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"Myanmar – or Burma as it is known in old money"

By Wendy Merrett, November 2012.

Myanmar is one of those countries you’ve heard of, you know bits about but aren’t really too sure of the whole story. Of course you recognise the name Aung San Suu Kyi and Robbie Williams sang about the Road to Mandalay, but other than Rudyard Kipling and Nelly the Elephant who has been there and was George Orwell right, is it really run by pigs? The question is should we, as responsible tourists, travel to Myanmar? 

Until recently the answer was a resounding NO! For decades the country has been under the control of a strict military regime and as a result economic sanctions were imposed by much of the western world to try to force political and social change. Any opposition to the regime was dealt with swiftly and forcefully, whether you were a political activist, a Buddhist Monk or a man on the street. In fact elections were used as a tool to highlight opponents and ‘deal’ with them. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy has spent 15 years under house arrest during the period from 1989 – 2010 and despite winning the 1990 election by a landslide was prevented from taking up post by the army. In 1996 during the government promoted “Visit Myanmar” year, the NLD led a tourism boycott which was internationally observed. All this paints the picture of a complicated and extremely sensitive situation to say the least.

The tourism boycott was lifted in 2010 along with a number of other changes including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (who was able to travel overseas for the first time without fear of not being able to return to her home country), the lifting of international sanctions and most importantly the creation of a new representative parliament. But that question still remains. Should we go?

Well obviously my answer would be yes. Because I have been and what I found were some of the happiest, friendliest most helpful people I have ever come across. In a country that Transparency International lists only behind Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world, nobody tried to rip me off. Something that I cannot say for India, Vietnam or Thailand. The people are why you should visit Myanmar and the people want you to go. However sceptical you are about what you see in the media, things have changed and the people on the street are more than happy to sit down with you and share their story.
In Bagan we met a young restaurant owner. He had previously worked in UK, on a sponsored visit to learn to pilot the hot air balloons that are so in demand in Bagan, but on his return he realised that there were now many more opportunities open to him and he opened his own restaurant at the beginning of 2012. This was something that until a year he ago he would not have been allowed to do. He told us stories of an education system that was only interested in students passing exams and not what they learnt. Sounds familiar? But this went to the extent of bribing teachers and examiners, bribes which were accepted without question. He spoke of a police force who, following government orders, would break up groups of more than 3 people meeting, making a family dinner a bit difficult to have. Outside the police stations you will see a sign that says ‘May I Help You’ the locals joked that really this should say ‘May I Trouble You’ And now? You get the feeling that the people of Myanmar aren’t scared anymore as we are told “before the people were scared of the police, now the police are scared of the people.” There is a sense of a new found freedom, freedom to own a shop, a restaurant or a bar. Freedom to meet and talk openly. Freedom to celebrate festivals and as you look around freedom to hang your Aung San Suu Kyi picture on your wall without fear of retribution. The people of Myanmar believe that things have changed and they should know. They are living with that change and making the most of it.
On a train ride to Hsipaw we stop for 10 minutes and a young man gets on the train. He is in his early twenties and lives in the local village. He makes his money as a tour guide taking travellers out on treks. When he isn’t trekking he waits for the train and gets on to practice his English with tourists, who like us are generally going onto the next, bigger, more popular town. He explains that not many people visit his village and so he supplements his tour job by teaching English to the local children. English he learnt at school but gets to improve on daily basis as he speaks to the people visiting his country. He is proud that foreigners want to visit Myanmar and hopes that they continue to do so; it is an important hope because for him tourism is his lifeline.

The main concern with travelling to Myanmar is the money you spend ending up in the government’s pockets. But this isn’t just specific to Myanmar, wherever you travel you should try to ‘share the wealth.’ In fact eating with the locals, staying in home-stays and travelling on the back of a motorbike often makes for a much more valuable experience. But it is inevitable that at some point you will have to pay out to a government run business, but the government in Myanmar isn’t quite the same as it was a few years ago and the tourism industry is still providing jobs for the local people. What you can do is DIY travel, you don’t need to book onto a tour or use a travel agent from home, you can contact hotels directly via telephone and organise your trips when you get there. Did I mention how helpful and friendly the people are? They are more than willing to help you plan your trip on the road.

Take the opportunity to visit the local markets and you will be faced with an array of colours.

Nobody can know whether the changes will continue in a positive and permanent light until the elections in 2015 but we can see that for now things seem to working out for the better. ATMs should be accepting international credit cards by early 2013, import sanctions have just been lifted and Barack Obama, along with Hilary Clinton are visiting the country, so if it is good enough for them?

My answer is definitely YES. Go to Myanmar. 

And then go home tell you friends.

And then go back again.

Note - ATM's are now accepting International cards. [more] 

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    Daniel Fisher returns to Inle to take to the bike and investigate the local temples, vineyard and villages. [more]


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    Martin Clarke's second trip to Myanmar in 6 months and once again we're getting hard facts with a few opinions. Useful and solid information. [more]


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    Posted 23 Jul 2013, 18:21 by Elli Murr
Showing posts 1 - 1 of 1. View more »
  • Myanmar Charities: The Leaping Lemur Group
    There are no charges for receiving information on this site, because this is about sharing the latest information and not making money. That said, please take the time to look at some of the charities that we've highlighted beneath, and if you want to "pay" for the information you've downloaded, then look into some of these worthy causes.
    Elli xx

    The Burma Children’s Fund supports orphanages and pre-schools in various parts of Burma in order to provide shelter, health care and education for orphans and children. We will only support orphanages, clinics and pre-schools for infants and younger children where we know that the staff are dedicated and that the money they receive is spent on the children and for the direct benefit of the children. Children in Burma cannot control their own destiny and this is why our goal is “To Support their Future". [more] 

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     works with marginalised urban children and youth, their families and communities to become productive, independent citizens of their country. We do this by listening to and being guided by those who matter the most to us - the children and youth we work with everyday. Friends-International has been assisting marginalized urban children and youth across the world since 1994. We now run and support projects for these children and their families in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico, Egypt and Myanmar. Friends-International and its partners reach out to over 50,000 marginalised young people -particularly street children and youth – each year. We offer a range of comprehensive services as part of our holistic approach to assisting children and their families to improve their lives. [more]
    Compassionate Hands is a home-grown charity, founded by Snow Aye after the cyclone Nargis struck the southern delta region of Myanmar on 2nd May 2008. Since the start of Compassionate Hands, many people have volunteered to help realise various projects, ranging from emergency relief efforts after the Cyclone, to digging wells and helping children with AIDS. Many volunteers are from Myanmar itself, but also foreigners from other Asian countries, the United States and Europe are involved.... [more]
    Posted 27 Jun 2013, 20:17 by Elli Murr
Showing posts 1 - 1 of 1. View more »
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This is all about giving something back to the people of the countries that we've visited, to thank them for the wonderful experiences that we've had. There are no charges for receiving information on this site, because this is about sharing the latest information and not making money. You'll also note, there are no pop-ups or sponsored links to businesses. So, please take the time to look at some of the charities that we've highlighted on our charities page, and if you want to "pay" for the information you've received, then look into some of these worthy causes. Otherwise we'd gladly accept any support to help keep this site alive.

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