So you’ve decided to go to Burma?
Let’s do our best to make this a great experience for both you and the people there.
Many travel guides already provide advice to make your travels easier. We’ve added some more that we feel are necessary from the perspective of responsible traveling.
Responsible Travel to Burma 101
- Don’t take any flights inside the country as Burmese airlines are presently linked to the military regime. Be aware that train tickets will fund the government although this means of transportation is more environmentally friendly than buses.
- Avoid government-owned business and government operated tours. Some travel guides provide information about the operator.
- Avoid luxurious hotels. The living standard in Burma is very low, so choose modest accommodation. The smaller the business, the less likely will you fund the military and its cronies.
- Don’t use shopping malls and services in big hotels. Go to smaller shops and restaurants, use cybercafes and independent carriers.
- Avoid hotels and services that offer golf courses, swimming pools, and similar facilities that are a burden on Burma’s environment. Refrain from using tourist attractions that you have access to at home or in less problematic countries.
- Avoid hotels and services that have been built in cultural heritage sites or in environmentally sensitive locations.
- Avoid museums and parks where entry fees go to the government.
- Use air conditioning as little as possible. The power network in Burma is on the brink of collapse and all extra energy you use will be taken away from local households. Generators are often run only for wealthy tourists and pollute the air.
- Avoid wasting resources like clean water or food.
- If you have some spare cash, donate it to monks or churches. Monasteries form an important part of the non-state-owned social system. Here too, be cautious with monasteries that cooperate with the government and offer special programs (like meditation) for foreigners.
- Respect the local culture and appreciate the quality of services available. Don’t expect to have pizza and a shopping experience like in Bangkok or Singapore. People in Burma are often inexperienced in encounters with foreigners and believe they should offer you royal treatment. Be patient and open to learning.
- Keep your eyes open and be critical. But don’t get locals into trouble by discussing politics with them or by provocative behavior.
- Of course, stay clear of child abuse and sexual exploitation. We cannot help Burma by turning it into a nightclub.
- Your money will not trickle down to all people in Burma. So please consider supporting projects that help Burmese in remote areas or in exile. Urge your government, the governments of Burma’s neighbors, and foreign investors to make human rights, ethnic rights, and a genuine and verifiable transition to democracy a priority. Support Burmese free media and help spread awareness about Burma.
As part of our project, we would like to develop, together with partners, more practical ways to identify questionable businesses and to link to ethical tour operators.
Photo: Donna Cymek