Burma - FAQ and Infos from travelers

compiled by Bernhard Heiser --- last updated 10. October 2000

see also http://www.asiaphoto.de

Most of the documents in this compilation are taken from rec.travel.asia newsgroup since 1997 and from the Lonely Planet Letter page. The information provided within this document is the property of the original authors. In case you do not want your own article to be published here, please send an e-mail to me.


Visa and Bordercrossing
Destinations / Overland Travel
Political Situation

From sladeeee@my-deja.com Tue Jun 15 14:57:09 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: myanmar (burma)
From: sladeeee@my-deja.com
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 12:57:09 GMT
Hi Don I'll quickly give my 2p worth on the political side before trying to answer the stuff you're really interested in! ;-) Yes Myanmar has political problems and the junta makes an unpleasant way of life for many of the people. But personally I feel there is almost as much wrong with places like Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and even the USA (let's start talking Human Rights abuse?) that can be used to persuade people not to visit those countries either. The important point which you have summarised yourself is that you can give to the independent people both financially and "morally" if you like. I have seen worse things in Singapore and Thailand than I've seen in Myanmar. With the right planning, and determination, you can ensure that the SLORC (junta) get minimal mileage out of your visit. It is also worth noting that the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) is now encouraging "responsible" tourists to visit Myanmar provided they don't actively fund SLORC through their activities:

I found Myanmar to be a country of fantastic friendliness, scenery, history and character. It is also a country that is fairly unsanitary, pretty damn hot, the transportation is poor, and of course the military junta are hiding beneath the surface everywhere you go. I will try to go through the things I came across, but please let me know if there's anything else you'd like to know (and I'm sure other people will give their opinions on what they found different)...


Assuming you arrive at Yangon Airport, and unless things have changed recently, you are required to change 300USD into Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs). These are the junta's form of tourist money, and this is their way to get your hard cash. First thing to note here is that the *official* rate is about 6 Kyat to the USD, but on the common black market it's about 120-130 Kyat...more on that later. If you want to make your stand against the junta this is your first chance. When you are queuing to leave passport control keep your head down and try to just walk straight out. Try to ignore them shouting after you unless they really stop you leaving. Then, when they insist on you exchanging your money into FECs, refuse by saying you don't have any cash or travellers cheques. They will continue to insist you change money (and start looking worried too!) but just insist you don't have any. As a last resort you can pull out a credit card if they ask how you will pay for hotels and food, but *dont show them a VISA card*! They can accept VISA for FECs so wave Diners or Mastercard or something even less well known. I got through without converting anything, my friend got through with converting just 100USD (again, if you really get stuck then pay less than they ask). This saves you giving the junta any money directly.

Arrival Hall

You will be met by offers of hotels and taxis - most of these will be trying to get you to take their tours of Myanmar and will be offering you a cheap and easy first night so they can sell you their tours. By all means take this the first night, you won't be forced to take their tours even if they do give you the hard sell!

Tour or DIY Travel?

We opted to do the travelling ourselves for 2 reasons - firstly to keep costs down (not that the tours were that expensive) and also we thought we might be kept away from some sights that they weren't allowed to take us to. We met others on our travels who were doing or had done tours and they had no problems whatsoever. To clarify, these "tours" are usually travelling in their own vehicles with one or more of their staff who then arranges your hotels, food, etc. The exception are the "official" SLORC agency tours which you should avoid at all costs on cost grounds if not moral grounds... they are advertised as such and are therefore easy to avoid - MTT (Myanmar Tour & Travel) is the one to avoid. In hindsight, an independent tour might have been a good idea as you will see:

Food and Hygene

We struggled to find places that looked reasonably sanitary in most places - Yangon streets are swarming with rats after dark and most places have their share of cockroaches. The cleanest looking restaurant we found was in Yangon centre but upon asking for the toilet I was led out to a hole in the floor right in the kitchen where the "chef" was preparing the food whilst puffing on a fag. Cuts of meat were lying in the sun with flies swarming on them. Errr, we didn't manage to finish our meals ;-)
Also, check your food carefully - as I was merrily munching my roast beef and yorkshire puds at the colonial hotel in Maymyo, I lifted the last piece of beef to see about a dozen ants trying to swim through the gravy. Maybe I was just unlucky but I ended up with Dysentry and had to get rehydration treatment in a Bangkok hospital :-( I also managed to get septicaemia in an old mozzie bite which made a right mess of my leg... I really hope the food and hygene has improved lately because that was the biggest problem of the lot.

The Sights

What can I say - Mandalay, the Irrawaddy, Mingun and Pagan were all breathtaking. It really made the hassle and effort all worthwhile. Note that the heat at Pagan was scorching and you must walk barefoot in the pagodas (on stones and flints, ouch!). Same goes for Mandalay Hill, about 1100 steps barefoot but it's all worthwhile, honest! make sure you bring enough film into Myanmar as you'll use it and you won't want to buy any film locally even if you can find it. The only problem we had was in trying to get down to see the Balancing Pagoda which appeared to be strictly off-limits. We couldn't find *anyone* who would drive us down there no matter how much we offered. Rumours at the time were that SLORC were using slave labour to build a railway in the area. I don't know if that was true or not but it would have explained it.


The first trip we took was on the "luxury air-conditioned" coach company Rainbow express which we were told by several people was the best one. These coaches are pretty damn old, the air conditioning didn't work (which is stiffling because the windows don't open!) and were full of hungry mozzies. The coach broke down 3 times and the 10 hour trip took 18 hours. Worse still, I got to the other end to discover my rucksack had been soaking in petrol in the hold the whole trip :-( Make sure you bag your stuff up in plastic bags!! The trains were reputedly very poor and very slow so we didn't try them. The last trip back to Yangon was on a coach that broke down 4 times, finally fatally. We spent 2 hours sleeping on a concrete roundabout before a "normal" bus (like one in a City centre!) came to pick us up. The guy next to me had an epileptic fit on the trip and the whole trip took 32 hours instead of 14. A complete nightmare.

Changing Money

You can change USD or FECs with locals, or you can use them to pay for hotels. Usually for food or transport you'll need Kyats. You shouldn't have any problems getting black market rates for FECs/USD and whatever you do, never ever ever change them at the official rate of 1/20th the real rate!! We never had any problems changing them although the rates swing about 10% in the remote places.


It's not always easy to tell which hotels are SLORC run and which are private. I seem to remember that the "official rates" listed on the hotel board gave the game away showing "official" prices in Kyats - eg. 40USD for the room which is officially about 240 Kyats. But if you try to pay 240 Kyats (really only 2 USD!) they won't let you... this means it's a Junta Hotel! Again, if you don't want to support the junta, don't use their hotels, it's your choice and it doesn't take much effort to avoid them.

My Summary

I've never been so glad to leave a country before, but I've also rarely been to a country with such incredible memories. It's definitely a more adventurous country to visit than your Thailands, Malaysias and Indonesias, but I think if you ignore my bad luck (!) and make the effort to avoid funding the junta, you will find it well wort the trip. Personally I would now recommend an independent tour so long as you are clear that you want control over where you visit and how long you stay.

