www.asiaphoto.de > Burma Pages > Travelogue
I spent five weeks in Burma during my first trip in Nov/Dec 2000. This is a quick overview of the visited places:
Yangon - Moulmein - Mottama - Setse Beach (Kyaikkami) - Hpa An - Kyaiktio - Bago - Mandalay - Sagaing - Mingun - Hsipaw - Mandalay - Bagan - Mount Popa - Kalaw - Inle Lake - Pathein - Yangon.
I only used public transport with only one exception when we hired a minibus for a half-day trip from Bagan to Mt.Popa. I did not use any domestic flights.
You can also read about my adventurous second trip to Burma in Nov/Dec 2003. I crossed the country from east to west after crossing the land border in Tachilek. Here the visited places:
Tachilek - Kyaing Tong - Inle Lake - Meikthila - Kyaungpadaung - Magway - Pyay - Ngapali - Taunggok - Sittwe - Mrauk U - Yangon.
This travelogue with many photos is available in German language.
Travelogue Part 2 (Burma von Ost nach West)
BURMA - BOYCOTT OR ENJOY?
Burma, or Myanmar as it is called by the present government, is a country where magnificent Buddhist temples gaze out serenely over a nation restless for change. Burma has plenty of wonders for the eye, and at the first look it can be travelers paradise. 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.
But it can also trouble the soul, as a vast, disturbing darkness shadows the country. For the last 30 years, its people have been ruled by a notoriously repressive military government, the tatmadaw. Fear, deprivation and worse are commonplace.
The old discussion whether to boycott Burma or not is still going on. Now, after visiting the country myself, I can better evaluate all those boycott arguments heard before with my own experience.
ASSK wants us not to visit
Aung San Suu Kyi, head of National League for Democracy (NLD), requests that tourists don't go to her country. She was elected a decade ago with overwhelming majority to build a democratic government, not to isolate the country from the rest of the world. Her request for boycott represents her personal opinion, not less and not more. Democracy always includes freedom of choice and making up his own mind about things.
Punishing the population
A travel boycott is always directed at an entire nation, as it reduces the income of local people too. It has been proven many times that boycotts do not work effectivly. Cuba and Iraq are just two examples that spring to my mind. Except for more poverty, hunger and lack of medical supply for the population, nothing much has been achieved. Instead we should help the Burmese to improve living conditions and to find their way to democracy.
Are we welcome? Most of the people I met were genuinly pleased to see foreigners and many wanted to learn more about the outside world. I had the impression that they know very well what's good for them and what is not. I felt very welcome during my five-week stay in Burma. People were very friendly and some talked about the political situation quite openly. People seemed relativly content given the strict regime and the climate of intimidation and fear that exists for Burmese who can be arrested and tortured at any time.
However, conversations in public are often limited to non-political issues. It is not just in the tea shops and marketplaces that "they" might be listening. I can confirm this "Big Brother" practise from my own experience, see my travelogue. A wrong word to a foreigner could mean lot of trouble including going to jail for a while. So better be careful when asking certain questions, otherwise you may bring people into trouble.
Human Rights violations
The use of forced work in Burma is another reason for that you might want to boycott the country. This practise has not yet completely stopped. In areas less frequented by tourists I have seen locals including young girls along the road smashing stones or upgrading the surface. These "volunteers" are usually short-term ordered to work one day per week. If they are sick or don't appear, they have to pay. What if no foreigner could see that and report about it? In places with many tourists like Inle Lake or Bagan this is not practised any more, as the government is more and more under pressure from the international community who is concerned about human rights violations. Currently some European ministers didn't attend the EU-ASEAN meeting in Laos in December for that reason.
Travel to Burma is as a result still a rather vexed moral question. If you plan to book a prepaid package tour to Burma, my advise is: Don't go. You will spend almost no money locally and support the government too much. In a tour group you will not have the chance to spontanously change your itinerary, visit locals you meet and learn about all the little secrets and struggles of daily life.
Individual travelers (like most backpackers) spend most of their money locally. Interaction with Burma's people and culture helps to encourage change. Keep your eyes open and listen what people have to say. Try to learn at least a few words in Burmese, that will open many doors for you. If that's the way you travel, go. Do not forget to tell the world about your experience and what you have seen (You can use my guestbook for that :-)
I will not pass judgement over those who chose to boycott. Both perspectives have their defenders, the decision is left to you.
More info needed?
On my Linkpage you can find more Burma related stuff. There you can also find a choice of Asian magazines and newspapers.
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