In the past we have published interviews in the Slow Travel Magazine with some of the movers and shakers of the Myanmar Tourism industry, from hotel General Managers, to restaurateurs, to senior guides.
Here is the first in an ongoing series of conversations with the grassroot workers in tourism. They may not be the one who shape the direction of the industry, but they are often the ones that have the most effect on a traveller’s time in Myanmar, being the people that visitors to the country are going to spend most time interacting with.
By publishing these conversations we hope to provide a small platform for these individuals to give their perspective of travel through Myanmar, and allow visitors to this country to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the lives and professions of the people they will encounter when here.
And so, without further ado, meet Ko Zaw Min Soe, trishaw driver in Dala, a township just over the Yangon River.
What is your average day like? How is it different between high and low season?
During last high season, we got two or three groups per day, three days per week. In the last low season, it was not bad, but this year’s low season, almost no trips at all.
Where do you normally take tourists? Where do they want to go? Where do they like best?
Normally we take tourists based on the tour programs from tour companies and guides. Mostly to see bamboo houses, paddy fields and local ways of live.
Tourists also like the monastic school. It’s easier to observe than at the government schools.
Where are the most interesting places to visit in Dala & Twante?
To the pagoda, the fishermen villages, the spring roll making cottage, candle-making workshop, local market and monastery school.
The most interesting place in Twante is the pottery villages. And there is also the Mwe (‘snake’) pagoda, Shwesandaw Paya and the weaving looms.
What do you do when there are no tourists?
My regular clients are local people. I usually only work with tourists when a guide calls me.
Do you like working in tourism?
Yeah, I am happy to work in tourism. I’ve been working in this industry almost thirteen years.
Do the tourists behave well? How could they behave better?
Every tourist behaves very well. They are very friendly.
What have you learnt from tourists?
Some English words. I’ve learned discipline from them as well. They don’t throw away their trash such as plastic water bottles, snow towels, and even small cigarettes. They put them in their bags or throw them out in the trash bins. That’s why I told my other colleagues “Look at them, they never throw away any of their waste”.
We have to be also careful of our behavior such as no alcohol, no cigarettes and no chewing betel nut when we’re with them.
We’ve also to be careful of their stuff not to lose or not to be stolen because we don’t want to have any problems.
What have they learnt from you?
They feel happiness and pleasure. Sometimes, they give us tips. Some people give very good tips, but I don’t want it because I want only what we deserve (about 5000 Kyat per tour). However, they like it more when I refuse the tip and increase the amount!
What is your best memory of working with tourists?
When I first worked as a trishaw driver, one Canadian man gave me a golden ring which was worth 200 USD. But I didn’t know the price. He gave it to me in front of the pagoda and told me to keep it. At that time, it’s not easy to rent a trishaw because we need to give a deposit – 40-50,000 MMK to the owner. So, I sold the watch on Ma Go Street for 50, 000 MMK. When he came back and met with me, he told me the actual price and I felt sorry.
Once the shoes of two tourists were stolen when they were with us. We came into a monastery for a donation. As it is a monastery, they left their shoes outside. I left my colleague with shoes near the trishaw, but unfortunately he also came in without noticing these shoes. It was terrible experience. I had to buy two slippers at the price of 2000 Kyat for each and they didn’t give us any money for the trishaw riding. It was very shameful. Since then I take care of tourist’s stuff very carefully, and very seriously.
Are you optimistic about the future of Myanmar?
I don’t know exactly.
What about the future of tourism?
I think it’s related with politics, for example the Rakhine case. In the previous government, tourism is not down like today’s government.
And also some tourists choose neighboring country like Vietnam as it’s cheaper than Myanmar.
I hope it’ll be good in the future, because when tourism is good, we all can get advantages. All is related from top to bottom: tour companies, guides, trishaw drivers, motor cycle driver, boat ferry, all of us get advantages when tourism is good.
Ko Zaw Min Soe was talking to Sampan’s Sustainability Co-ordinator Ko Thant Sin Oo, who also translated the conversation into English.