Enjoy your trip!!
Mark. (NOSPAM sladeeee AT yahoo DOT com NOSPAM)
Visa and Bordercrossing
From edh@gmx.net Sat Apr 24 15:45:53 1999
Newsgroups: soc.culture.thai,rec.travel.asia
Subject: news from immigration maesai/thailand!
From: edh-hick martin+goi thailand <edh@gmx.net>
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 21:45:53 +0800

New news at the border, for those wishing to depart into Myanmar /Burma via Maesai, you must now get stamped out at the MAIN IMMIGRATION OFFICE 1 KILOMETER SOUTH OF THE BRIDGE. This notice was put up at the exit office before the bridge yesterday, 23/4/98. Why? - immig. decision only we can guess. I was there when they were posting it on the window. However, if you are just crossing on a copy of your passport, one can still use that office at the bridge!!!!!!! happy travel anyway! martin and goi <edh@gmx.net> http://www.thailine.com/edh/

From dohrs@u.washington.edu Fri May 28 21:54:54 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma -AnyTips about Travel or the Black Market?
From: "W. Kesavatana-Dohrs" <dohrs@u.washington.edu>
Date: Fri, 28 May 1999 12:54:54 -0700
One should not be naive about the risks of the "black market" in Burma. Below is the story of an Australian caught smuggling (i.e. not declaring upon departure) a relatively small quanitity of gems.
Australian woman jailed for gem smuggling in Burma
Friday 30 April, 1999 (10:59am AEST)
Australian diplomats in Burma are assisting an Australian woman who has been jailed for 10 years in Rangoon for gem smuggling. The 53-year-old woman was arrested at Rangoon Airport last August and has since been convicted for failing to declare thousands of dollars worth of jewellery as she was trying to leave the country. She has been imprisoned in Rangoon's Insein Jail and is awaiting an appeal which could be heard as early as next week. The Foreign Affairs Department in Canberra says diplomats in Rangoon are in regular contact with the woman and assisting with legal advice for her appeal. Department officials have also been in contact with the woman's family in Australia.

Visitors are now required to change only $200 (instead of $300) into FEC at Yangon International Airport upon arrival in Myanmar. David Patel, USA (Sept 00)

In Bangkok 28 day visas are issued in 24 hours if delivered in the morning. The visa fee was to be raised to 800 baht from the 1st of February 2000. Although it was apparently possible to enter the country at Tachilek and Kawthoung and fly inland from there for some time in 1999, this facility was revoked after the occupation of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok in December 1999; once again flying to/from Yangon is the only way in or out. On the other hand it is now officially possible to extend an F.I.T. visa in Yangon. It is not as cheap though, at US$36 for 14 days and US$72 for 28 days, and it involves quite a bit of red tape; one needs letters of recommendation from ones' hotel and Tourist Burma for instance. Jan Willam van Dorp, England (Jul 00)

Visa extensions are only available for 14 days; one month is impossible. You have to apply for the extension at the MTT in Yangon before your visa expires. This is the only place you can get a visa extension, not in Mandalay, Bagan or at any other MTT office. The cost is US$36 and if you arrive late, you'll be charged an additional $3 per day. For example, I applied for an extension five days after my visa had expired, because at MTT in Mandalay they told me that it doesn't matter if your visa has already expired. This information was wrong. Arriving in Yangon at MTT, they charged me $3 per day times five days = $15, plus another $36 for the extension. So for my two week extension, I ended up paying US$51! Regina Neumann, Germany (Mar 00)

Getting a visa at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok was easy, fast and cheaper than a travel agency. However, you are required to go to a personal interview with an officer, so some people might prefer to use an agent anyway. Dress neatly and answer questions politely - the only thing they really want to know is whether or not you’re a journalist. Hours for the visa section are 8.30 to 11.30 am, and 2.00 to 4.30 pm. Thirty day visas cost 720B and are ready in 24 hours. Liz O’Donnell, USA (Aug 99)

Concerning arrival in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar). After you have finished all entry formalities, and are 'released' you will find yourself being screamed at by two taxi companies in two opposing booths. Both are beckoning in an equally desperate manner. However, it is best to proceed and ignore both of them. Once outside, you will be met with a flood of local taxi drivers. They can be quite aggressive and will offer you prices that sound very nice, like US$5 to get into downtown (a 10-15 minute ride). However, beware - the dollar is very strong in Burma, and this price is much too much. You should pay no more than 600 kyats to get to downtown. It is best to make price arrangements in kyats and then pay the equivalent in dollars (or FECs) if you do not have any kyat. Make sure to bargain and only change money on the street, otherwise you will lose quite a bit on the official exchange rate. Michael Weinberg, U.S.A. (Jun 00)

It makes good sense to fly one way (or return) from Chiang Mai in Thailand to Mandalay in Burma for a couple of reasons: 1) As yet, there is no FEC counter at the airport in Mandalay, so your money doesn't go to the wrong people in that way. You can get by fine in Burma with US dollars cash; and 2) Most people who arrive in Yangon go up to Mandalay and then back down again, so by flying directly to Mandalay you are saving yourself a return trip and you'll have more time to look around instead of retreading your steps. You can buy a one way out of Yangon if you like - the planes are not full. Edward Swash, UK (Jun 00)

Destinations / Overland Travel
From arttradch@aol.com Tue Mar 23 02:00:42 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: I need latest Burma tourist info
From: arttradch@aol.com (ARTTRADCH)
Date: 23 Mar 1999 00:00:42 GMT

Hi, Eric. I'm there often, but went last June. What would you like to know? Basically, it's wide open . . . the rutted roads and dilapidated cars will get to you before the permit system will. The areas that are definitely off-limits are mostly tribal border areas . . . like Myawaddy (Karen) and that area . . . Naga area in the NW etc. Four weeks on a tourist visa. Independent travel allowed. ARTTRADCH@aol.com

From arttradch@aol.com Tue Mar 23 01:53:53 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: myanmar travelin'
From: arttradch@aol.com (ARTTRADCH)
Date: 22 Mar 1999 23:53:53 GMT

Hi, Rene! My tip would be stay in the hills over the bridge west of Mandalay . . . Mandalay is not a lovely town. If you don't mind not being right on Inle Lake, stay at Nwangshwe. Go to the Taunggi market. Pagan is marvelous! Have fun! ARTTRADCH@aol.com

From tropix@lava.net Tue Mar 23 13:56:28 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: myanmar travelin'
From: "George F. Lee" <tropix@lava.net>
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999 01:56:28 -1000

Do Inle & Kalaw (wonderful trekking there) before you do Mandalay. That way you can take the boat there to Bagan, A great trip 10 hour trip that starts early in the A.M. Make reservations though, $12US or FECs. The Government doesnt like taking kyat from tourists. The further north into the Shan State you get the military road blocks do get stiffer, surprisingly so on the way into Mandalay where the SLORC guards were even checking the contents of lorries LEAVING. Otherwise you probably wont be allowed to travel by road to where you're not supposed to be. Trade US$ or FECs for kyat in Yangon, you'll get the best rate there. Bought for about 325MM to the dollar just a couple of months ago there. Its about 300MM to the $ in the outlying areas.

