Is Myanmar safe for tourists?
Is it wrong to visit?
Concerns about Myanmar’s long decades of repressive government and armed internal conflict raise two separate threads of concern in all of us who contemplate visiting.
First, will I be safe there?
Second, do I harm other people by going there?
First, safety: Myanmar’s tourist corridor is safer for travellers than most other third world destinations, with low crime rates and locals who are delighted to welcome us here.
But Myanmar is a country with problems.
Areas within the states of Shan, Kachin, Kayin and Rakhine (far away from where we go) are not safe, due to armed conflict between the government and ethnic insurgents, and disputed international borders.
Most disturbing of all is the persecution of the Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group against whom Myanmar is conducting what the UN has described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Obviously we go nowhere near any of this on our trips. These things do not impact on our safety.
The thornier question is, is it ethical to visit while this is going on?
It is of note that Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years urging people to stay away, now welcomes responsible tourism. On the other hand, it’s her apparent crossing over to the dark side with her refusal to even discuss, let alone do something about, the Rohingya crisis, that’s the hardest thing to square away about visiting Myanmar.
What is she doing? What has happened to her? Why has she changed so much?
I don’t know the answer to this one and it bothers me (though this article contains a likely answer, but I am still going to Myanmar.
The question I ask myself is this: if you lived in a repressed state, would you rather tourists came there or did not? I would rather they came, and spent their money, and saw what is happening, and went home and told their friends about the real people with real lives that they’ve met whose lives are lived under a shadow. I believe tourism puts the issues on more people’s agendas. I believe that ultimately the more people who go to Myanmar, and develop real human connections with Burmese people, the better.
Aung San Suu Kyi, travel companies that have been in Myanmar for longer than us, and human rights groups, all seem to say this: it’s good to go there as long as you make a conscious effort to support local small businesses and avoid spending with any businesses with close ties to the military.
I found this article helpful.
Here are some independent Burmese news sites:
Feel free to drop me a line via [email protected] or the contact button below if you’d like to discuss these matters.