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