Answer the question! Added by: Curious (ARTTRADCH@aol.com)
[Timestamp: Fri 6 Nov, 12:06 Tasmanian Standard Time]

Surely everyone has the option to make their own choices. Here's some info on Burma:It's not a surprise site, but to me Pagan is unmissable. A total revelation. Did just have a great time in (hot!) June in Moulmein in the southeast, which is a very easy place to hangout . . . and has almost no tourists. Other than that, I've been to Bago (Pegu, scrappy town, lovely temples, try not to overnight here), Pye (sweet smallish town with Indian-style ruins nearby), Pagan (truly one of the wonders of the world), Kyauk-ka (little lacquer town), Mandalay (yech, flat commercial place, some nice sights . . . great restaurant Aye Myit Thar . . . but you're much better off going to Ava, Amlapura, Sagaing etc. on the other side of the river), Inle Lake (stunning scenery, skip the water market, did enjoy the monk-trained cats and just the area in general . . . the Taunggyi market's supposed to be fascinating . . . as is farther east in Kentung), Thaton (southeast, famous in ancient times, nothing now except a huge temple that attracts pigeons and some nice colonial buildings), Mottama (the old Martaban . . . wouldn't even know it's a town). I want to go to Mrauk-U, north of Sittwe (Akyab) in the west . . . and I love Yangon (Rangoon), stay downtown! not in the isolated ex-pat area farther north (I like the Yoma Hotel), see the old Indian temple on 51st, and the markets, but mostly, just wander! Have fun! And tell me if you found some great spots! ARTTRADCH@aol.com
From burma@u.washington.edu Mon Apr 10 16:01:55 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: China-Burma Border
From: Burma Action Group <burma@u.washington.edu>
Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 07:01:55 -0700
Sydney Morning Herald
April 8, 2000

A dirt track to the town built on drugs

Only a few years ago, Mong La was a rustic dot on the map on the Burmese side of the border with China, through which huge flocks of ducks were herded to markets further south. Today, it remains unknown to most of the world. But this string of rural border villages is studded with new hotels and flashy casinos, like the Royal Myanmar Casino, where scantily clad Russian burlesque dancers entertain the crowds of Chinese tourists and gamblers who arrive every day. Other new establishments have brought in Chinese strip shows, and a special domed venue has been built for the "Tiffany's transvestite cabaret" imported from Thailand. All this in dour, isolated Burma. At the Mong La Cultural Show, Padaung tribal women, their necks elongated by stacks of brass necklaces, perform traditional dances for busloads of Chinese visitors. When a "human zoo" of the Padaung, also known as "long-necks", was established in Thailand to lure tourists, there was an international outcry. No protests here, though, in this bizarre frontier town built with profits from the heroin trade.

Day-trippers from the neighbouring communist giant stay for just a few minutes to ogle the gentle-natured Padaung. During breaks, the tribespeople spin thread and the children play. In an open-sided hut at the "cultural show", black-turbaned ethnic Wa women with betelnut-stained teeth and a diminutive Wa man smoking a long pipe sit talking. When Chinese tourists come by, they sit up straight and remain silent while the guide explains that the Wa, until not long ago, were headhunters. Another exhibit panders to the predominantly male patrons, showing local women taking "traditional" baths, topless in a mock stream. Mong La, surrounded by forested mountains, lies at the end of a winding dirt road in the opium-growing Golden Triangle. It is in Special Region No 4, an autonomous zone run by former Burmese Communist Party insurgents, their Wa allies and one-time Chinese Red Guards who came as revolutionaries in the late 1960s. Special Region No 4 is a square on the chessboard of Burma's northern Shan State, were various forces have long fought for control of drug revenues and territory. Although Mong La itself has never been a big opium-growing area, trafficking analysts point to substantial drug links. Drug earnings flow through the casinos unchecked. There are also allegations, which are hard to prove, that some leading figures in Mong La are buying opium from neighbouring areas and converting it into heroin in their own laboratories. One member of an anti-narcotics committee in Mong La, sanctioned by the regime in Rangoon, was arrested in Thailand with a large quantity of heroin several years ago. Mong La boasts an anti-narcotics museum displaying photographs of opium crop eradication and the body of a dead junkie, and a recipe for making China white heroin. Burma's military intelligence chief and First Secretary of the military regime, General Khin Nyunt, is pictured at the museum with seized drugs. Australian anti-narcotics operatives were recently in Mong La to be briefed on efforts to stem the drug trade. However, the production of tonnes of heroin and methamphetamines continues largely unabated in the outlying areas of Shan State's autonomous zones.

Special Region No 4 has its own government and revenue, a flag and local vehicle number plates. Sex workers come across from China, and there is a general air of permissiveness unknown in tense parts of Burma under central government control. In the plusher casinos, drinks are complimentary. And all around the town are small gambling establishments where punters play card games or tumble giant wooden dice marked with animals instead of numbers. One enterprising temple has leased space in its grounds to gambling stall operators. As an old black-and-white Chinese movie shows on a outdoor screen, child novice monks in saffron robes grasp handfuls of soiled Chinese banknotes and curse when they lose at blackjack. The Chinese renminbi is virtually the only currency acceptable in Mong La, even though Special Region No 4 is supposed to be at least constitutionally part of Burma. With Hong Kong and Macau returned to Chinese control by their former British and Portuguese colonial rulers, gambling tycoons are looking for new locations. Mong La is not exactly the French Riviera, but that does not worry Chinese visitors in the grip of gambling fever or those fascinated by glittering transvestite shows that would never be allowed in their homeland. The 85-kilometre dirt road south to the town of Keng Tung is a real cultural show. One Wa village still has two flat rocks on pedestals of stone where the heads of enemy prisoners used to be removed.

These days, animism and ancestor worship have been pragmatically blended with Buddhism. On a recent full moon, two dozen novice monks from the village marched to an ancient shrine in a grove of trees, where they chanted and waved bunches of wild flowers as two-metre-long rockets hurtled into the night sky. The devices - including the gunpowder - were homemade. While few of these children have even been to school, there is no shortage of budding rocket scientists. The nearby road, although not sealed, has been substantially upgraded by Chinese interests, apparently in return for mining and timber concessions. Rainforest logs are carted daily across the border into China, and stands of bamboo are claiming large areas denuded of trees. Wildlife, too, is under threat because of an insatiable Chinese demand for exotic animals for food, as well as traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs. Tribal hunters offer tiger and leopard skins and bones to Chinese animal parts traders. Also on sale are snakes - which are bottled in alcoholic drinks - and other luckless beasts, including porcupines and bears. Keng Tung's busy market is frequented by many ethnic groups, distinguished by their physical features, languages, costumes and hairstyles.   Keng Tung is known as the capital of the Golden Triangle, and drug links remain, but analysts say the trade has been more decentralised into the autonomous zones. The tortuously rough 160-kilometre road to the town of Tachilek, on the Thai border, is an omen of things to come. Thai construction companies are using heavy equipment to carve cuttings into mountainsides beside fast-flowing rivers. And Chinese artisans chisel large rocks by hand to build graceful arched bridges. From the Thai border to China via Mong La is only 250 kilometres. With the end of the Cold War, the opening of an all-weather land link between China and Thailand will have profound geopolitical implications for South-East Asia. Already there is a large, spontaneous Chinese migration into northern Burma and northern Thai towns such as Chiang Mai. Mong La has already been transformed.

