As more tourists come to Burma, there is some discussion that sex tourism might increase as well. However, tourism authorities in the country assert that they are targeting culture tourists more interested in historical and religious sites. Furthermore, nightlife establishments in Burma are relatively mellow compared to the rowdy atmosphere found in other Asian countries. Whether or not Burma’s sex industry follows in Thailand’s footsteps, prostitution in Burma exists and is afflicted by systemic issues.
Since prostitution is illegal, sex workers in Burma are persecuted and are at great risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. A study by the United Nations in 2012 found that Burmese sex workers “are subject to extortion, arrest and incarceration which is continual and systematic”. Earlier this year, women’s rights groups and advocates called for the amendment of Burma’s Suppression of Prostitution Act enacted in 1948. The Act stipulates that selling sex is illegal, but there are no provisions for buying sex, unless the sex worker is underage. To this day, the Act remains unchanged, although National League for Democracy MP Daw Sandar Min asserts that she will continue to call for an amendment to the law. An interview with Dr. Sid Ning, Burma country director of Marie Stopes International details the difficulties faced by sex workers in the country. He also talks about taboos around sex education and condom distribution.
The two-day Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society will be taking place from December 6-7 in Yangon. An estimated 400 attendees will be at the event, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde. Hopefully, high profile events like these that bring women’s rights to the forefront will translate to systemic changes that will protect women at risk.
The expat community in Burma is small compared to its Asian neighbors, but foreigners are increasingly flocking to Yangon and Mandalay to work as teachers, businesspeople, and NGO workers. The arrival of expats has modernized communities, and new businesses have sprung up catering to Western tastes and needs. Restaurants serving pizzas and hamburgers primarily attract expats, although locals wanting to sample foreign cuisine visit the establishments as well. Yaw Min Gyi Street in Dagon township, an expat haven, has undergone dramatic changes in recent years due to its burgeoning expat community.
While some people welcome Burma’s modernization, others lament that the changes have a negative impact on street vendors and traditional tea shops. In Mandalay, there are concerns that the influx of expats will make it similar to Yangon – thereby losing its unique charm.
The New Expat’s Burden in Myanmar talks about the expat community in Burma. While it is not representative of the entire expat community, it is an interesting peek inside expat life in the country.
Bagan is arguably Burma’s top tourist destination. The ancient city with more than 2,000 temples and pagodas has seen a 57% rise in tourists in November of this year. Spectacular at any time of the day, it is even more breathtaking at sunrise.
Local officials are concerned that some tourists are spending the night at the historical site to avoid expensive hotel rates and conveniently catch the sunrise which usually takes place at 4am. Although some pagodas are guarded 24 hours a day, it is not possible to cover the entire historical site. Tourism security police has requested all tourists to respect the no-sleepover rule in order to preserve the site, and to ensure tourists’ safety.
Recently, Burma’s Ministry of Culture also issued a warning that construction within any of the 46 heritage zones is punishable by law. Although the heritage sites have been demarcated since 1998, the ministry announced the conservation plan “because an increasing number of people are being tricked into buying plots within the cultural zones without realizing that construction is prohibited”. However, a representative from the Organization for Conservation of the Development of the Bagan Cultural Heritage Zone stated that hotels have been built within the zones with government knowledge.
Holiday Season is just around the corner. BBC Travel has released gift guides for the different kinds of travelers on your list. Or better yet, make a donation in someone’s name and support one of Burma Center Prague’s microgrant projects. All donations are tax-deductable in the Czech Republic.