This week, we focus first on Karen State and its new tourism-related opportunities. Then, we inform you about new train connections in Burma. Finally, we discuss why mass tourism is unsustainable and how to bring changes in attitudes.
We focus today on Karen State, its newly open border crossings and its latest news on tourism development.
Firstly, further to our announcement in previous editions, “the opening of the international checkpoint in Mae Sot has generated a great deal of excitement among travelers who prefer to explore countries without needing to fly.” Mae Sot is a town in western Thailand located in Tak province and bordering Burma. From now on, it will be easier for travelers entering Burma from Thailand, to select an overland entry point to Burma, rather than go back to Bangkok and from there take a flight to Yangon or Mandalay, saving travelers money and energy.
However, “there were – and may still be – checkpoints in the Karen area on the road from Myawaddy to Hpa-an and it’s impossible to say for sure whether these restrictions have been lifted. “
Besides, a large-scale construction project is taking shape in Karen State: “a cable car that would transport visitors to the top of the 700-meter high limestone peak” on Mount Zwekabin.Those who are behind the project are confident that they will “cover the cost [of $22 millions] by the donations of donors.”
Nevertheless, there is some controversy around the cost issue. Admittedly, such a development project could enhance the image of Karen territory and introduce tourists to its rich traditions and history. It could provide a strong basis for new local dynamics. Yet, some wonder whether it would be more appropriate to dedicate this considerable amount of money to solving major social issues such as rights of local population, its well-being, the fight against poverty, the construction of decent housing or the need to promote education among young people.
Let us end our review on Karen State on a positive note: the traditional Karen wrist tying ceremony as a symbol of the cease-fire and a promise of renewed peace. Last year, a cease-fire was signed by the Burmese government and the Karen main rebel groups. The hope is reborn to see Burma end the of civil war, in which the Burmese army has been accused of major human rights abuses against civilians and thousands of villagers displaced in Karen State or in Thailand.
This year’s ceremony was held on August 18 and “included Karen people who returned from overseas, representatives of Karen armed groups, Karen State government Ministers, department officials, and members of political parties.” Undoubtedly, as evidenced by the outpouring of emotion and sympathy from local population, the ceremony was truly the symbol of the reconciliation and the strong desire for peace, which is viewed by many as essential to bring democracy to Burma: “Now, I know it is not just a religious celebration. It is a wonderful Karen traditional custom, full of meaning”; Holding cultural celebration like this helps bring unity, love among not just one, but many families.”
New train connections
Newly open border crossings go hand in hand with the improvement of transport means in Burma and with the neighboring countries in order to strengthen the development of tourism. In this way, “an Indian railway company, [the Northeast Frontier Railway], is preparing to connect the northeast Indian state of Nagaland with Burma.”
Another development in the area of transportation is that “Burma’s Ministry of Rail Transportation will launch a new “special train” from Rangoon to the Mon State town of Kyaikhto.” The prime objective is to reduce travel time (a couple hours faster than regular trains) to one the main tourist attractions of the country and pilgrimage site, the Golden Rock. However, at present, some criticize the ticket price (US $3.5 for local travelers and $10 for foreigners) since few locals can afford this special treat, more expensive than bus fare (US $2.5). For the moment the pilot program will run only on weekends. If the experiment goes according to plan, as seems likely in the light of its improved safety and comfort, “a daily route could be launched during the tourist high season.”
We invite you to discover six reasons why it is necessary to end the unsustainable travel addiction and begin to develop the idea of conscious travel. Anna Pollock denounces the homogenization caused by mass tourism, ‘based on the assembly, distribution and consumption of packaged products and as a consequence, one product is substitutable for another […]. The product is perishable – it’s a time-based service – and can’t be stocked.”
Tourism benefits to a small number, with high income inequality and a low degree of redistribution among population. The various tourism sectors must first defend their own economic interests; they control the flow and the product, unconcerned about issues related the protection of land, water and resources. For instance, “Airlines don’t pay taxes on aviation fuel and have fought carbon-related charges for decades.”
Mass consumption and cheap tourism favors the emergence of a global culture common to all, strongly influenced by Western values, which does not promote real intercultural exchange between foreign visitors and local populations. In this way, “it will first and foremost require hosts to wake up and see their world differently – not as a resource to be exploited, but as a sacred place to be protected and celebrated for its uniqueness.”
We strongly encourage you to discover in greater details Anna Pollock’s website on “conscious travel”!
Have a week good everyone!
Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #44: Karen State, New Train Connections, Conscious Travel ,