Should You Travel to Myanmar?

I was at first concerned about traveling to Myanmar at all given their history in the 20th century as a brutal regime. Oppression, human rights abuses, censorship, and torture are what came to mind when I thought of Myanmar. Then I read The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, which didn't help the situation. Despite all of that, something about the country intrigued me. Aung San Suu Kyi at least was a beacon of hope, and the government had relaxed a lot in recent years.

Visiting temples and pagodas in Yangon

Travel boycotts can sometimes backfire, as with people refusing to visit North Carolina because of an anti-transgender bill there. This shows a lack of solidarity with those in need of visible support! Exposure to other cultures and perspectives can only open a place up (at least, this is what I told myself in visiting Myanmar). By refusing to visit, you are inflicting a blanket punishment upon people who had no say in the policy that you are protesting. 

Inle Lake in Central Myanmar

My approach would be to go for it. How better to learn about injustice or oppression than first hand? Engage locals in conversation, choose where you spend your money wisely. Support local businesses that align with your ideology. If you disagree with a government's policies and you are in a position to speak up, do so! Letters or phone calls to a politician's office are effective, as are awareness raising campaigns or straight up protests.

Bagan at sunset

In Myanmar, most of the locals seemed to laugh off their history, or at least openly joke about it with an undertone of disdain. No monk, taxi driver, or guide that I met could help from commenting on their government's sordid past, which I think shows huge progress for the country. The Burmese people I met were as friendly as the people I encountered in Albania, and more than once I was scooped off the street when I looked lost, only to be escorted to my destination by someone claiming to have nothing better to do. While they had good reason to be on their guard, this just wasn't the reality.

Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon

So please, by all means, go to Myanmar and invest in their future. Buy handmade crafts, have long conversations with locals if they'll let you, eat street food, take public transportation, and immerse yourself in all it has to offer. The local people should not be punished because they were victims of an authoritarian state for decades. Many of them have suffered enough, and it's finally their time to reveal themselves on an international stage.

Train ride from Mawlamyine to Yangon


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