From eddie@eddiemanning.com Thu May 25 12:47:10 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma Trip
From: Eddie Manning <eddie@eddiemanning.com>
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 11:47:10 +0100

The posting about Burma does not give an accurate reflection of what foreign visitors can expect. Without wishing to get involved in a political argument I will comment on my recent experiences. >From 5th to 25th March this year I travelled over 3,000KM through Burma by bus, train, boat and mountain bike (The bike was perfect for getting around the towns and countryside for sightseeing). Never did I see "soldiers EVERYWHERE" in fact I was quite surprised how little military presence I came across. Never did I see intimidation of the Burmese people or feel in any personal danger myself. The many wonderful people I met did not give me the impression that they were living in fear. People were very friendly and some talked about the political situation quite openly. I was surprised at how content the people were given the strict regime and conditions they live in. I can't understand how the author can state that "no one is visiting Burma" as there were many western tourists in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. There was a good mix of backpackers and people on organised tours. In Yangon I stayed at the small (12 room) Motherland 2 hotel which catered to at least 15-20 guests. I would recommend this very friendly hotel for the helpfulness of the English speaking staff, clean modern facilities and for only 9 US Dollars per night including breakfast. Actually I was surprised at how much English is spoken in Burma, and, if you go away from the Yangon & Mandalay centres then people will come up to you to strike up conversation. In Myitkina the locals were lining up to talk to me and the small English school invited me to their class. I made several long trips where I was the only foreigner - a 30 hour train journey from Mandalay to Myitkyina and a 40 boat trip from Bhamo to Mandalay. The people were so kind to me and even shared their food and kept a space for me to sleep. In Myitkina and Bhamo the immigration police checked papers at every opportunity (arrival, departure and hotel check-in). They were always polite while copying details from my passport and I got the feeling that many of these "officials" are given these jobs for no purpose other than to keep them employed. By NOT going to Burma you won't be helping it's people, most are genuinly pleased to see foreigners and wish to learn more about the outside world. It's not even that they want only our money, on several occasions I met people who acted as my tour guide and either did not ask, nor would accept payment! My trip was a wonderful experience (though travelling there is quite tough going) and if possible I'll be going back to visit again next year. Eddie
From nospam@this.address.ever Sun Jun 11 18:08:51 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Bagan (myanmar) December?
From: anon <nospam@this.address.ever>
Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000 16:08:51 GMT

Bagan, like the rest of Myanmar, is oversupplied with hotels. You can get a clean room with hot shower for upward of US$3- some a lot upward, mind you. The more expensive places have cable tv, if you like CNN. At any hotel, you may be charged what you look like you can afford. Do not go to a hotel to negotiate a room price in company with any Burmese person, or it will be assumed they are getting a commission for bringing you, and the price will rise to accommodate this. Offer half the asking rate, or less.Smile nicely- take your time- if a place is full, it is usually because a coach party is staying there.. Kimbo
From pobrien3@bigpond.net.au Sun Jul 09 13:20:28 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma: Mandalay to Bagan
From: "Paul O'Brien" <pobrien3@bigpond.net.au>
Date: Sun, 09 Jul 2000 11:20:28 GMT

Travelled on the public government boat in December last. It is low water time - the trip took over 18 hours. Interesting but there's not a lot to se on the banks; the 'life' on the boat is fascinating for an hour or so then
I think there's a faster ferry, a/c in fact a tourist boat. I'd fly if I were doing it again - Air Mandalay or Yangon Air. Paul

From erikfearnNOerSPAM@excite.com.invalid Sun Jul 09 17:18:27 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma: Mandalay to Bagan
From: fearn <erikfearnNOerSPAM@excite.com.invalid>
Date: Sun, 09 Jul 2000 08:18:27 -0700
hi ann, is there any particular reason you are following the example of countless other travellers in wanting to go from Mand to bagan - instead of the other way around. Just asking, because I went up river... in other words, I went on 'the road TO mandalay' not away from it, and I had the ferry all to myself. In bagan, just ask for the 5:30 am tourist ferry for US$16 and 13 hours later, at dusk, you sail into mandalay. I hope I've helped. In return, think clearly why you are following the direction the guidebooks are telling you to travel in. Do you have a reason to do it like everybody else?

Myanmar Times
Myanmar's first international weekly Journal
August 21-27 ,2000
Volume 2, No.25


Heading out on the highway

OPERATORS of Myanmar’s inter-city bus routes face the daily challenge of luring rail and air passengers onto their seats. But bus fares are cheaper than prices of plane tickets and the buses have one competitive advantage over trains: punctuality.There are many bus lines plying the routes between Yangon and other towns and cities throughout the country but it is transport between the two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, that provides the most lucrative business.

Ready to roll
The Yangon-Mandalay route is good in terms of profitability and road infrastructure,” said Ko San Lwin of Mandalar Tun.A train ticket to Mandalay costs between K1200 and K1600 while an air ticket fare is about $30 – unless you are a foreigner, in which case you can expect to pay about US$100.The only other option for travel between the two cities is to hire a van or station wagon at a cost of US$40-50 per day, and embark on a 40-hour trip including an overnight stop at Taungoo.

Inter-city buses charge K1600-1800 per head regardless of your nationality.They usually provide travellers with mineral water and snow towels but meals are usually not included. The exception is Leo Express, which charges K2500 to transport and feed each passenger. Some operators are not supportive of that idea.“Most passengers pay little attention to meal service,” said Ko San Lwin.“They want to choose food according to their preference at the restaurants the buses call into along the way.

The reasons why we do not arrange meals is that passengers are from different walks of life and they profess different religions. We allow them to choose their food according to the depth of their pockets and their religious teachings.” Altogether, there are nine bus companies operating along the Yangon-Mandalay route and each firm runs one or two buses daily, leaving Yangon between 4.30pm and 6pm..“We do not necessarily compete with each other,” said Ko San Lwin.“As a matter of fact there is friendly cooperation among all of us.”For example, he said, one bus operator will contact another if unable to accommodate a passenger.

This is entirely for the convenience of the customer,” he said.“Such an act of cooperation is common among the companies.”Normally, luggage small enough to be carried by hand, is allowed on board free of charge.Extra luggage must be paid for with the price settled through negotiation. It is normal practice for the bus firms to have contacts with hostels, inns and travel agencies in order to recruit customers. Most bus lines do not even conduct conventional advertising campaigns, relying instead on their service reputations to spread via word of mouth. One customer outlined his preference for travelling between the cities by bus.

Though trains are more comfortable than buses, the latter take less time,” said Aung Myint Zaw, a customer of Leo bus service.“The bus takes 14 hours between the two major cities and a train takes 16 hours – if everything goes well,” he said, referring to the train system’s infamous vulnerability to unscheduled changes to arrival and departure times.But as a frequent traveller, he earnestly hoped the road between Yangon and Mandalay could be improved. “I choose to travel by bus, but we will have more ease and comfort if the road maintenance is done more regularly and efficiently,” he said.Operators keep backup vehicles to safeguard their passengers against delays caused by vehicle breakdowns along the route.

If a bus on the service breaks down in the middle of a trip – Taungoo is considered to be somewhere near the middle of the two cities - we hire a passenger bus similar to our own,” said U Mya Thet Naing, manager of Leo Express.Each bus is permitted to buy 38 gallons of diesel from state-owned pumps for a trip either way between the two cities.“The fuel is just enough to cover the distance,” said Ko San Lwin.A passenger’s money is not lost if he or she changes the departure time, provided the bus company is given notice by noon on the day of travel.Most buses have first-aid kits and general medicines to deal with normal health problems like dizziness and headaches during the trip.

The busiest time of year for the bus operators, unsurprisingly, is during festivals like Thingyan in April and Taungpyon in August respectively. At such festive times, most companies put more buses into service to cater to demand.In June and July numbers are at their lowest ebb, with a 45-seater typically carrying 30-35 passengers.For travellers who like to stretch out, that could be just the time to get on board.

Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/ Before you buy.


