Myanmar - to see or not to see, that is the question...
- Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader has recently stated that she welcomes individual travellers to Burma.
- Many local people benefit from the trickle down of tourist dollars
and clearly enjoy working with/for foreigners, whether they are
waiters, trishaw drivers or hotel managers. Even people not associated
with tourism will often stare, smile and wave at foreigners.
- Pro-Democracy supporters say that international sanctions have not only prevented aid from getting where it is needed but also made ordinary people poorer, shut out western businesses and permitted Chinese and other Asian countries to exploit the market.
- the upside of various blunders into socialism and repression has
retarded Burma toursim, meaning the golden wonders of Myanmar are
still relatively undeveloped.
- Aung San Suu Kyi is still against foreign tour groups who tend to contribute more than individuals to government organisations from
visiting Myanmar in order to pressurise the ruling military council
to abide by the democratic vote.
- The Myanmar military junta have been implicated in a brutal repression of the Burmese people, especially ethnic minorities in outlying areas such as the Karen and the Shan, as well as extensive production
and export of dangerous drugs, particularly methamphetamines.
Myanmar Vacation Planning:
- Use local services as much as you can; prices will be much
cheaper too. e.g. Trishaws and horse carts are wonderfully evocative,
give great views, cost peanuts and are owned by locals.
Buy souvenirs from the artisan if possible.
- Avoid luxury hotels, package holidays and Myanmar Tours and Travel (MTT), the state tourist agency if possible.
- Individually organised trips are the best way to see this spectacular country and avoid putting money into repugnant military pockets.
A short history of Myanmar
since the British left:
Since peaceful independence from Britain in 1948 Myanmar has attempted,
and failed to install a lasting democratic government on a number
135 tribes in eight racial groups - with Bamars as the largest group
at about 70% - began civil warfare almost immediately independence
commenced. Over the next ten years the civilian government went
from shaky to wobbly and back to shaky again, with continued trouble
from different ethnic and social groups and a poor economic situation.
1958 U Nu, the president of the Union of Myanmar voluntarily handed
power over to General Ne Win from the military, and within 18 months
rebel activities had been massively reduced and the country started
to function as an entity. Elections in 1960 brought U Nu back as
president but political problems re-emerged and General Ne Win took
power again in 1962 and abolished parliament.
Win introduced the country to 'The Burmese Road to Socialism' in
1962, which turned out to be an uphill, bumpy track that didn't
go anywhere. The 'Road' eventually crumbled away altogether and
led to mass demonstrations in 1987. Ne Win resigned but the replacement
regime (National Unity Party) brutally put down further demonstrations
with considerable loss of life.
1989, the spokeswoman for the opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi,
was placed under house arrest. Free elections were permitted in
1990 but when the result turned out to be a clear win for the opposition
(National League for Democracy) the military council disallowed
the result and imprisoned many NLD representatives.
Myanmar is now, in 2013, loosening its constraints on the people's right to protest, including Aung
San Suu Kyi, and little by little normalising relations with the world. But there's still a long way to go...