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Should you travel to Burma?

Travel Forums Asia Should you travel to Burma?

1. Posted by Mikey B (Respected Member 181 posts) 11y

For anyone concerned with whether or not you should travel to Burma (Myanmar) whilst the country remains under the current regime, I thought that my own experiences of recent travel to Burma might be of interest. It certainly is a contentious and emotionally charged issue and from personal experience the decision on whether to go there is not an easy one to make.

Below is my reply to a recent enquiry from Bob, a fellow TP'er.....

I spent a great deal of time deliberating long and hard about whether visiting Burma was morally the right thing to do or not. Having been there I think that it was. However, with so many issues at stake I don’t think I could ever really feel 100% certain that I did the right thing.

Certainly from the reception I received from the Burmese people I was left in no doubt that independent travel to the country is welcomed with open arms. Obviously in a country as desperately poor as Burma one would expect people to relish the opportunity to grab a few tourist dollars, regardless of the political implications. However, I found that the people genuinely wanted me to be there (irrespective of the potential for financial gain).

In Burma it can be very dangerous for people to be overheard discussing anything of a ‘sensitive’ nature with foreigners. However, one place that is generally out of reach of government spies is the monastery and I was fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time discussing politics with the monks. In a country where freedom of information and freedom of speech is so forcibly suppressed, they welcomed the opportunity to discuss both their own country’s political situation and that of the outside world.

Before I bought my plane ticket to Burma I was able to speak to a number of other travellers who had recently returned from Burma. As ‘politically aware’ visitors they were able to give me their own first-hand impressions of the country and answer some my main concerns. These were:

1. I had heard that foreigners still had to exchange 200 US Dollars into government ‘Foreign Exchange Certificates’ upon arrival in Yangon. This ‘hard currency’ would then find it’s way into government hands. This practice I discovered has now been discontinued.
2. I wondered how difficult it would be to avoid government-controlled transport. The reality is that there has been an expansion in the number of private/non government travel services, including a very comprehensive private bus network. As a result I was able to avoid travelling on any government transport. I did have to make a few changes to my itinerary but overall I had no problems here.
3. I had similar concerns about government run hotels. In the event I found there to be alternatives to these establishments in every place I visited.
4. I was obviously concerned about how the Burmese people would view me. Would there be hostility towards me as a tourist? I think I’ve covered that already, however, I would stress that organised, package holidays still do (in many case) use government services and as such this type of tourism is viewed differently by the people I was able to discuss these issues with.

Obviously Bob, in a country run by such a corrupt and suppressive military regime I was only able to see what they were prepared to let me see. Many parts of the country are still off limits to foreigners for various reasons.

Upon arrival in any major town the bus would always stop at an army checkpoint and the passengers onboard would have to show their papers. The sudden silence and obvious look of anxiety and fear on peoples faces made it all too apparent that the Burmese people are a very long way from experiencing the kind of freedoms we take for granted.

Even living under these conditions I still found the Burmese to be amongst the warmest and most good-humoured people I have ever met, with a rich and diverse culture that appears very much alive.

The natural and man-made beauty in the country is staggering. From the vast ancient ruins of Bagan to the tranquil heaven-on-earth that is Inley Lake.

People opposed to travel to Burma often use these two main arguments:

1. That visitors to the country give the Burmese government access to much needed hard-currency which helps sustain the regime
2. That tourism helps give the regime credibility in the outside world

Well I feel that after spending a month in Burma that the vast majority of my money went directly to the Burmese people – who very much needed it.

I also can’t see how independent travel by politically informed and responsible individuals can possibly bring credibility to the regime. Quite the opposite actually, since returning from the country I’ve been able to talk about the situation there with a far greater authority and understanding than before. Thereby drawing attention to the plight of the Burmese people.

2. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Quoting Mikey B

Even living under these conditions I still found the Burmese to be amongst the warmest and most good-humoured people I have ever met, with a rich and diverse culture that appears very much alive.

The natural and man-made beauty in the country is staggering. From the vast ancient ruins of Bagan to the tranquil heaven-on-earth that is Inley Lake.

Well I feel that after spending a month in Burma that the vast majority of my money went directly to the Burmese people – who very much needed it.

I also can’t see how independent travel by politically informed and responsible individuals can possibly bring credibility to the regime. Quite the opposite actually, since returning from the country I’ve been able to talk about the situation there with a far greater authority and understanding than before. Thereby drawing attention to the plight of the Burmese people.

