We are thrilled to present the 30th issue of the Weekly EcoBurma Round-up! This latest issue aims to highlight the ethical concerns surrounding travel to Burma.
Although the Burmese government presents tourism as one of the driving forces that will enable it to achieve economic and social transformation, it is good to note that the country still gives a disproportional amount of its annual budget to the army and the Defense Ministry. Indeed, Burma’s armed forces will continue to receive the largest allocation from the 2013/2014 national budget—more than a fifth of the overall budget.
This article emphasizes that while the MPs did not discuss much about this allowance, they did question the lack of transparency and accountability in the ministry’s expenditures and in the monitoring of its policies.
While most travellers come from countries with roads mostly in very good condition, this is unfortunately not the case for Burma; particularly the ancient city of Innwa, located about 20 kilometers south of Mandalay. Most of the roads are described as “badly in need of repair” while some “are almost inaccessible during the rainy season.” Even if the horse-cart is the tourists’ favorite form of transportation, their “disappointment over the bad road to Bagayar Monastery” may have adverse effects on the businesses of the drivers and guides in the area.
Substandard roads and an inefficient transportation network continue to hinder Burma’s continuous economic and tourism development. Subsequently, the repair and improvement of the country’s crumbling infrastructure – bad roads as much as poor electricity supply and other utilities – calls for its prioritization within the context of national budget allocation, not just for the benefit of tourists but for everyone living in Burma.
The Army and the Royal Palace
While providing insight on the history of the Royal Palace in Mandalay, the article touches on a contentious point. It recognizes the Burmese authorities as having done a “very good job at creating a sense of what the place would once have been”, while mentioning that “only one entrance can be used by tourists” since “the rest of the area is used now as a military base and big signs (and guards) remind you that it’s a restricted zone.” This is one good example of how the army still retains ownership of key sites that generate income from tourism.
Controversy about this post flared up on twitter.
Tourism Boom and Robberies
Tourism in Bagan has grown rapidly and “the number of foreigners entering the Bagan hotel zone increased by 40 percent in 2012.”
Local communities have benefited from this boost as “most of the foreign tourists who come to Bagan not only visit the ancient temples but […] take time to visit artisans selling local handicrafts such as lacquer ware and artwork.”
As with all rapid developments, problems occur. One of the by-products of this growth is the increase in the number of incidents involving theft. This week, several news outlets have focused on Bagan. For instance, in this article “Theft on the rise at popular tourist destination.”
The article cites an example: “there have been three separate occasions this month when muggers on motorbikes targeted tourists and snatched their belongings.” However, while the apparent lack of tourist police to protect travelers is denounced, experts claim that “a rise in crime is common when a large influx of tourists begin regularly visiting a destination.” and as such, Burma remains a very safe destination for foreigners.
The same incidents of theft are described here: “Bagan’s bag snatchers target female cyclists” and here “Tourist Robberies Rise in Bagan” The latter goes on to criticize the lack of concrete actions of local police in Mandalay Division.
Read these articles to get further details on these robberies. We are left wondering, though, if two or three isolated cases of theft – which seem relatively few – should garner so much attention and even require the creation of a special “tourist police”.
SIM Practical Tip
Refer to this article for useful and practical tips on purchasing a SIM card in Burma – how to go about it and beyond the barriers of language. It also provides helpful responses for those who are wondering whether it is really necessary to buy a SIM card in Burma.
Please be advised, however, that details herein are subject to change, but were correct at the time of publishing.
Have a good week everyone!
Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #30,