10 Things About Myanmar That Surprised Me

There were lots of things I saw in Myanmar that I haven’t seen anywhere else such as men in skirts called longyi. Some even have red teeth due to chewing betel nut. There’s also the tan-colored paste on women’s faces called thanaka. But these no longer came as a surprise because I already know about them even before I booked my tickets.
I came to Myanmar with minimal expectations about infrastructure/facilities, food and service. I was there for the temples of Bagan, anyway. But what I’ve seen and experienced blew me away.

Let me list down 10 things that particularly stood out for me.

1. The minute Claire and I arrived at Yangon International Airport, we were impressed. Yes, the airport was quite small but space was utilized well. It looks surprisingly modern, too, AND with a working WiFi to boot! You know how NAIA has several hotspots but none seem to work? It sucks, right?
Touchdown Korea Myanmar!

Samsung and LG welcomes you to Myanmar.

2. Our hostel reservation came with a free airport pickup and drop-off service, so I was kind of expecting a box-type sedan would pick us up. Well, our ride came in the form of a new van with sun/moonroof. Far out!

3. I was prepared to see lots of dilapidated buildings and old cars, and I did, but I saw newer ones, too. Yangon City is where the old meets new.
Just like in Manila, traffic rules are non-existent in Yangon.

4. If you Googled ‘telecommunications in Myanmar’ a couple of years (or even months) back, you’ll get pictures of roadside telephone ‘facilities’ like the one pictured below. I’m not sure whether they still exist, but what I do know is that they have lots of mobile phone stores now. In fact, while stuck in traffic on our way to the terminal to catch our bus for Bagan, our driver whipped out his Huawei touchscreen phone to give us his email address.

5. We took an ordinary air conditioned bus to Bagan. Imagine our delight when we found a bottled water, a small garbage bag and – get this – a pack of toothbrush and small toothpaste stashed in the bus seat pockets. Yes, these may be small and cheap things, but come on, low cost carriers can’t even provide these free of charge!

For the Mandalay-Yangon leg of our trip, we decided to pay a bit more (MMK16,500) for comfort since it was a long trip. We took Shew Nan Taw Express’ double-decker VIP bus equipped with a reclining chair with pillow and blanket. A liter of bottled water, cold towels, snacks (pastries) and candies were served by the attendant.

Though the VIP bus has an on-board toilet, it was too cramped even for Asian standards. The trip still had a stopover anyway, but you know what that means: having to use public toilets.

Now, being a third-world baby, I am no longer fazed with the sad state of public toilets. In Myanmar, however, I was surprised that the restrooms are relatively clean. Yes, most are still squat toilets but at least they have ample tissue paper, water supply, and sometimes, even a bidet! And the restrooms don’t stink at all.

7. The country has been severed from the outside world for many decades when it was still under military junta you’d think they have a lot of catching up to do – pop culture-wise. Thankfully, there are still no signs of Miley Cyrus, but they do have Psy dolls and Despicable Me minions sold at Mandalay temples!
Photo credit: Jyse Salubre

8. The Burmese are devout Buddhists, so it’s only natural that you’d find them at almost every temple, any time of day, any day of the week. But we’ve noticed they not only visit the temples for worship, but this is also where they (groups of teens, families, and even couples) ‘hang out’, too.

9. From the blogs I’ve read, I gathered two things about Burmese cuisine: a) they serve lots of vegetables and b) oily food. It doesn’t add up, does it? But I tell you, we never had a meal we didn’t like.

Most restaurants offer set meals. You will be asked to choose a curry of either beef, chicken, pork, fish, or venison as main. Then, either one-by-one or simultaneously, they will serve the soup, a cup of rice, a bowl of fresh or half-cooked vegetables with spicy dip, an assortment of sides and our main. You also get unlimited servings of rice. As if that’s not enough, you get free dessert, too! To say that our tummies were satiated is an understatement.

Oh, you know, just our typical Burmese meal

The country is still devoid of Starbucks and McDonald’s but that’s not to say they aren’t getting into the franchise/fast food chain concept.

