“Every major industrialized nation has a beer. You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline — it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” – Frank Zappa
Nobody will confuse Myanmar with an industrialized country but that’s not really the point of travelling right? But is it a “real country”? You bet your ass (though I can’t comment on their football team or nuclear weapon situation). Since its borders have opened, Myanmar is moving quickly with veterans of the South East Asia travel circuit telling me that current day Myanmar reminds them of Thailand some 25 years ago. The year 2011 brought 800,000 tourists to Myanmar. Since then, that number has increased six fold. Even still, with all the new faces visiting this beautiful country, children and university students alike ask to take pictures with us on several occasions, us being a group of run-of-the-mill Caucasian men. The former simply want to interact and have their pictures taken while the latter want a digital record of their interaction. There is something about a temple visit, for both locals and foreigners alike, that breaks purposeful movement and makes nearly everyone more approachable. The Burmese live up to their reputation of being both gentle and polite.
The country itself is rich with charm. Cars manufactured for drive on the left hand side of the road are driven on the right, bills with comically high numeric values translate to nearly nothing of worth, its one of three countries still using a non-SI measurement system. Smooching sounds cut through smokey restaurant air as patrons try to garner the attention of waitstaff. Now all is well, however. Our driver tells us that in his experience, 80% of tourists come down with some degree of sickness in their travels. It’s par for the travel course when it comes to eating sinfully cheap street food.
So there’s affordable. There’s cheap. There is South East Asia cheap and then there is Myanmar. Affordable and cheap are what most non-travelling North Americans are familiar with. The powers that be allow our experiences to get only so gutter in North America. Let’s call those experiences “first world affordable”. Conversely, there are countries on this planet that fall into the opposite bracket. Where pleasures that titillate all the senses can be scored for a song. I’ll call these “third-world inconsequential”. Third world inconsequential, as I call it, are any goods or services that are so incredibly priced that purchasing them carries absolutely no guilt or financial consequence. Some personal examples include an hour massage for less than 10 USD, full meals for less than 2 USD, a private room for two for less than 20 USD.
So what about beer? I’m glad you asked. Being a tropical country with an average high of 36c/97f for 3 consecutive months, having a neighbor in poverty stricken Bangladesh and sporting a per capita income of 1,200 USD, as you might have guessed, Myanmar isn’t exactly teeming with beer choices. There are so many factors at work beyond just being “poor”. Lonely Planet tells us that even less than five years ago, ATMs outside of Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon were at absolute scarcity. Our hotel lost power a couple times during our stay, not terribly uncommon considering that over half of Myanmar’s spotty power grid is over 70 years old. Contrary to what John Q. Hipster might vlog, access to craft beer isn’t a human right. That said, the world’s third most popular drink isn’t without some form of representation in Myanmar.
So which beer should you drink while in Myanmar? That’s easy, Myanmar brand beer by a country mile. Though the fine folks at ratebeer.com disagree with me, Myanmar beer crushes the competition. Myanmar starts out with a slightly doughy nose, slips into a bright middle and finishes with a crisp, slightly corny finish. It’s everything a light lager should be: cold, crisp, refreshing and inviting enough to ask for more, possibly many more. What’s possibly most impressive is that every Myanmar beer we had over our eight days in country, whether it was in bottle, can or on draft, was remarkably consistent. No small feat in any climate let alone SE Asia’s.
Oh, and for the record, one of these inconsequential tap beer purchases will set you back a whopping 800 kyat (about US 60 cents) at a local watering hole. Be sure to bring your ratty 20 and 50 kyat bills as pretty much no one likes to take them elsewhere.