In February 2000 the Burmese president opened the refurbished road from Minbu (on the Irrawaddy, opposite Magwe) through Ann to Mrauk-U and a point opposite Sittwe. Regrettably this road is not (yet?) opened to foreigners. Jan Willam van Dorp, England (Jul 00)

Inle to Bagan: buses seem to book up well in advance. We had to either wait a week or do it by pick up. It ended up being a great trip and as well as saving some money (though not a lot!) it did feel rewarding that we'd achieved something on our own for once. Sitting on the roof of a pick up can be hard on the arse, dust in the eyes can be a problem, you need to keep hold of your hat and watch out for the sun in the middle of the day. It seems to entertain the locals no end when chugging through the villages. It's also handy to have a good map so that you can locate where you actually are! Simon Hodge, UK (Jun 00)

The cars in Myanmar, with few exceptions, are second-hand Japanese ones in poor repair. I would advise anyone contemplating travelling with one of the touts in a car from say Yangon to Mandalay, to inspect the car first - the roads are bad and many of the cars will surely break down. It was disarming to find the cars are mostly right-hand drive and they actually drive on the right-hand side of the road - sitting in the passenger seat with cars whizzing past on the left was freaky. The footpaths are dangerous with many holes and broken concrete slabs with drains underneath. Traffic rules don't seem to exist and pedestrian crossings are ignored completely by everyone. Shane Nunan, Australia (May 00)

The stretch of highway between Attapeu and Champasak Town doesn't seem to be in use as of two weeks ago. We tried ad nauseum to find a truck going that way, but everyone advised us that we must go to Pakse first. So for those travellers looking to do a 'loop' between Salavan, Sekong, Attapeu and Champasak, they should ask about the road conditions first, or try going to Champasak first. Ben Schonthal (May 00)

The Thai Airlines office in Yangon has moved and is no longer where it is shown in the current edition of Myanmar. It's now in the high-rise building across from the Traders Hotel. Ray VarnBuhler (Mar 00)

There is an alternative to flying and catching one of the uncomfortable trains or buses: hire a car and driver. As soon as you arrive in Yangon you will be approached by people offering cars from US$25 to $50 a day. Make sure the car has yellow number plates, so that it is registered to carry tourists. Our driver spoke quite good English and was a wonderful source of information about the country's language and culture. Nigel Marsh & Helen Rose, Australia (Dec 99)

There is a new boating service that runs five times weekly from Mandalay to Bagan. It is a regular ferry service (not deck class) and leaves at 6 am. The trip takes about eight hours. Mark Patton, China (Nov 99)

We took the train from Yangon to Mandalay - possibly the worst train ride in the world. My seat would not go back, my husband’s would not come forward. We travelled all night in a carriage with windows that would not close and we practically had icicles on our noses when morning broke. In spite of all that, it was sort of special to travel through the countryside at night and suddenly come upon temples all lit up or to see the fires burning that lit the tiny huts so many people lived in. I am glad we did it. We had asked for a sleeping compartment but none were available. Folks from France told us later that we were lucky - they had a compartment. It had mice and mosquitoes in it and they had to hang on to the bunks all night to keep from falling as the train swayed back and forth. Mary Ann Buchanan (Sep 99)

While travelling in the rainy season was a delight, as there were few other travellers and prices were low, it proved somewhat inconvenient when booking flights with Air Mandalay. All flights go in one circuitous route: Yangon-Pagan-Mandalay-Inlet Lake-Yangon. Don’t expect to travel south from Mandalay to Pagan by plane. And when reaching Pagan, don’t expect to fly easily back to Yangon. Steve Golden, Singapore (Aug 99)

According to the July/August volume of the Thomas Cook International Railway timetable, the tracks Taungdwingyi - Kyaukpadang have now been extended to Bagan, and there are passenger services operating. There appear to be two alternatives out of Yangon, 2135 via Pyinmana, and 2215 via Pyey - good convenient spread, that. It'd be good to hear from anybody using these services, given TW's original comments on the Kyaukpadang-Yangon route in the earlier LP books. Geoff, The Thorn Tree (Jul 99)

Mandalay-Hsipaw: there are now two buses doing this route daily from the Mandalay bus station: they have similar levels of discomfort. The Royal GH can provide info and organize tickets. In the reverse direction you might want to take the one leaving later. The day we took it the two buses ended up together anyway. Mandalay-Pyin Oo Lwin: pickup location has changed in Mandalay! Now at 81 st. on the 28-29 block: the 'station' is on the west side, inside the block. People understand you better if you call it 'Maymyo' and that's what the drivers yell. Sewin Chan & Ron Miller, The Thorn Tree (Jul 99)

Buses for Thazi (and the southbound trains) coming from Taunggyi via Shwenyaung leave in the morning. If you miss the bus, your only option in the afternoon is to take an extremely uncomfortable pick-up truck down the twisting mountain road and hope you make it in one piece. From Thazi to Yangon via train, beware of being ripped off by the staff at the station. They tried to charge us $80 but in the end they settled for $50 after I pointed out that their price was more than we paid to travel from Yangon to Mandalay! To add insult to injury, when we got to our seats on the train we found they were double booked and a Burmese family were forced by the conductor to vacate them for the paying passengers. Later I found them sprawled asleep outside the toilet - no doubt cursing foreigners. David Blake, Laos (May 99)

Mingun, Getting There & Away: there is now a government boat for tourists that costs K200 return and departs from the Bayintnaung Rd ferry at 9 am and returns from Mingun at 1 pm. The trip takes from 45 minutes to one hour. Alternatively, you can hire a personal charter for upwards of K2000. Emma Hetherington, Australia (Mar 99)

There is now a third internal airline called Yangon Air in the same league as Air Mandalay. A piece of advice: when booking Air Mandalay tickets at the main office, ask about their agent discount prices. At their main office, we were quoted US$342 per person for a round trip from Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, to Inlay and back to Yangon. When we questioned the price we were told that if we went to one of their agents they would sell us the tickets for $240. It's worth the hassle of trekking into town if you are going to save $100 each. Iago & Caroline Cornelius-Jones, Indonesia (Jan 99)

The super sleeper train from Yangon to Mandalay is the most overpriced horror ever encountered. The roadbed is so bad the train lurches from side to side and jerks and rattles so it took two sleeping pills for me to be able to sleep. The cars have badly deteriorated so that you have to dump a can of water from the sink into the toilet for flushing purposes. The cars are also filthy, and the fridges don't work. There are insufficient blankets and no heat - it gets cold as you near Mandalay. Dick Warren, USA (Jan 99)

From asianprincess@canada.com Fri May 28 06:31:10 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma -AnyTips about Travel or the Black Market?
From: "Teeni" <asianprincess@canada.com>
Date: Fri, 28 May 1999 12:31:10 +0800

Travel in Burma sounds scary, but it isn't. Upon arrival you have to change $300 USD to FECs, which is the Foreigner Currency. You can spend FECs everywhere, and you can change FEC to kyats easily. In fact the Black Market that you are talking about sre simply people that approach you as "money changers". They are basically harmless, in fact from my understanding, there are no legitimate "legal" money changers that will give you the proper exchange rate. The official rate is 1 USD to 6 kyat while the black market money changers will give you 320-360 kyat per 1 USD. BIG DIFFERENCE, HEY?

As well, to note, the military government gives the impression that can not change FEC/kyat back to USD, but YOU CAN. They want you to spend the whole amount there, but if you can't spend it all, then you can find a Black Market money changer or the hotel in my case to change kyat to USD. No problems. Don't let the term "black market" deter you, they are the ones that are actually determining the good exchange rate for you. You will have a great time there! Its a lovely country, the people are great. If you have any other questions, just let me know! Teeni

From sheppsf@aol.com Mon Apr 03 10:36:51 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Question about Burma...
From: sheppsf@aol.com (SheppSF)
Date: 03 Apr 2000 08:36:51 GMT

Upon entering Burma you must pay for a $300.Federal exchange certificate,which can be used in Government hotels and stores.There is no refund for any left over money.The official exchange rate is US $1.=6 Kyat.While locals are not allowed to possess Dollars the street rate is about $1.=350.Kyat.