In Mandalay, we requested our driver to bring us to one of their malls just for kicks. We got a table at Mandalay Donuts, and while waiting for food to be served, one of our friends decided to check the other restaurants and came back with chicken nuggets from AFC (Amarapura Fried Chicken? bahaha) Anyway, she said the menu is just like KFC’s with chicken, fries and soda. But man, the chicken nuggets she got were literally chunks of REAL chicken; no extenders. Good stuff.

The country has seen an influx of tourists in recent years and the Burmese never fail to make visitors feel welcome. No matter how little English-speaking skills they have, they will make an effort to initiate small talk. And if they can’t converse, they’ll at least give you a sweet smile.

In Bagan, one of the hostel owners where we stayed at took us to his ‘special place’ – a temple not frequented by tourists where we can watch the sunset.

In Mandalay, our driver/guide wanted us to see as many attractions as we can possibly squeeze in a day. He even gets a bit disappointed each time we asked to skip a temple because we were either templed out or just plain tired…or hungry.

Then there’s the owner of Panwar Restaurant in Mandalay — who’s a dead ringer for Sid Lucero — who starts his statements with “Listen to me…” in an assertive tone, but really, all he wants is to ensure that food is served on time, soup/rice replenished and to know that we enjoyed our meal by asking “You like my food!” which was more imperative rather than interrogative. Quite a character.

Even when doing small favors, the Burmese always seem to go the extra mile they are seriously giving Filipino hospitality a run for its money. If you want to know what customer service is all about, go to Myanmar!


0 thoughts on “10 Things About Myanmar That Surprised Me

  1. Kat, that looks like a feast! And you had me at …”chicken nuggets were literally chunks of chicken, no extenders” hehe!

    On a more serious note, I haven't heard of public buses in our country that offer such service (bottled water, toothbrush & toothpaste, and based on my own experiences in riding VIP buses from Hat Yai to Bangkok -free dinner at a restaurant, free croissant, bottled water, instant coffee, sugar, creamer sachets and a cup, plus wet ones and best, laundried and sealed blanket for the night trip); is there any bus liner that offer the same quality service to passengers here? If none yet, there's still a big room for improvement.

  2. Ay, doc, pistang bayan talaga ang pagkain sa Myanmar haha at oo, solid ang chicken nuggets. 😀

    Mas sosyal pala ang VIP bus sa Thailand. ^_^ pero dapat lang kasi mas 'developed' naman sila compared to Myanmar. Nag-uumpisa pa lang sila pero naiiwan na ng milya-milya ang buses natin dito sa Pinas.

    So far, ang na-experience ko pa lang na deluxe buses ay Peñafrancia (2009) from Cubao to Naga and Victory Liner from Cubao to Baguio (2012). Wala atang freebies sa Penafrancia. Sa Victory naman, bottled water at snacks (read: biscuits and Tortillos) lang ang meron! Sa WiFi lang ata lumamang. -_-

  3. Egypt has become one of the world's most popular holiday destinations and it’s easy to see why visitors return year after year. The world-renowned historical treasures of this beautiful country, from famous temples, pyramids, and mystifying tombs to the coral reefs of the Red Sea Rivera…I like this amazing sharing…. Thanks to share this great post with us..!!

  4. Ah yes, perhaps Miley won't make it here since she's American… Then again Barack's on souvenir shirts now. LOL. OMG the Burmese food. The best I had was sauteed cauliflower! More like, cauliflower stewed in oil.

  5. wow Kat parang may briefing na ko for my trip. hehe… Well now di na ko clueless haha.. like you i also expect dilapidated buildings or worn our airport seats… 😉 anyway would love to know whats that hostel in Bagan… hohoho…

  6. Happy fiesta ang peg!! Winner ang foodang teh..

    pati ung bus nila, kala ko nakakaloka. ung may mga manok2 pa sa loob ng bus sa mga nakikita sa internet! maayos naman pla may free water at tissue pa na peg.

    so true nagulat aco sa airport nila in fairness maganda! 🙂 nde ko ni expect un hahaha

  7. Wow! I didn't expect that Myanmar will have cleaner toilets/restrooms and better WiFi signal at the airport! I wish to visit there, too!

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  9. Hi,

    We were there for about a week.

    Mababa ang cost of living (as a local) but since US Dollar ang gamit ng tourist when paying for accommodations and transportation (long bus rides), it can be relatively more expensive than in other ASEAN countries.

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