Myanmar Cheat Sheet

Published On June 7, 2013 | By Dan | Asia, Burma, Myanmar, Recent, Southeast Asia, Travel Guides, Travel Journal, Travel Planning
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Not planning a trip to Myanmar any time soon?  Well no problem.  Just read this cheat sheet, and you’ll be able to fool anyone into thinking you’ve spent a month there.  – Dan

  • The people of Myanmar are the nicest people we’ve encountered since Vanuatu. There is still a level of excitement in seeing tourists that no longer exists in more popular SE Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam. The people who work in tourism-based jobs here show a sense of optimism that is both welcoming and inspiring.
    locals .
  • Traveling within Myanmar is worse than any other country we’ve visited. With the exception of air travel, which we didn’t try, every other type of travel is long and painful. It’s relatively easy to purchase and plan your trip, but the trips themselves are anything but smooth. The locals don’t like it either, as we saw numerous locals getting motion-sick on both trains and buses. I was actually catapulted out of my seat a couple of times during train rides and hit my head on the ceiling of taxis more than once. I don’t think there is one actual good road in the entire country… well maybe the driveways of some government officials. Read about our train travels and bus travels for more details, or watch this clip I took during one of our 11-hour rides:

  • We never felt unsafe during our three weeks in Myanmar, however we did witness a pretty scary prisoner situation during a train ride.  Our train had stopped in a small town to let a few passengers on, and I noticed a crowd had gathered towards the end of the station.  I stuck my head out the window and noticed a lot of automatic weapons were in people’s hands.  There were 50 or so men sitting on the ground with their heads in their laps, looking down.  Someone was taking some sort of role call, as the men one by one would stand up, say something, then sit right back down in the same position.  I don’t know what type of prisoners these were, political prisoners, violent criminals, non-violent thieves, who knows.  What I do know is they looked more afraid than any other human beings I’ve ever seen.  I secretly snapped on picture out the window.  You can see it below (click it for a bigger version)myanmar-prisoners.
  • Stray dogs and cats are everywhere. Now I know what Sarah McLachlan is talking about all the time. The only other place that had more was the Solomon Islands.
  • Burmese people can fix anything. I saw a guy in a mountain village fix a 1960’s motorbike with no tools, a guy in Kinpun putting back together a 1990’s printer/copier, and I watched Lily, our 50-year old guesthouse owner in Hsipaw, fix a plumbing issue that had stopped water flow to the entire property.
    tire-guy .
  • Of the 25 people I interviewed in Myanmar, only one had ever heard of McDonald’s, ten were Manchester United fans, and all 25 knew who Justin Bieber was and were supporters of President Obama.
  • There are very few traffic lights in the entire country. Instead, a courtesy honk is used around every turn, through every intersection, and to signal to anyone or any animal on the side of the road before a pass. I decided to try and count the honks during a 30-minute taxi ride. I stopped 15 minutes in when I reached 100.  Here is a video from one of our taxi rides to a WWII site.  You can see an example of a “courtesy honk” as he passes an uncontrolled intersection.  Also notice how smooth the road is.

  • People in Myanmar do not like their government. Unless they work for the government. I met only one government official during our trip at a bus station tea shop. He told me he really wanted to visit the United States, but to get a visa he would need someone an American citizen to sponsor him.. He followed that up with an awkward, but serious, almost engagement-like “Will you be my sponsor?” I answered in the words of my Grandpa with a “We’ll see.”
  • Spitting, hacking up lugees, and burping are not considered rude in Myanmar, even for ladies. It’s almost like it’s encouraged.
  • There are not many places to sit down and rest, especially at bus stops and train stations.  Burmese people use the squat sit as a way of relaxing.  My knee prevented me from taking part in this cultural experience.
  • Looking for some decent cheese in Myanmar? Forget about it!
  • In Myanmar, the locals are just starting to learn what video games are; and they LOVE them. At one guesthouse in Inle Lake, the entire staff was obsessed with a Snoods-like bubble-shooter game. For 24 hours a day they would take turns playing it on the lobby computer(the one meant for guests). Even the girls on the late shift would play through the night. When one wasn’t playing, he or she would stand behind the screen and watch. During breakfast, we would call our waitress, who would play the game while we ate, and the front desk girl would quickly take over the controls until our waitress took care of what we needed and rushed back to the game.
  • The amount of oil used in Myanmar cooking is out of control. Everything is either cooked in a pan of oil, deep-fried in oil, lathered in oil, or just sitting in oil. Even salads come in a bowl or plate of oil. There’s no escaping it. No fresh items on menus to give your stomach a break from it. After three weeks here, I think I’ve consumed more oil than I would typically eat in three months.
    lunch .
  • The locals in Myanmar love their movies, and most of what they know about America and the rest of the world comes from what they see in American movies. One day, I turned on the American movie channel and saw eh were playing Any Given Sunday, the over-the-top pro football movie with Al Pacino as the coach. Now everyone in Burma thinks players’ eyeballs frequently pop out of the sockets during big hits.
  • Speaking of movies, I know of a good opportunity for any prospective Hollywood movie directors out there. The local movies and TV shows here are produced and shot in the worst quality I’ve ever seen and the acting is hilariously terrible. I can’t comment on the screen-writing since I can’t understand Burmese, however the story-lines also look pretty brutal. The worst director in America could be the Steven Spielberg of Myanmar.
  • With the exception of Bagan and a few nice areas in Yangon, the country is completely covered in its own trash.  Garbage is everywhere, and no one seems to care or do anything about it.  I saw people throwing bags of chips out of car windows, bottles out of train cars, and simply throwing trash into the streets.  It really is sad and we can only hope the next generation of people here can have a positive impact on changing the culture.
  • Bagan is beautiful!


Have you been to Myanmar?  What was your experience? 

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About The Author

is the founding traveler of This World Rocks. He enjoys writing in the present tense, is an avid sports fan, former NBA dunk team member, aspiring videographer, and a WWII & Civil War history nerd.

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