As a non-parent, I encourage all my readers to consider traveling to Myanmar with your children now or when they’re a little older. There are plenty of activities for kids in Myanmar, and due to the friendly culture it would be easy for your kids to meet local kids. Many speak at least a few phrases of English. In Bagan, where tourism dominates the economy, people are initially less friendly than in other parts of the country, but if you chat individually with anyone, they will soon become your friend. For a full introduction on this series, please see Part I.
School and Play
The main activity specifically for children in Myanmar is school, whether regular or extra summer and after-school courses in English and other subjects. The literacy rate in Myanmar is approximately 90%, and in tourist areas some kids speak very good English and intend on becoming tour guides when they grow up. In fact, with no expectation of payment, they may tag along with you and start giving you a tour. Otherwise, children generally stay with their parents and are welcome in restaurants, temples for prayer, or just sitting along the road in a village chatting with friends and neighbors.
Children play everywhere on the streets, and are welcome to play quietly indoors. Even very young children are quiet and calm when needed, although tiny babies scream occasionally. I was once in a small restaurant for breakfast and shared a table with a family. Their toddler made some quiet fussing, but generally quietly pushed his truck and ate his rice porridge. As I looked around the restaurant I noticed that nearly every table had a small child—6 in all. And, I only noticed these kids when I looked as they were not audible and stayed in their seats or on their parent’s lap.
Children of all ages frequently work with their parents, whether taking orders and serving tea at a tea shop, selling produce at the market, helping at the mobile phone store, herding goats, and more.
Finally, in towns and villages with very little car traffic, I saw children aged 5 and above playing with each other, whether kicking a ball or playing tag, often without direct adult supervision, especially when the electricity was out. The older kids look after the younger kids. When the electricity is on, they enjoy watching television.
Outdoor Activities for Kids in Myanmar Cities and Countryside
Myanmar people generally do not view walking as a leisure activity. However, you can find nice walking places at lakes and pagodas (temples). For hiking between villages, bring a GPS or get the Maps.Me app on your smart phone.
Get into nature and visit a lake when in a city. There are walking paths, bridges and plenty of exploration available. Hpa-An has a very lovely lake.
I recommend bringing quiet (no yelling) children here, even if they are active. Pagodas are colorful, spacious, and have fun activities for kids. If you ask, someone will teach you how to ring the bell, pray in the appropriate place according to the day of the week on which you were born, and sometimes you can water the tree or buddha statue. Purchase incense, candles, or flowers and someone will help you place them properly, if you want assistance. Pagodas include a temple (place for praying) and sometimes a monastery (place where monks or nuns live). Anyone can enter free of charge and relax quietly.
Some pagodas have free Wi-Fi, so bring some small money for the donation boxes.
In the wide open spaces small kids can toddle around and big children can explore—one blogger wrote that she gave her children cameras and they took photos of all the interesting bugs they found on the ground. I didn’t see bugs in temples, so perhaps it depends on the time of year.
Pagoda Tips for a Successful Visit
If it is a hot day, go in the early morning or evening, since you cannot wear socks or shoes and the tiled ground can get very hot in the sun. Temples on hilltops are great if your child needs to expend energy. The stairs are uphill, and local kids run around, sometimes not very quietly. In popular temples, many families have shops within the temple and live there so, their own kids are running around. There are benches for resting along the way. Usually stands sell food and drink, including canned and bottled waters and juices.
Toilets are available always– look for the big sign ‘TOILETS’ or ask. You may get led to special toilets for monks and foreigners, which have western toilets instead of squat toilets. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper, just in case.
Many hotels in major cities offer day passes for their swimming pools. When going to a city, simply look in the guidebook or ask at your hotel. Find them in the ‘Sports and Activities’ section of the Rough Guide for each city. For example, Mandalay swimming information is on page 281.
I cannot recommend a zoo in Myanmar. There was one zoo described in the Rough Guide as a place to go only to see how poorly the animals live. I chose not to visit. Once I was at a preschool, and they had a monkey alone in a cage. The cage was very small and when I asked about it, I learned that the monkey was kept for the children’s entertainment and that a 2nd monkey had died. Some temples have monkeys, but those that I saw were in the Hpa-An area, which is many hours from Yangon.
Hotel Babysitting & Kids Clubs
Budget & Family-Run Hotels
The average budget hotel or guesthouse charging $20 USD per night does not explicitly offer babysitting, kids clubs, or activities for kids. In fact, during my entire 5 weeks in Myanmar during low season (also the hot and dry season) I never saw a child staying in any of my guesthouses, although I’m sure they would be very welcome. Certainly, teenagers work in the guesthouses, and families of reception/management visit. At one family-run guesthouse the manager’s daughter brought her week-old baby girl to be admired by her new grandparents, aunts, and all 3 of the guests.
At a high-end hotel, as anywhere in the world, babysitting options and activities for kids can likely be arranged. The guidebooks provide the phone numbers and websites of these hotels, so you can email your inquiry ahead of time.
Also, many women from Myanmar have worked in Bangkok as nannies. So, you might even get a babysitter who is proficient in English or French. In a budget hotel, especially if it is the evening and your child is sleeping, care could easily be arranged at the reception desk.
Every hotel has a phone and every single person I met in Myanmar, even little old women in villages, had cell phones. So, just get yourself a Myanmar SIM card (MPT and Telenor cover nearly all of the country) to be in touch. You can purchase text and call time in 1,000 kyat (approx. $1 USD) increments. Simply ensure you unlock your phone before leaving home. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to change your SIM card—just hand your phone to the person at the phone store and they’ll set it up for you at no cost.
A side note about paying for hotels: budget hotels accept Myanmar kyat only. More expensive hotels have credit card signs in their windows, but obviously rely on electricity to process payment. You can often book hotels through online booking websites.
Myanmar people live 2 or 3 generations in a home and most families have 2 to 7 children. From the time a child, boy or girl, is 5 or 6 years old, they know how to care for a baby. For example, I was in a restaurant in a very touristy city, and a local woman who was familiar with the staff came in with her toddler child. In the intervening 40 minutes that child’s feet did not touch the ground as each of the 4 cooks and servers, all men, at some point came over and carried around the child, ran with it, made funny sounds, and generally entertained the kid while the mother looked on and hung out with her friends. I can only imagine the quantity of attention a non-Myanmar child would get.
You’ve finished Part II about activities for kids in Myanmar! Have you read Part I yet?
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