Basic Myanmar Language for Travelers
Myanmar is a multi-ethnic nation with around 100 ethnic groups. The majority ethnic group is the Burmans and Burmese is the main language of Myanmar.
When I first went to Myanmar in 1994 to look for a field site to do my doctoral research, the little Burmese I knew I had been taught by British teachers in a kind of formal language that didn’t work well on the streets of Yangon!
So here is a simple guide to useful Burmese language phrases you can use on your next trip to Myanmar. I am using informal language and you can see how the Burmese words look when I write in Burmese script. These are all essential phrases that really are used on the streets of Myanmar – people will understand you! Don’t be shy of speaking Burmese – the Burmese absolutely love it when you have a go at their wonderful language.
There are three tones but you don’t need to worry about them in order to be understood using these everyday phrases for travelers to Myanmar as I have included their pronunciation in a simple way – you won’t even know you’re using them!
Basic Myanmar Greetings and Travel Phrases
Learning Burmese, even just a few greetings, means you can get to know some Burmese people and experience their incredible hospitality!
Thwa-meh-naw ? သွားမယ်နော်
lit. I’ll go now.
Ce-zu tin-ba-deh ကျေးဇူးတင်ပါတယ်
“Ce” is pronounced “Chay”
You’re welcome/ that’s all right
Excuse me please (to attract attention)
Do you speak English?
Englaiq-lo pyaw-daq-thala? အင်္ဂလိပ်လို ပြောတတ်
I can’t speak Burmese
Bama-saga ma-pyaw-daq-bu ဗမာစကားမပြောတတ်ဘူး
Where is the restroom/toilet?
Ein-dha beh-hma-leh? အိမ်သာဘယ်မှာလဲ
When traveling in Myanmar
What time are we arriving?
Beh-acein yauq-ma-leh? ဘယ်အချိန်ရောက်မလဲ
“Acein” is pronounced “a-chain”
I need a taxi
Taxi lo-deh က္ကစီလိုတယ်
Where is the hotel?
Hot-eh beh-hma-leh ဟိုတယ်ဘယ်မှာလဲ
I’m going to the hotel.
Ho-teh thwa-meh ဟိုတယ်သွားမယ်
I’m going to…[the Sedona Hotel]
Sedona Ho-teh thwa-meh Sedonaဟိုတယ်သွားမယ်
I’m going to…. [the Shwedagon Pagoda]
Shwedagon Paya thwa-meh ရွှေတိဂုံဘုရားကိုသွားမယ်
Where is the railway station?
mee-ya-daa beh-hma-leh မီးရထားဘူတာရုံဘယ်မှာလဲ
I’m going to the railway station
mee-ya-daa thwa-meh မီးရထားသွားမယ်
Where is the bus station?
Kaa-gaiq beh-hma-leh ကားဂိတ်ဘယ်မှာလဲ
“Kaa-gaiq” is a Burmanization of the English words “car gate.”
I’m going to the bus station
Kaa-gaiq thwa-meh ကားဂိတ်သွားမယ်
Where is the airport?
Lei-saiq beh-hma-leh လေဆိပ်ဘယ်မှာလဲ
I’m going to the airport
Lei-saiq thwa-meh လေဆိပ်သွားမယ်
Addressing a Burmese person
How you address someone in Myanmar depends upon how old you think they probably are and what gender they are. For example, if you walk into a shop and see an older man behind a counter, you would address him as “Uncle.”
Older Man (Uncle)
U-le ဦး လေး
Older Woman (Aunt)
A man older or the same age as you (Older Brother)
A woman around the same age as you (Older sister)
A Boy (son)
A Girl (daughter)
Have you eaten (rice) yet?
Yes, I’ve eaten.
No, I haven’t eaten yet.
I know it sounds odd to ask someone if they’ve eaten but its the main way you would strike up a conversation with someone. A bit like making a comment about the weather!
Best Burmese Phrasebooks and Dictionaries
When shopping in Myanmar
I don’t want it/one
How much is this/it?
Da beh-lauq-leh? ဒါ ဘယ်လောက်လဲ?
That’s too much
Won’t you reduce the price?
I’ll pay 40 Kyat
Le-zeh pe-meh ၄၀ ပေးမယ်
OK/ All right
Here’s the money
Paiq-san di-hma ပုံက်ဆံ ဒီမှ
“Paiq” is pronounced “Pay”
I’ll keep on looking
“Ci” is pronounced “Chi”
Go away please
(Don’t use this unless you are being relentlessly hassled, everyday Burmese would consider it rude. If you are being subjected to harassment, feel free to be even ruder and just say, “Go!” (thwa!)
Best Myanmar Guidebooks
Basic Burmese Phrases for Restaurants and Tea Shops
The Burmese love vegetarians. The majority of the population are Buddhists and they eat very little, if any, meat. They don’t kill meat and there are always vegetarian dishes around.
