Myanmar is one of those “up and coming” hotspots where everyone who wants to be adventurous is heading. It’s somewhere where your friends probably haven’t gone, and you can be the intrepid person ahead of the curve. It’s a gorgeous country, filled with history and fascinating things to do.
But you shouldn’t go to Myanmar in 2018.
In fact, if I look at my 2017 regrets, the fact that I went to Myanmar is near the top of the list. I saw gorgeous pictures of Bagan, and the amazing sides of Mandalay, Yangon, and Inle Lake, so I went. But I failed to look at the bigger picture.
What is happening with the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing, and just last week, Nick Kristof of the New York Times wrote about it becoming quite close to the “genocide” line.
When you visit, you support that genocide. Which means I supported it. When I look at the pictures of Rohingya Muslims, I can’t help but think that of the money I injected into Myanmar, at least some of that went to commit the atrocities in those pictures. I’ll have to live with that – but you don’t have to.
From what I can find on Wikipedia (and the numbers seem to vary), about 10% – 12% of the country’s government revenues are from tourism. Thinking about that another way – for every $100 the country is spending on weapons to arm the army to commit genocide, tourists (including me) contribute $10. There’s no getting around the part where tourism in Myanmar is directly supporting the regime, lending it more legitimacy, and giving it money.
One counter-argument is that tourism goes a long way to supporting the local people in Myanmar. The ones who aren’t part of the government and are just trying to feed their families. The boat drivers in Inle Lake, the guides in Bagan, the small hoteliers, and so many more. You could think that by stopping tourism, you’ll be hurting them.
Which is hard. Because it’s true – less tourism money in the economy means less revenue for the government, but also less revenue for the locals. I would argue that the locals have had ways to make money before tourism became so popular in Myanmar, and there are ways for them to still earn a living. An easy living? A living as comfortable as the one from tourism? Maybe not.
The government has also (by all appearances) also decided that the comfortable living of those people is more important than the Rohingya. So when you go, you make the statement with your actions that you agree with the government. That you agree with the genocide.
When you apply for your visa, one of the statements you agree to is to not visit the restricted areas without prior permission. I didn’t question this one too much – the areas I wanted to go to are well within the acceptable access areas. Ultimately, I just sort of wrote the restricted areas off as a holdover from a military state.
It’s not. It’s because there are things the government doesn’t want you to see – things like genocide.
In my opinion, going to Myanmar right now is a bit like going to Hitler’s Germany, knowing the Jews were being killed, but thinking that Berlin is just such a cool city you need to see it. And thinking that your tourism dollars were helping the locals, not the Nazis. So it’s fine, right?
Part of the goals of traveling are learning to be a better, more informed global citizen. Part of that includes being aware of what you’re supporting when you travel.
I was blind, and dumb, and went. But please, I beg you – don’t go to Myanmar.
If you want to learn more about what’s going on, here are a few articles I found helpful:
Nick Kristof’s Column Raising the Stakes to Genocide
The Atlantic’s Article Describing Some of the Roots of the Crisis
CNBC’s Discussion on Why Resolution Will Be Hard
The Sydney Morning Herald on the Dangers the Rohingya Face in the Camps