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  • Responsible travel in Myanmar

    Myanmar with its beautiful architecture

    Myanmar with its beautiful architecture

    There are countless reasons to visit Myanmar, formerly called Burma. There are the majestic ruins of Bagan to consider, the surreal sight of Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, a golden rock teetering on the edge of an abyss, you can shop for souvenirs in Mandalay and row on Inle Lake, and just let yourself drown in the mix of sights, smells, tastes and stories.

    But as alluring as all this might sound, Myanmar is also known for its human rights abuses, and a large portion of the international community (including hardcore travelers) choose to boycott the country despite its huge magnetism.

    Whether or not you decide to visit Myanmar is a question of personal principles, but if the attractions of the country prove to be too much to resist, responsible travel in Myanmar is not impossible, and here are some tips that might come in handy.

    Don’t take government tours

    If you prefer to take tours rather than travel independently, make sure that the tour you choose is offered by a private company and it isn’t funded by the government. A bit of research will help you find out which travel agencies are owned by the government and which are privately owned.

    Stay in small hotels

    photo by onourownpath.com on Flickr

    Although there are some luxury hotels available in Myanmar, if you want to encourage the local economy and small businesses it is better to avoid large hotels and favor family-owned businesses instead.

    Since poverty is a widespread problem in Myanmar, staying in modest accommodation will be a big help, and it is less likely that your money will eventually be used to fund the junta.

    Don’t bargain

    In many southeast and south Asian countries it is possible to bargain at the market and even in some shops, which is a great way to make your budget last longer. But in the case of Myanmar, poverty is so severe that what might be a very small discount for you would feed the seller for a day. Haggling for a hardly noticeable price reduction might be fun, but ultimately harmful for the small businesses and merchants in Myanmar.

    Begging

    photo by Stefan Munder

    Begging is quite a widespread problem in Myanmar, and as in all cases, it presents the ethical traveler with a difficult decision. Giving money to beggars encourages the culture of begging in general, but might feed someone for a day.

    Buying and handing out food, water, blankets or clothes might be a bigger help than giving money – you can offer your funds to charitable organizations in Myanmar instead.

    Don’t talk politics

    While traveling in Myanmar you will end up talking a lot with the locals, who are friendly and curious, as well as a well of information about their country. But it’s better to stick to ‘safe’ topics unless you want to get them into troubles. Locals know when are where it’s safe to talk about sensitive issues, and they will start talking to you first about politics if they feel like it and there’s no danger of someone overhearing.

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