If you’re stuck up-country somewhere with few food options and nothing looks particularly safe to eat, you can always safely eat vegetarian soup. The Burmese tend to boil their soups for a long time.
Tea is similarly boiled for a long time. I have never been ill in even the remotest villages, drinking tea and eating soup!
Do you have any [coffee]?
Kaw-pe shi-dhala? ကော်ဖီ ရှိသလား
Could we get some [coffee]?
Kaw-pe ya-mala? ကော်ဖီ ရမလား
Give me a [coffee]
Kaw-pe pe-ba ကော်ဖီ ပေးပါ
“pe” is pronounced “pay”
I/We’ll pay the bill now
Paiq-san shin-meh ပိုက်ဆံ ရှင်းမယ်
“Paiq” is pronounced “Pay”
How much does it cost?
Beh-lauq ca-dhaleh ဘယ်လောက် ကျသလဲ
“ca” is pronounced “char”
Here’s the money
Paiq-san di-hma ပိုက်ဆံ ဒီမှာ
I don’t eat meat
A-tha ma-sa-bu အသား မစားဘူး
“Cho” is pronounced “Jo”
“ye” is pronounced “yay”
gin and tonic
Useful phrases for when you are sick in Myanmar
I need a doctor
I need to go to the hospital
Se-youn thwa-ya-deh ဆေးရုံ သွားရတယ်
“Se” is pronounced “say”
Where is a pharmacy?
Se-zain beh-hma-leh ဆေးဆိုင် ဘယ်မှာလဲ
Best Beginner’s Myanmar Language Courses to Learn Burmese
Numbers and Money
The name of Burmese currency used in Myanmar is the Kyat (K) ကျပ်, pronounced “chat” as in a conversation, not as in the French word for cat.
1 (၁) tit တစ်
2 (၂) hnit နှစ်
3 (၃) thoun သုံး
4 (၄) lei လေး
5 (၅) nga ငါး
6 (၆) chauq ခြောက်
7 (၇) kunnit ခုနှစ်
8 (၈) shit ရှစ်
9 (၉) ko ကိုး
10 (၁၀) ta-sair တဆယ်
50 (၅၀) nga-sair ငါးဆယ်
100 (၁၀၀) ta-ya တစ်ရာ
500 (၅၀၀) nga-ya ငါးရာ
1000 (၁၀၀၀) ta-daun တစ်ထောင်
10,000 (၁၀၀၀၀) ta-thaun တစ်သောင်း
Why does Burmese look like a bubble language?
The Burmese language is written in the most wonderful way – it looks like a whole lot of bubbles piled up on top of each other. This is because Burmese was originally written by monks and they wrote on palm leaves (see one below). Palm leaves have long veins or striations in them and if you run your pen (or other writing tools) vertically down the length of the palm leaf, it splits apart. To solve this problem, the monks used rounded characters. That’s why the Burmese language is a wonderful cluster of bubbles and round squiggles.
If I’ve missed out key travel phrases or ones you’d really like to use when you’re in Myanmar, let me know in the comments!
Further Links and Information
- Planning a trip to Myanmar and wondering what to do in Yangon? No matter whether you prefer an all-inclusive tour or to see the city by yourself, click on my ultimate itinerary for one, two or three days in Yangon: Yangon Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Yangon for 1, 2, and 3 Days
- For a comprehensive guide on the most important of all the things to do in Yangon – visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda – see my post here: Shwedagon Pagoda: The Best Pagoda in Myanmar
- More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation, and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page
- Get Your Guide Myanmar travel activities are here
- Visiting Bagan? Click on my ultimate itinerary for one, two or three days in the largest archaeological site in the world: Bagan Itinerary: Best of Bagan Temples in 1, 2 and 3 Days
- For another spectacular and must-see Asian temple, see the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobodur here
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10 thoughts on “Useful Burmese Phrases for Myanmar Travelers”
Beautiful characters in the written language, thanks for explaining the reason for it. I always appreciate an interesting language; And yes, great idea to learn a bit of the language of the country you’re visiting; I always do and advise others to do the same – your experience will be so much better 🙂
Such a practical and useful post. And interesting to learn how the language became.
It’s such an unusual language – I love it!
What a useful post! We were there for 3 weeks a few years back and it remains one of the highlights of all our travels. Amazing country! And mingelaba is one of my favourite words ever!
So glad you find it useful!
I wish I’d had this when I visited Burma 6 about 5 years ago! Before I travel I always try to learn two phrases (beyond please and thank you); “coffee with milk” and “where is the bathroom?”
A great idea. I also try and learn ‘gin and tonic’!
Oh I love this idea for a post!
I always try to learn a bit of the language in the country I am visiting 🙂
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