Myanmar has been on the headlines for some years now. First, it was about the surprising opening of this very closed country, and the influx of tourists that followed. Then, it was the election and Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party being elected, bring real positive energy in the whole country. For the last couple of years though, what we see in the media from Myanmar is no longer positive. The refugee crisis in the Rakhine state and the accusations against the army which have been shared around by the media has stained Myanmar’s flag.
Most recently we saw the imprisonment of two Burmese photojournalists after covering the Rohingya crisis, which is very worrisome.
Due to these recent events, it seems a lot of people are deciding not to travel to Myanmar, and some even cancelled their whole organized trips. That led me to wonder if Myanmar was still the amazing country that I know.
So, is Myanmar still safe today?
I personally have no doubt about it. Of course, it is safe. It has been for decades and will still be for long. The Burmese people are some of the friendliest people in Asia and are very keen to open their doors to tourists. I have had so many great experiences in Myanmar, photography wise but also human.
But in order to know more about the situation and present it to you, I decided to ask people who live and work in the tourism industry there.
I did get in touch with my friend Edwin Briels who runs Khiri Travel in Myanmar for several years now. I asked him what was his opinion about safety in Myanmar at the moment:
Actually, politically Myanmar is very, very stable at the moment; the next elections are only in 2020 and I don’t foresee any political changes etc. Myanmar continues to be one of the safest place on earth to travel and areas like Yangon, Mon & Kayin state, Southern Myanmar, Shan state, Kayah state, Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Chin State and even most of Rakhine state (including Ngapali, Sittwe and Mrauk U) are all very safe to travel.
The US Government even claims that Myanmar is safer to travel then places like Belgium, The UK and Germany.
Is Myanmar safe to travel?
Though, since September 2017, Myanmar made the Headlines of the International Media due to the Rakhine Crisis and the exodus of a huge number of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, the U.S. Department of State ranks Myanmar as a Level 1 country, the same as Canada or the Netherlands, and recommends only that travelers “exercise normal precautions.” While France, Germany, Belgium and UK are ranked level 2 “exercise increased precaution”
There are some remote places in Myanmar that have always been of limits to travel and that continues to be the same; don’t worry: it is impossible to accidentally get into these areas as many even don’t have roads and the areas are closed off.
One thing I heard a few time recently is people who decide not to travel to Myanmar so not to “sponsor” the military regime there. Having traveled to Myanmar extensively it really hurts me to know that all my friends over there, living mostly from tourism, won’t be able to make a living anymore if people stop coming. I asked Edwin what were his thoughts on this.
“Deciding not to travel to Myanmar as a form of boycott to the government: does it do more harm than good to the local people? Are there easy ways to travel ethically in Myanmar?”
“Using a form of “collective punishment” to 52 million people who have nothing to do with the situation in Northern Rakhine state, who have not voted for the military and who are often been victim themselves is NOT a good idea. Any person who thinks boycotting is a good thing to do is actually actively punishing innocent people.
It is very easy to travel in a sustainable and ethical way as all hotels, travel agents, restaurant etc are privately owned.”
It would be indeed sad for the local people to close the tap on their main income. As Naut Kusters of Travelife declared:
“During the last 5 years, lots has been invested by local tour operators and development organisations to create a more inclusive tourism in Myanmar, for example in Kayah state. It is important not to lose this momentum and stay with the people of Myanmar who only now start to benefit from tourism. Responsible tour operators could have a critical look towards their partners and the products they promote.”
There is a very good and positive energy in Myanmar at the moment, where people are finally enjoying the fact that money is pouring in the country. There are a lot of new self entrepreneurs, families opening local homestays and restaurants, etc.. who can now enjoy a more comfortable life. Everyday life hasn’t changed for most of the Burmese people, who are often not even aware of what is happening in the rest of their country.
It is obvious that Myanmar hasn’t turned into an evil country because of the events that happened in the Rakhine state. Remember, a country is not its government, but its people. And they are still the same welcoming and friendly people that I met on my first trip there 8 years ago.
If you don’t plan to travel to locations which are forbidden by the government, or work on a story about the Rohingya crisis for some newspaper, you will be fine in Myanmar.
Myanmar, which already had much less tourism influx than Thailand or Vietnam, might actually still be the place to get out of the beaten tracks and getting to meet the people. This difficult time Myanmar’s image is experiencing might actually delay the time when it is invaded by millions of tourists, and preserve its authenticity for a little longer.