Meet the Guide: U Sai Tayzar Aung
As one of the longest established local tour operators in Myanmar, Tour Mandalay are blessed to have access to a plethora of pro-active, intelligent and experienced guides. In a country that’s still in the early stages of opening up to the world, we like to think this is one of the main things that helps us to stand apart from the competition and provide “truly tailored” experiences to all of our partners and direct clients.
Keen to showcase the people behind Tour Mandalay’s 20 plus years’ worth of success, we would like to introduce the new “Meet the Guide” section of our website. In our first edition, we would like to introduce one of our most popular Inle Lake-based guides, U Sai Tay Zar Aung. Sitting down for an interview with one of our reporting staff, here’s what he had to say.
Q: Hi Tayzar, great to have you here. To start the session off, would you mind letting our readers know how long you’ve worked for Tour Mandalay?
A: Great to be here ni leh (a term which translates in Burmese as younger brother). As you know, my full name is Sai Tay Zar Aung, but my friends and clients call me Tayzar. I have been working for Tour Mandalay since 2012.
Q: What made you want to become a guide?
A: To be completely honest with you, I actually had no intention of becoming a guide, which I guess will come as a bit of a surprise. I guess it was down to a combination of things;
- I love to travel and explore beautiful, untouched natural scenery.
- I’m keen to meet and make friends with people from other parts of the world.
- What’s out there?
- Being a guide is a lucrative career choice for an ordinary Myanmar person like me.
Q: If you had to choose, what would you say has been your most memorable guiding experience to date?
A: I’m sure everyone has a lot of memorable experiences at work (both good and bad), but the following example would surely be mine.
Four years ago I was assigned an extremely demanding British couple. It became clear shortly after meeting them that they were not happy with the state of affairs in Myanmar and initially bombarded me with lots of criticism and complaints. I didn’t take this to heart however, and if anything, the difficult situation made me stronger.
My brain went into “super mode”, like never before and I suddenly found myself answering the couple’s often detailed, culturally sensitive and complicated questions in ways that I had never been able to do before. I can’t explain but the high-pressure situation unlocked something. I could immediately see that they were intrigued and captivated by my historical and cultural knowledge, which in turn led them to relax and enjoy their experience. It may sound crazy, but I actually enjoy working with travellers such as these as they push me, which in turn boosts my proficiency as a guide.
No matter who I am assigned, I see it as my duty to make all of my travellers happy and go above and beyond for them whenever possible.
Q: How many languages can you speak?
A: As a guide, linguistic capability is very important and once you can speak more than one language semi-fluently, it is a great benefit and helps to open up a whole new world of opportunity.
Q: What languages can you speak?
A: I speak three languages; English, French and of course Burmese. Saying that, I also speak a couple of local dialects including Shan, which helps me to better connect with the local people I meet on tour. This more than anything, helps me to truly get under the skin when on tour.
Q: Shan State is full of breath-taking destinations. Where’s your favourite and why?
A: Seeing as I was born here, I love Shan State and I am very proud to be known as “Taung Paw Taw”, or a mountain man.
It’s extremely difficult for me to choose just one destination, but if I had to choose, I guess it would be the 50-mile circumference around Inle Lake. Here you can find incredible diversity including; The Lake, mountainous scenery, a plethora of wildlife, forest, culturally rich ethnic groups and openly diverse way of life. I find it truly amazing that all of this exists together.
When you have time, I’d like to invite you to come back to the wonderful and colourful place I call home.
Q: In your opinion, when is the best time to travel to Shan State?
A: The optimal time to travel around Shan State is from September to March, but please be warned that the months of December and January have a tendency to be icy cold. During the summer months it is also pleasant and people often comment that it is a lot cooler here than in other parts of the country. Visiting during this time is also a great way to avoid the crowds.
Q: Shan cuisine is a distinct favourite with our travellers. What’s your favourite Shan dish and where would you recommend eating it?
A: If you are keen to try out some authentic Shan cuisine, then it’s fair to say that the big 5-star restaurants are not to be recommended. The best example can be found at the local tea shops or street food vendors.
As you know, I especially love Shan noodles and you can find many different varieties including; beef or pork ball, chicken curry, sticky rice noodle, regular rice noodle, flat noodle, round shaped noodle, square shaped noodle, noodle soup, noodle salad, noodle with Tofu paste and many more. Wow! Just the talk of this is making me hungry. I love noodles!
As Shan cuisine is becoming increasingly popular, great authentic restaurants can be found in many places including; Yangon, Mandalay, Lashio, Hsipaw, Kalaw, Nyaung Shwe,Taunggyi and Kengtung – in my opinion, it is here where you will find the best Shan cuisine.
Q: We know that you’re a big fan of music. Can you please recommend some Myanmar-made songs for the road?
A: Whilst enjoying Shan cuisine in Shan State with a Shan guide, it surely makes sense to listen to Shan music at the same time right?
My favourite singer is Sai Htee Sein, who mostly sings love songs, Shan national songs and the about the lives of hardworking everyday people, for example, students, nurses, trishaw drivers, teachers, store owners etc.
Each of his songs are like beautiful poems and they come in many different genres including; hard rock, country and pop. Perfect to listen to whilst driving. The slower songs often bring back memories from the past however, which can sometimes be quite emotional.
For those interested, be sure to check out one of Sai Htee Sein’s songs below.
Q: Before we conclude, would you mind describing a typical day in the life of Tayzar (when you’re not busy showing Tour Mandalay’s clients around)?
A: Being from Shan State, I like to take things easy where possible and avoid stress. Most of my time Is spent with my children, wife and mother. As is often the case in Asia, we live with our parents and I think myself very lucky to be able to spend so much time with loved ones. When I’m not spending time with family, I often carry out mechanical repair on my bike of car. I also enjoy cooking for my family, which surely has to be one of the highlights as it often leads to many happy memories between us. If time permits, I also enjoy gardening in my small compound. When the evening comes around, I often hangout with friends at a local bar and enjoy the region’s nightlife.
Thank you U Tayzar. This insight was invaluable and we wish you the best of luck for this coming peak travel season.
U Sai Tay Zar Aung is just one of the many excellent guides that Tour Mandalay have access to. If you are in the process of planning a trip to Myanmar and are keen to be guided by one of the best guides in the country, be sure to contact our team now by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.