Actually, FEC's (or cash dollars) have to be used in hotels that rent to foreigners, whether government-owned or not. There's a thriving black market in Rangoon where FEC's can easily be converted to kyat, which will take care of paying for meals, souvenirs, etc. And it's my memory, tough I could be wrong, that excess FECs actually can be legally converted back to dollars with the original exchange certificate....maybe someone can correct me on that. And if locals can't possess dollars, someone whould tell all the hotel owners and shop owners who gladly take them. Since Burma's not particularly cheap for tourists, $300 would be a lot of money if one were only transiting for a few days, but staying there for several weeks would easily use the cash up...it would only be $15 a day.

Instead of going to Burma and supporting a brutal military dictatorship,you should try to do everything in your power to combat them.>> It's funny how every question about Burma gets this response, but questions about travel in democratic ol' China never seem to elicit similar replies. Why is that, d'you think?

From mstahl@uplink.de Thu May 11 15:16:47 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma money tricks
From: "scorpion" <mstahl@uplink.de>
Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 15:16:47 +0200

Hi Bartek
I´ve been in Burma at Dec. 99. It is right - you have to change 300 US$. If you are lucky at the exchange Gate at the Airport, you an join a group and they will not advise you to change money. I have changed 300 US$ and I need this amount for a 5 Week individual backpack tour. There a many Money Changers at Sule Pagode in Yangon. They can change the Burmese Money back in US$. The exchange rate isn´t too bad to do it. You will get about 95% back.


Political Situation

From dohrs@u.washington.edu Fri Apr 23 22:21:14 1999
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Japan Times: Letter from Burma
From: "W. Kesavatana-Dohrs" <dohrs@u.washington.edu>
Date: Fri, 23 Apr 1999 13:21:14 -0700    

Myanmar: behind the bright facade, a land shadowed by fear

The setting is remarkable. Resplendent golden pagodas shimmer in the light. Riverboats pass lush, green, irrigated paddy fields. Ethnic festivals explode in color and noise against a still-grand back drop of fading colonial architecture. Bright, sarong-like "longyis," wrapped around people's waists, add to the vividness of the scene. And here and there, magnificent, haunting ruins evoke the splendor of the past.

Yet if the sun still shines on the Myanmar of coffee-table photo albums, a vast, disturbing darkness also shadows the country. This is not a happy society. Fear, deprivation and worse are commonplace.

Myanmar has been under varying forms of military rule since 1962. The present government, euphemistically self-named the State Peace and Development Council, consists largely of senior military brass at the top, with regional commanders filling assorted Cabinet position. The actions of these men have repeatedly given rise to the quip that George Orwell wrote "1984" as a sequel to his "Burmese Days." Orwellian this government certainly is.

Even the most native visitor cannot miss the billboards. Large and small, always with white text on a red background, they have been placed throughout the country. Many of the massages, which are occasionally in English, call for obedience: "LOVE AND CHERISH THE MOTHERLAND" or "OBSERVANCE OF DISCIPLINE LEADS TO SAFETY." Others announce the presence of enemies and what the military will do to them if they are caught.

A few of these exhortations have been posted in curious locations, such as outside Yangon's U.S. Embassy. The reasoning behind this, apart from the probable insult intended, may be religious in origin. Many Myanmars believe in "nats," 37 capricious spirits whose worship predates the arrival of Buddhism. Red and White are the colors associated with placating these potentially dangerous entities. The authorities may well see the signs as useful talismans, capable of warding off malign foreign influence.

The amount of construction under way in Yangon is striking. Hotels, half-built or with signs proclaiming "Opening Soon," dot the city. But the air of burgeoning prosperity suggested by this is misleading. There are few tourists. The younger, backpacking crowd is largely absent, and among older tourists a sheepish, should -we-really-be-here demeanor is common.

Any profits flowing from the construction projects or from the sale of the country's natural resources have mostly benefited the "Tatmadaw," or Myanmar Army, and a few other favored groups. For the average person, daily life is a struggle. Inflation is severe, and the black-market rate for Myanmar's currency, the kyat, has doubled in the last two years.

Child laborers, soldiers and spies
According to a member of the Democratic Party for a New Society, a popular but now-banned student organization, many of Yangon's citizens have no disposable income. They will pawn their few personal possessions in the mornings to pay for transportation to work sites. If they were lucky enough to get work that day, they can buy back their things as they go home in the evenings.

Work is available, but often it is not of the paid --- or at least well-paid --- variety. The use of forced labor throughout Myanmar has been well-documented. One notorious example is the construction of the Ye to Dawei (Tavoy) railway in the south, with thousands of villagers dragooned for the purpose and guarded by armed soldiers.

North of Yangon, especially between the cities of Nyaunglebin and Toungoo, child labor is a frequent and visible phenomenon. At one site, small girls, clearly younger than 10, were pouring tar at road works under the blazing sun. "It is very sad; they have no chance for school," one bystander quietly observed.

A genuine growth industry in Myanmar has been the military --- meaning more soldiers, more equipment and more spies for the Military Intelligence Service. Consequently, journalists must be careful whom they speak to, not so much for their own safety as for that of their interlocutors. Myanmar people are exceedingly polite and friendly. Pleasantries and smiles are readily exchanged, but it is important to let people broach the more difficult topics in their own ways.

"We can talk here safely," one very well-informed gentleman said, "If we were in public, Military Intelligence might be watching and listening." Under such laws as the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, a seven-year jail term awaits anyone who "causes or intends to spread false rumors laws that have followed it are interpreted as the government sees fit, to suppress dissent.

It is not just in the tea shops and marketplaces that "they" might be listening. According to Professor Desmond Ball, author of "Burma's Military Secrets" (White Lotus,1988), "Monitoring of domestic conversations is widespread, especially when critics of the government or associates of critics are involved. All domestic long-distance connections can be intercepted and recorded at the exchanges in Rangoon (now Yangon) and Mandalay. (MIS officers are stationed at both exchanges)." Additionally, the regime has recently received equipment enabling it to monitor satellite, fax and e-mail transmissions.

The military junta attempts to justify its heavy-handedness by saying that it is the only force capable of preserving the unity of the state. At least one-third (actual numbers are contested) of Myanmar's citizens belong to an ethnic minority. Many of these groups are either in a state of active insurgency or maintaining tenuous ceasefire with the government. The nationalities question is central to Myanmar politics. It is one that past and present governments have failed to address adequately and which any future democratic government will have to treat very carefully.

A place of tension and uncertainty
This March, I went to Karen State in Southeastern Myanmar, where what is perhaps the world's longest-running civil war continues. Since 1949, the Karen National Union and its military wing have been fighting successive Myanmar governments, at first for independence and more recently for autonomy within a proposed democratic federal state. The Karen ethnic minority is possibly Myanmar's largest (the same claim is made for the Shan).

The capital, Hpa-an, is an immediately appealing place, situated in a lowland valley alongside one of Asia's great rivers, the Salween, with majestic karst formations rising in the distance. At first, the atmosphere of the town is inviting. In the evenings, for instance, it is relaxing to walk down the darkened side streets, past teak houses lit by small oil lamps.

