Archive for the Tourism Category

In Burma, The Wrong Way to “Help”

Posted in Civil Society, Tourism on November 14, 2011 by burmaperspective

There have been some recent positive changes in Burma, but make no mistake that the country remains an authoritarian regime.  Authoritarian regimes have rules.  When you don’t follow those rules, the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will get kicked out of the country.  But for those who may have helped you, or could be perceived by the authorities as helping you, the consequences can be much, much worse.  Which brings me to this guy:

http://scholarshipsforburma.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/i-wish-i-could-say-i-walked-to-mandalay/

There are so many things wrong with his approach, which I hope will be self evident to anyone reading this blog.  But, I want to point out one quote:

I agreed to stop walking and leave Burma because others were being held responsible for my travel. That was never the purpose of this walk. I wanted to see the country I had read about in books for the past three years. I wanted to dramatize Ying’s walk through Burma over a decade ago to send her to school. I wanted to get away from the approved tourist areas and meet and talk to the fifty-three million people living in Burma in order to deepen my interest in the country. But I can’t accept Magado Travel taking the blame, stress, and loss for my decisions. They are not my whipping boy.

The fact is that this guy’s trip was all about him.  If he really wanted to help Ying, he would have put her in touch with one of the many fine organizations that are working to provide opportunities for Burmese students and who you know, actually know what they are doing.  If he wanted to publicize her plight, he could have gotten in touch with the media or many other things.  Instead, he decided to act recklessly and put people in danger — not just the travel agent, but any person he met and spoke to in areas where he was not supposed to be.  All so this guy could blog about his great adventure.  Shameful.

What is the moral of the story?  If you have a great desire to “do something,” please pause.  Contact an NGO.  Contact your embassy.  The folks at the US Embassy are extremely friendly and helpful.  Get in touch with a Burmese civil society organization.  Talk to people who have spent time in the country.  You can even go down to 50th Street Bar and just start asking around about good places to donate or help.  Just stay away from political topics and people will be willing to talk with you.   But, please do not just go start breaking the laws of the country because you feel you have some moral high ground.  You are not going to do any real good and you may well put people in danger.

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Reflections on a Journey — Part II – A Tourist in Burma

Posted in Tourism on June 9, 2011 by burmaperspective

My first two trips to Burma were primarily as a tourist. During those trips I fell in love. I took my first trip alone, and during the rainy season, which is the low season for tourism in the country. I cannot recommend strongly enough for first-time visitors to Myanmar to visit during the low season. I was frequently the lone foreigner on buses, on trains, at tourist sites and in tea shops. As the rain poured down, I huddled with locals under cover waiting for the bursts of torrential rain to ease. I waded gingerly with them through the flooded broken sidewalks of Yangon, trading warnings about gaping holes in the ground covered by water that had picked up who-knows-what along the way.

My time as a tourist included trips as far north as Mytchina, Southeast to Hpa-An and Moulymein, northeast to Mandalay, Pynn Oo Lyin and Hsipaw, Inle Lake, and many places in between. I traveled by bus, train, taxi, boat, and air. I stood with throngs of tourists during high season in Amanapura waiting to see the monks eat, and wandered the streets of Katha, where I was literally the only foreigner in town. I made may way up the mountain to see the Golden Rock. I watched gold leaf being pounded and prepared to be placed on a pagoda; I saw more than one reclining Buddha, and hundreds upright or sitting. I explored caves and wandered through rice paddies. I took a touristy boat ride on Inle Lake, which included a stop to see a cat jumping through a hoop and I finally got to see Padaung ladies up close. There are plenty of places to learn more about Myanmar’s sites, so I won’t go into much more detail. Let me just say this: The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is one of the most remarkable experiences in the world. It is worth the trip to Burma alone. Go there. Go many times, at different times of the day. Aside from marveling at the huge gold-covered structure, topped by a crown of jewels, you will see life unfold, as Burmese across class and ethnicity pray, talk, picnic, and canoodle. There is nothing like it. Continue reading

Reflections on a Journey Part I – Initial Impressions

Posted in Tourism on May 26, 2011 by burmaperspective

After 2 1/2 years of studying Burma on a near-full time basis, 15 months of which spent inside Burma or around its borders, I am now back at home. I will continue to research and write about Burma-related issues and will remain active in supporting development work inside the country and I hope to be back soon and often. But, as a major part of my Burma journey comes to an end, it is appropriate to reflect on what I’ve learned and how my perceptions have changed.

I first visited Burma on somewhat of a lark. I had actually been planning on traveling to Vietnam, but visa issues caused me to change my plans at the last minute and had me wandering through the streets of Kunming, China in the pouring rain searching for the Myanmar consulate. At that point I knew only two things about Burma – First, that it was home to the “long-necked” Padaung women that I had marveled over in the pages of National Geographic as a kid; and second, that it was ruled by a military dictatorship. This second point had caused me a small amount of trepidation as I walked into the consulate where I was the only tourist in the building. My initial fears were put to rest as, not only was my visa ready in 3 hours, but the consular officer actually kept the office open late for me so I could get the visa in time to make my flight the next day. Continue reading

Responsible Tourism

Posted in Tourism on February 15, 2011 by burmaperspective

Now that the calls for a tourism boycott Burma have largely been quieted (thankfully), the question turns to how to travel responsibly. The first question is whether one should even care about “responsible tourism.” Many people maintain the attitude that when they travel they are on vacation and shouldn’t have to be bothered with ethical or moral dilemmas while enjoying a holiday. Plus, the term “responsible tourism” sounds like it was hatched by a bunch of people sitting in a coffee house in Berkeley while gazing lovingly at a picture of Al Gore. For me, responsible tourism merely means taking a few minutes to learn and think about the differences between the value systems at your home and those in the country you are going to visit. If you are, say, a European visiting America, or an Australian visiting the UK, that process will take very little time. If, however, you want to take your holiday in a country like Burma, it may take a little longer. If this is not something that a person is willing to do, I respectfully suggest that you limit your travel to places that are culturally similar to your home, or travel to those pockets of other countries that have been already overtaken by tourists (There are plenty of lovely hotels on Khao San Road).

Once you’ve done some initial research, I largely think the decision of how to behave when traveling abroad must be left to the individual. Having been to Burma several times, other visitors often ask me how to behave in a given situation. For example, a young American was recently approached by a student standing outside a school on a Sunday afternoon. The student asked him for a pencil. When he obliged, a group of 30 more students appeared and also requested pencils. The American went to a nearby store and bought several packs of pencils to supply all the students. While sitting over drinks back at the guesthouse he asked me if he did the right thing. The next day I was approached by another traveler. He had been treated to lunch by a very poor family who clearly did not have the means to feed themselves well, much less treat guests to restaurant lunches. While this might seem odd, one sees this kind of hospitality all over Burma. Those with next to nothing will share whatever they have with guests before taking care themselves or even their children. The tourist told me that he was going to go back to see the family the next day to bring them some money. What did I think? Would they find it insulting? Is it the right thing to do? Continue reading