I don't use phpMyAdmin myself and I can't remember if it supports UTF-8

Whichever extension that your PHP is using is likely doing a conversion. 
this is something that the MySQL libraries handle.
  You can use this to extract the data from the tables and save it.

As a test, dump a table's data into a file (have mysqldump, or
phpMyAdmin create insert statements for the data).  Create a table with
UTF-8 encoding and attempt to process that file into it (copy/paste into
phpMyAdmin if it's not to big)

If that works, then you can go ahead and back up all your tables this
way, and enter it into your new UTF-8 ones

Without knowing more about your configuration (local/remote, versions,
etc.) I can't suggest much else.


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