Soon, however, more ominous elements come into focus. If the military presence ranges from the subtle to the overt in Yangon, it is at times overwhelming in Hpa-an, giving the impression of an occupying force. A compound fenced with barbed wire occupies a good chunk of city land. This is the base area for the 22nd Light Infantry Division, one of 10 such divisions in Myanmar's Army.

The 22nd participates in military actions against KNU forces. It was involved in the major battles of 1995 that saw the capture of the Karen headquarters at Manerplaw, along the Thai border, a devastating blow to the KNU. This division also saw "action" in 988, when it was involved in the gunning down of thousands of unarmed prodemocracy demonstrators.

The Tatmadaw isn't the only armed presence, which further adds to the tension and uncertainty that pervade the place. I saw at least 100 other soldiers, recognizable by their distinctive yellow headbands, traveling in pickups or larger trucks. Many appeared to be very young, probably in their early teens, and all looked a little menacing, with grenades strapped to their belts and assault rifles in their hands. Some sported the acronym "DKBA" in Roman letters on their headbands.

The DKBA, or Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, is a splinter group that broke away from the KNU in December 1994, following complaints by many Buddhist Karen foot soldiers that they were being marginalized by the largely Christian KNU leadership. It was the DKBA that led the Myanmar Army into the KNU fortress at Manerplaw, and it was this group that has led attacks on Karen refugee camps in Thailand, destroying several camps and killing many refugees.

The word from the hills is bad
The DKBA have a forward base 13 km east of Hpa-an and a main one 48 km north at Myaing Gyi Ngyu. Many locals do not welcome their presence. "We don't like them. They have spent too much time in the jungle and are wild. If they want something, they take it," I was told. The DKBA are still allied with the Tatmadaw, but there are whispers that this will not last.

Farmers in the area, like farmers elsewhere in Myanmar, have to subsidize the government by selling a good portion of their crop at a steep discount from the market price, arousing great disaffection. Additionally, outside Hpa-an there are military-owned rubber plantations, cleared and planted with forced labor. When villagers' livestock roams into the plantations the army shoots it. In early March, a section of one plantation burned down. Whether this was a typical dry-season occurrence or some villagers' revenge, no one was saying.

Most of the fighting takes place in the Dawna Range, well to the east of Hpa-an. I was permitted to travel no more than 40 km in that direction, as far as the town of Hlaing-bwe, where I was assigned a permanent "escort" of three MIS officials. Nonetheless, the word from those hills is very bad.

According to rights-monitoring organizations like the Karen Human Rights Group, as well as officials from aid agencies who requested anonymity, the Tatmadaw is committing large-scale human-rights abuses. Army conscripts are not receiving free rice from the quota system but are being told to "grow it or take it." They take it.

In an effort to deny the KNU support, the Tatmadaw is also declaring large areas free-fire zones and ordering inhabitants, often at gunpoint or by burning their villages, to relocate to more controllable settlements. This doubling and tripling of populations is causing immense hunger and hardship, as newcomers are settled on other villages' paddy fields.

Hundreds of thousands of others are voting with their feet and fleeing. Many are still hiding inside Myanmar and are thus, in the modern parlance of nongovernment organizations, "internally displaced persons." Their situation is perilous and not easily ameliorated. Many hide in areas strewn with land mines. I was told that in recent months many very elderly people, who had previously felt bound to their lands no matter what, were fleeing as well.

Amid the darkness, one glimmer of light can be glimpsed in Karen State. Some 40 km from Hpa-an is the monastery town of Thamanya is one of the most venerated Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia. He has declared a small "zone of peace" at Thamanya, and thousands have come to live there near him in relative safety.

When I met the Thamanya Sayadaw, he showed me a large photo taken of him with Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's opposition leader. Thamanya was the first place Suu Kyi traveled outside Yangon after her release from house arrest in 1995. The Thamanya Sayadaw is said to tell his SPDC visitors repeatedly that there will be no progress in Myanmar until there is peace and Suu Kyi is running the country. If only they would take advice.

* Richard Humphries teaches at Sophia University. He last wrote for the Focus page on the rebuilding of Sarajevo.  

Keeping 'scabies' in check at the ministry of Information Yangon

In downtown Yangon, at 22/30 Strand Road, stands a large building housing the Myanmar Ministry of Information. As part of its mission to produce and disseminate "information," the ministry oversees publication of what may be one of the world's most bizarre newspapers --- an English-language daily called The New Light of Myanmar.

Myanmar is run by a brutal military junta; it is therefore not surprising that any government- run media publication will toe the official line. Still, on an evolutionary scale of propaganda sophistication, the New Light of Maynmar would have to rank very near the bottom.

Headlines blazon the comings and goings of the top military rulers, typically to and from fertilizer factories, land-reclamation projects and the like, where they appear in full military regalia to offer "guidance" or "instructions" to the people. The paper does carry some wire-service reports, but there it plumbs wholly new journalistic depths is with its coverage of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League for Democracy.

On March 5, Suu Kyi was referred to as the "white alien's wife," who should be crushed and deported. This was done despite the regime's full knowledge at the time that her husband, Oxford University academic Dr. Michael Aris, was dying. She was also referred to as someone who exhibits "cruelty like an ogress..." On March 15, in a rambling essay titled "Turning Scabies into Leprosy," she was said to be "like a small frog from the footprint of ox... who dominates an acre-wide compound (but has) no connection with Myanmar or the world."

The NLD comes in for more than its fair share of vituperation. The "Scabies" piece suggested that NLD leaders' speeches are so bad that people need "to have their phlegm checked to deny they are asthma patients." (sic) Frequently, NLD leaders are called "ax-handles," which in junta terminology means they operate at the beck and call of neocolonialists. The newspaper offers no right of reply.

Behind these rants lies a campaign that is both sinister and well-organized. In the 1990 elections, the NLD won 392 of the 485 contested seats. The promilitary party won 10. Ten evidently was enough for the soldiers at the time, because they refused to give up power. Since then they have been committed to destroying the NLD.

Every day, it seems, The New Light of Myanmar carries articles announcing mass resignations by NLD rank-and-file members or of 1990 winners in various parliamentary districts. On March 16, 687 NLD members were said to have resigned from a village in Mandalay Division. They took this action, the paper claimed, "on their own volition" and "collectively." The resignations were allegedly sent to a body titled the Multiparty Democracy General Election Sub-Commission, which, despite the first two words, is a government organization.

After the 1990 election results were denied and overridden, many NLD activists, sensing what was to come, went into exile and formed the NLD/Liberated Area. This group enjoys far greater opportunities for political activity than members of the party who remain in Myanmar. Asked to explain the significance of the government's current anti-NLD campaign, Ram Jeet Verma, formerly leader of an NLD/LA central Committee member, described it as "part of a systematic plan by the SPDC." It involves, he said, "many people (who were) enrolled (in the party) in 1990, but have not been active for six or seven years."

With the party's elected MPs, the campaign is more forthright. Threats and intimidations are widespread. This February saw a case involving one U Bo Zan, member for a Mandalay district. His wife, who suffers from a nervous disorder, was summoned to appear before local authorities and threatened with the following: The NLD would be eventually destroyed; family members would be used to engineer losses in any business undertaking they had; and that this was part of a special campaign. U Bo Zan has continued to resist but others have succumbed to the pressure.

U Aung Than, a member for Toungoo City, was repeatedly ordered to appear before the military and "explain" why he hadn't resigned yet. Eventually he gave way and resigned.