I very much agree with all of the above. I'm actually amazed that more people don't visit Burma. I've been a lot of places and have never encountered more "friendly & good natured" people than the Burmese. Sure the government sucks, but like Mikey says, I beleive that if enough people visited and then spread the word about the current situation, then maybe more people would care and their governments would exert more pressure. But ultimately Burma will probably free themselves of the oppression from within.

I've been there 3 times and and would love to go back again. It's truely a wonderful place to visit, and now more than beofre it's quite easy to travel independently and for your money to end up in the hands of locals.

3. Posted by JennyCook (Full Member 95 posts) 11y

Whilst i haven't been to Myanmar, i wouldn't hesitate to go there because of the regime in place at the moment. It seems odd that it is such a deciding factor to for people to consider before travelling there, and yet you'll never hear people saying the same about going to China.

4. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Quoting JennyCook

Whilst i haven't been to Myanmar, i wouldn't hesitate to go there because of the regime in place at the moment. It seems odd that it is such a deciding factor to for people to consider before travelling there, and yet you'll never hear people saying the same about going to China.

I know...strange, isn't it. I'm thinking real seriously of going back for a 4th time next Feb., the Burmese are my favorite people, they are so friendly, spiritual, and good-natured that I find them a joy to be around and interect with.

5. Posted by allthai (Full Member 88 posts) 11y

I am a volunteer with a couple of ORG's. here in Thailand. If you want to see what the Burma Government is doing to it's people follow me around for a few days.

Just last Sunday 300 villagers came across the border in Mae Taeng district north of Chiang Mai. The Army notified us and we were the first ones to arrive and bring food, blankets, medical supplies etc.
The Army checked everyone in as refugees and issued temporary ID cards.

Now I speak Thai and a little North Thailand Lanna dialect which these people speak. I am not going to tell you the stories told to me or about the rape, murders and torture stories these people told us.

I can also tell you many stories told by children who's village was burned down and parents killed. They are now living here in Thailand in several of our orphanages homes all along the Burma - Thai border.

Durfor in Africa is on a much bigger scale but the same thing is happening in Burma.

If you want to see the Burma we see look at
http://www.prayforburma.org/_todos3/slide_viewer.php?cat_pid=/IDX/Images/FBR/20050119

6. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Hi Randy,

Having been to Burma 3 times (1976, 1994, & 2001) I have heard stories. But of course IN Burma the people are scared to speak openly. At the Golden Temple in yangoon sometimes they would feel safer to talk a little.

Anyway, It's terrible that the gov.'t there is so horrible & repressive.
I would be interested in knowing exactly what is happening. If you can take the time and send me a PM (I'm assuming it's not the type of thing you may want to post publicly) I would be interested to hear form you.

The Burmese really are lovely people, and that's great that you (and others) are helping them when they get across the border.

I'll probably be in Thailand the 2nd half of Feb. 2006 (wasn't going to come up North, but I may take you up on your offer, because I'd like to know firsthand). I am also planning on probably going to Burma again in March of next year. I try and only use private owned drivers, hotels, resturants, etc..

Anyway, like I said I'd be interested to learn more. Since you are actually there and talking to these people then you really know.

7. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Randy,

Didn't realize you had posted a link. I'm at the website now and taking a look at the photos (and description/information). Thanks for posting it.

8. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Quoting Travel100

But of course IN Burma the people are scared to speak openly.

By the way, I don't bring up politics or try encourge the people to talk about the situation, as it could have disastrous consequences for them. I prefer to learn about that aspect of Burma from outside the country and not put any locals at risk.

9. Posted by allthai (Full Member 88 posts) 11y

Hi Jeff

Just got another call for food. I have to leave tomorrow morning to take smoked sausage that needs no refrigeration to the Burmese. We are getting everything ready tonight for the trip tomorrow. When I return I will explain to you why you should not visit Burma. Hope I have the time. I take that back as I need to take the time to explain why not to visit at this time as it is very important.

later

10. Posted by Travel100 (Travel Guru 1556 posts) 11y

Quoting allthai

Hi Jeff

Just got another call for food. I have to leave tomorrow morning to take smoked sausage that needs no refrigeration to the Burmese. We are getting everything ready tonight for the trip tomorrow. When I return I will explain to you why you should not visit Burma. Hope I have the time. I take that back as I need to take the time to explain why not to visit at this time as it is very important.
later

Thanks, I'm looking forward to hearing your insight & thoughts. I certainly don't need to visit Burma again (pretty sure I've seen everything (that I'm allowed to see)), but I really enjoy being around, and interacting, with the Burmese because of their friendly nature and pleasant disposition.

Anyway, glad you guys can help them again, talk to you when you return.