I’ve wanted to visit Burma for quite some time and was really excited when the political situation finally improved enough to make it ethical to do so. Yes, I do worry about such things. Burma has a pretty bad track record when it comes to human rights violations, but they are improving.
When I was there, they were preparing for elections. People were waving the flag of Aung San Suu Kyi‘s democratic party and even talking openly about their desire for change. This would have been unthinkable a short time ago (Suu Kyi was actually under house arrest until relatively recently). One guy I was talking with joked that “You could always complain about the government,” but then he put his hands together in front of him like he was being arrested and added, “Of course you would go to jail.” I didn’t meet one person that wasn’t a fan of Suu Kyi (pronounced “Suchi”) or didn’t have her party flag on their car or in their store window.
The great news is that Suu Kyi’s party had big wins in the elections, so it really does look very promising for Burma. There are already quite a few travelers there already. In fact, it can be a bit oppressive with the number of people running around on tour buses and I was there during the shoulder season. I can’t imagine what it would be like during high season. I heard that hotels were nearly impossible to find, but this is mostly due to the low number of hotels.
Much of Burma is still very undeveloped and has a way to go before it can compete with other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand or even Cambodia. Prices are starting to climb, though fortunately it’s still possible to find bargains. Depending on how you want to travel, Burma had high-end resorts that will protect you from having to mingle with the locals as well as budget accommodations that cater to the more practical traveler. Big tour groups from Europe (mostly French and some German) seem to hole away in the massive resorts and bus themselves out to the sites for the day. It was rather depressing to watch, especially when you know that it supports the military junta.
I spent two weeks in Burma, starting in Yangon, which was far nicer than I expected. It was hot and humid, but the people are wonderful and very welcoming. I was often asked where I was from, and when I told them they inevitably said America was a great country. I found this surprising given their current hardships are a direct results of the embargo America pushed for, though the Burmese understand why. After Yangon I went to Bagan, where it’s hot and dry, then Lake Inle where it’s hot and wet.
I’m glad I went to Burma when I did. I think now really is the time to go. There is a lot of change in the winds and now is great time to see Burma before it’s overrun even more with tourists. The people are still wonderfully friendly and welcoming, and there’s a lot to see. I think much of this will change when sanctions are lifted and more travelers and business come flooding in.