Verma sees all this as part of a long campaign of suppression. "Their strategy is to abolish us in one way or another," he said. "They don't just simply ban us, because how can they say to the world or their friends in ASEAN that they are advancing to democracy? But it is their goal."

Observers believe that the junta plans to eventually eliminate the NLD and replace it with the regime's own political action group, the United Solidarity Development Association. The logic driving this policy is a vision of the USDA evolving into something like the Golkar party under Suharto, a large, docile, political rubber-stamp organization, membership of which automatically means favors. The Indonesian model may be in decline, but that does not diminish the Yangon authorities' apparent determination to hold onto power. (R.H.)

From jonas.carlson@ifsab.se Wed May 24 10:20:09 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma Trip
From: "Jonas Carlson" <jonas.carlson@ifsab.se>
Date: Wed, 24 May 2000 10:20:09 +0200

Spreading ridiculous rumors is totally pointless. If you want to support the democratic movement in Burma you're better off telling the truth, anything else will just discredit you and noone will believe you even when you do tell the truth!

I'm not going to argue about the political situation in Burma, but the rambling in this email is just too much. I'm not an expert on the country, but I did spend two weeks there about a year ago so I can give a tourists perspective on things...

Sure, there are a lot of military troups in Yangon, but the same could be said about many capitols in the region (Phnom Phen and Colombo springs to mind as being a lot worse than Yangon). There aren't nearly as many beggars in Burma as in some other equally poor countries in the region. I figured that this was due to government oppression, that they simply didn't allow beggars on the streets... No tourists visit Myanmar? Where ever did you get that idea? If there was one thing that suprised me it was the number of tourists visiting places like Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. Too many tourists is one of the worst things I know. I much prefer a quite, genuine place over a tourist trap (the only merchandise found at the floating market in Inle Lake is tourist trinkets...). As to the official currency. While I don't particularly like the idea they worked just fine. Most people were happy to take them instead of dollars, some people even prefering the local "dollar".

I didn't have too much trouble finding people who were willing to talk about the situation in the country, but I was also very careful about this since I realise that I wouldn't be the one to get into trouble, the Burmese were... Should you go to Burma? The political situation is quite bad, you'll be indirectly supporting the military dictatorship, but a lot of your money will go to the local population, not the government. You'll also be able to talk to the people, tell them what the outside world thinks about the situation and simply let them know that you care. You just have to let your conscience decide which feels right for you...

Let me just end by saying that it's a beautiful country and the people contrary to what the previous note said actually smile quite a lot!

From burma@u.washington.edu Wed May 24 18:01:20 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma Trip
From: Burma Action Group <burma@u.washington.edu>
Date: Wed, 24 May 2000 09:01:20 -0700

On Wed, 24 May 2000, Jonas Carlson wrote:

Spreading ridiculous rumors is totally pointless. If you want to support the democratic movement in Burma you're better off telling the truth, anything else will just discredit you and noone will believe you even when you do tell the truth!

A couple of points. The writers are real people who just returned from Burma. Their perspective is real, and I have no reason to believe anything that they wrote is not true. One should be cautious about making such a suggestion, just because someone's perspective or experience is different from yours. I'd be happy to put you in direct touch with the authors if you want.

Please note a few facts. This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of the national elections in Burma that were overwhelmingly won by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result, tension is much higher than it was a year ago. Junta newspapers have repeatedly called for Aung San Suu Kyi and colleagues to be tried for treason and executed. Groups of monks have threatened a national strike if political dialogue is not commenced by May 25th, and dozens of monks have been arrested. Other monks, particularly in Mandalay, are confined to their monastaries. Democracy supporters have been rounded up as well, and two elected representitives just received long prison terms. Check the wire service stories from the past few weeks.

In early April, the junta raised civil servant salaries by 500% and military salaries by 800%. This has, of course, led to rising inflation, which hits those who are neither civil servants not military particularly hard. This may help explain the rising numbers of beggars.

The authors visited the family of a prominent dissident who lives in exile. This man is simply a personal friend of the authors. This family is clearly under surveilance, which led to the heavy security presence on their tails after that.

Tourism figures for Burma are extremely low by any standard, and May is a particularly low period. Arrivals in Burma, even counting day-trippers across the border, are about 4% of the figure for neighboring Thailand. Numerous international press reports confirm the empty hotels. Many, including the narco-financed Traders Hotel, have closed down many of the hotel floors to save money. Also, in January, the junta (again in its infinite wisdom) restricted the number of weekly flights by Thai Airways, in an attempt to force more tourists on to junta-owned Myanmar Airways. The result has been a significant decline in tourist arrivals.

I have no need to argue with the rest of your post. But to question the truthfulness of those who have different experiences at a different time from your own visit is a bit carried away.

People can easily have an pleasant holiday in Burma, staying at the Strand, taking the Road to Mandalay cruise, in blissful ignorance of the situation for the 45 million Burmese. Backpackers also can bring very little awareness of the reality of the place they visit, and I'm sure most of us have done that to a greater or lesser extent in one place or another. But others can enter a country with a strong political consciousness, and find themselves experiencing the climate of intimidation and fear that exists for Burmese who can be arrested and tortured at any time. At least these visitors can leave, while their Burmese friends cannot.

Finally, the one thing that did surprise me in their letter was the lack of smiles on the faces of the people. Typically, Burmese not in army uniform are a very smily lot. The fact that they are less so now attests to the grim situation on the ground.  

From eddie@eddiemanning.com Thu May 25 12:47:10 2000
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Burma Trip
From: Eddie Manning <eddie@eddiemanning.com>
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 11:47:10 +0100

The posting about Burma does not give an accurate reflection of what foreign visitors can expect. Without wishing to get involved in a political argument I will comment on my recent experiences.

From 5th to 25th March this year I travelled over 3,000KM through Burma by bus, train, boat and mountain bike (The bike was perfect for getting around the towns and countryside for sightseeing). Never did I see "soldiers EVERYWHERE" in fact I was quite surprised how little military presence I came across. Never did I see intimidation of the Burmese people or feel in any personal danger myself.

The many wonderful people I met did not give me the impression that they were living in fear. People were very friendly and some talked about the political situation quite openly. I was surprised at how content the people were given the strict regime and conditions they live in.

I can't understand how the author can state that "no one is visiting Burma" as there were many western tourists in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. There was a good mix of backpackers and people on organised tours. In Yangon I stayed at the small (12 room) Motherland 2 hotel which catered to at least 15-20 guests. I would recommend this very friendly hotel for the helpfulness of the English speaking staff, clean modern facilities and for only 9 US Dollars per night including breakfast. Actually I was surprised at how much English is spoken in Burma, and, if you go away from the Yangon & Mandalay centres then people will come up to you to strike up conversation. In Myitkina the locals were lining up to talk to me and the small English school invited me to their class.

I made several long trips where I was the only foreigner - a 30 hour train journey from Mandalay to Myitkyina and a 40 boat trip from Bhamo to Mandalay. The people were so kind to me and even shared their food and kept a space for me to sleep.

In Myitkina and Bhamo the immigration police checked papers at every opportunity (arrival, departure and hotel check-in). They were always polite while copying details from my passport and I got the feeling that many of these "officials" are given these jobs for no purpose other than to keep them employed.

By NOT going to Burma you won't be helping it's people, most are genuinly pleased to see foreigners and wish to learn more about the outside world. It's not even that they want only our money, on several occasions I met people who acted as my tour guide and either did not ask, nor would accept payment!

My trip was a wonderful experience (though travelling there is quite tough going) and if possible I'll be going back to visit again next year.