristed areas like Bagan and Inle Lake, you can get away with wearing shorts since its mostly tourist all around. But be prepared to cover up in respect of local decorum when climbing up and into temples. Bring along a long wraparound skirt and top to wear over just in case.

What to wear - Myanmar(Cycling in shorts but I brought my long skirt to wear up the temple)