Introduction

Since 1962 Myanmar has been under the military rule of the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC) - formerly known as the State Law & Order Restoration Council (Slorc) - an abominable military junta. Dissent of any sort is suppressed, and political prisoners are jailed for expressing their opinions publicly. A number of these prisoners have died in custody. Travellers wishing to learn more about political prisoners in Myanmar should go to Amnesty International's website at www.amnesty.org.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi advocates boycotting all forms of travel to the country as a means of isolating the government and forcing reform. Inside Myanmar, there are a number of people who support her stance. This pro-boycott group argues that much of the money from tourism goes directly and indirectly into the pockets of the very generals who continue to deny Burmese citizens the most-basic civil rights. However, others involved with Burmese politics, including many current or former members of the NLD, feel that a travel boycott of Myanmar is counterproductive. They maintain that tourism is not only economically helpful, but vital to the pro-democracy movement for the two-way flow of information it provides.

Prospective travellers should monitor events in Myanmar and weigh up the arguments in support and opposition to travel.

Warning

The situation in Burma remains unsettled and travellers are advised to remain informed as to developments in the country. Check local travel advisories such as the
US State Department. Curfews have been imposed in some areas and caution is recommended to all travellers.


Should you go to Myanmar?
The decision as to whether or not to travel to Myanmar is best made after an appraisal of the pros and cons of such a visit.

Reasons Not to Go

  • International tourism can be seen to give a stamp of approval to the SPDC.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have called on the international community to boycott travel to Myanmar until the candidates elected in 1990 are allowed to form a government.

  • The government keeps travellers away from areas where forced labour or repression of minorities is occurring

  • It is difficult to avoid some government-owned businesses, tourism sites and transport, and impossible to avoid the mandatory purchase of US$200 worth of FECs

  • Forced labour has been used to construct some of the country's tourism infrastructure.

Reasons to Go

  • Tourism remains one of the few industries to which ordinary Burmese have access. Any reduction in tourism means a reduction in local income-earning opportunities.

  • It is becoming increasingly possible to travel in Myanmar without staying in government-owned hotels, using government-owned transport etc.

  • Many pro-democracy activists within Myanmar itself argue that sanctions are counter-productive, and that economic development can lead to political liberalisation.

  • Keeping the Burmese isolated from international witnesses to internal oppression may only cement the government's control.

If You Decide to Go
In order to maximise the positive effects of a visit among the general populace, while minimising support of the government, follow these simple tactics:

  • Stay at private, locally owned hotels and guesthouses.

  • Avoid package tours connected with Myanmar Travel & Tours.

  • Avoid MTT-sponsored modes of transport, such as the Yangon-Mandalay Express trains, the MTT ferry between Mandalay and Bagan, and Myanma Airways (MA) flights.

  • Buy handicrafts directly from the artisans, rather than from government shops.

  • Avoid patronising companies involved with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings. Companies with solid links to the Tatmadaw (armed forces) are often called Myawadi or Myawaddy.

  • Write to the Myanmar government and to the Myanmar embassy in your country expressing your views about the human-rights situation there

Full country name: Union of Myanmar (Burma became Myanmar in 1989 after the State Law and Order Restoration Council decided that the old name implied the dominance of Burmese culture; the Burmese are just one of the many ethnic groups in the country)
Area: 671,000 sq km (416,020 sq mi)
Population: 45 million (growth rate 2.1%)
Capital city: Yangon (Rangoon) (pop 4 million)
People: 65% Burmese, 10% Shan, 7% Karen, 4% Rakhine and Chin, Kachin, Mon, Chinese, Indian and Assamese minorities
Language: Burmese, also Karen, Chin, Shan and Kachin dialects
Religion: 87% Theravada Buddhist, 5% Christian, 4% Muslim, 3% animist
Government: Military council
Head of state & Prime Minister: General Than Shwe

GDP:
US$67 billion
GDP per head: US$1500
Annual growth: 1.1%
Inflation: 30%
Major products/industries:teak, rice, jute and illegal opium poppies
Major trading partners: Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan, India

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Information provided by Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board.

 

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