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Why tourism in Myanmar is going downhill: A short rant

Posted by on September 20, 2012
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Today marks our one-year travelversary! Yay! I’ll save heavy reflection for a month’s time when our RTW trip comes to an end, but I did want to bring up a topic that I’ve been forced to think about given the number of different countries and cultures we’ve encountered in this year: good tourism vs. bad tourism.

I see tourism in SE Asia (or perhaps even the world) on one big scale, with Laos on one end and Vietnam and India on the other. Laos, to me, is tourism done right. There’s infrastructure and tools for travelers without taxi drivers hassling you or shopkeepers driving you up the wall. Vietnam and India is (in general) the opposite — tourism gone wrong. Though we had some good experiences with locals, in general, people (mainly taxi drivers and market sellers) want to make money off you, even if that means cheating you, badgering you and hassling you until you leave the country for Laos. We’re currently in India, where we’ve had some particularly ugly episodes.

Sadly, I think Myanmar is headed in the direction of Vietnam/India. We often felt assaulted to buy things and had to basically shout to get our point across. We had to argue and argue and argue with taxi drivees for a fair price. We were so frustrated.

Bagan is a good example. As much as we loved the internet and Western food options, it was sad to see the beginnings of tourism gone awry. Major temples were so crowded with hawkers at the entrances that it was so hard to soak in any of the beauty. And at the market, sellers were literally throwing clothes at us to buy. One of the reasons Eaman bought that antique tattoo kit was because the seller was the only one in the market who didn’t accost us.

But I don’t think it’s the people’s fault. I think tourism has come too rapidly for Myanmar and the people don’t know how to handle it. They’re so poor that seeing this influx of money is exciting, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get more. I get it; everyone wants his payday. But at what cost? And it’s not like the government is doing much to help. What the country really needs is an NGO to usher in sustainable techniques, especially ones that give back to the community, a trend we saw throughout Laos.

I know tourism didn’t happen overnight in Thailand, Peru or other more developed countries, but sometimes you can see when things are just not right. I hope, for the Burmese people’s sake, that supply starts to meet demand, long-term plans replace get-rich-quick schemes and most importantly, the government takes more initiative.

OK. End of rant.

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