This week, we discuss the challenges Burma continues to face from a human rights perspective. We will let you in on some of Burma’s most beautiful beaches, plus hitchhiking in Burma.
A Sliver of Hope
The first article wavers between hope and distrust in the face of the present and future changes in Burma. Chief among them is press freedom. Only a few Burmese dared to even dream about it but eventually things started changing last year. This process of opening up to the outside world is manifested in a number of different ways: political refugees have been able to return to the country, Burmese people now feel freer to speak their minds, the government has officially ended media censorship and private daily newspapers are now freely available on the streets. Not to mention, the amount of advertising involving the developing tourism industry with its promise of high-end residential towers and new fancy hotels.
However, it is not all rosy. The fight against poverty and improved access to education must be considered as top priorities. As studies show, while foreign investors flock to the doors of Burma, “for the average Burmese person, life today remains much the same. Nearly 40 per cent of the population live in rural areas where extreme poverty remains the biggest issue, where the effects of being isolated, under-educated and ruled with an iron fist for half a century won’t be erased overnight.”
Moreover, while “it will take a long time for transition to come through to the level of the people”, international community and human rights groups continue to denounce and demand the end of arbitrary arrest and torture committed by the Burmese military towards ethnic minorities.
Battle Against Sex Tourism
The tourism boom has led to some concerns among Burmese officials and human rights groups that Burma, like Thailand, has become a new Eldorado for the sex tourism industry and the sexual exploitation of children. And “Burmese fears are well founded. Human-trafficking networks have long operated in the country, funneling thousands of women and girls into Thailand to fuel the sex industry there”.
As it is rightly explained in the article, it is in the government’s best interest to regulate the industry. Last year, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism launched a new responsible tourism policy, illustrated by famous Burmese cartoonists and distributed to hotels and tour operators. Hand-in-hand with this new policy is the necessity to fight the corruption happening amongst law-enforcement officials, some of whom will take advantage of the situation.
Maungmagan beach, located approximately 12 kilometres north-west of Dawei, is the capital of Thaninthayi region. It is once again becoming a very popular tourist destination for local group tours and foreign travelers as improvements along Yangon-Dawei road have been made.
However, the main issue, as is everywhere, is the lack of accommodation. Nonetheless, investors have seen the potential of the area and are already eyeing it.
Tourism is also booming in the western Rakhine beach resort of Ngapali “while further north the historical site of Mrauk-U has been all but deserted this year.”
Hotel owners are thus “complaining that restricted tourist access to Sittwe and the outlying areas in the wake of communal violence last year is affecting their business severely.” Indeed, to have to submit an application for permission discourages foreigners from visiting the area.
In addition to the very famous Ngapali Beach, this last article “11 things to know before visiting Myanmar” recommends you to take a look at Ngwe Saung Beach, “a beautifully unspoiled beach that’s a five-hour drive from Yangon. Also called Silver Beach, its eight-mile (13 kilometers) stretch makes it one of the longest beaches in Asia”.
And last but not least, if you are already in Burma, the Thingyan Water Festival is not to be missed. The Burmese New Year is celebrated this year in April 13-16 and during the fourth day of the festival, “everyone throws and sprays water at each other. Staying dry isn’t an option. Water symbolizes the washing away of the previous year’s bad luck and sins.”
We encourage you to read the rest of the article to further pick up on helpful travel advice.
Last but not least, here is a very interesting article on responsible tourism and hitchhiking in Burma. If you would like to discover the country off-the-beaten path, far from the traditional tourist roads, this featured article is a very good resource. It includes some of the most useful advice on how to interact with locals, including how to avoid being disappointed by some “closed” regions.
Have a good week everyone!