Photo: Temple outside Monywa.

Burma forum

Should tourists still visit Burma?

Posted by somtam2000 on 19/11/2017 at 19:59 admin

An ABC piece by a journalist based in Burma asks the question “Given recent violence towards the country's Rohingya minority, should tourists still visit?”

Kayleigh Long’s answer is “yes always yes, but with a few caveats” and the full story is worth a read.

Towards the end of the story Long writes “The general view in the tourism industry seems to be that ordinary people whose livelihoods depend on visitors are being affected by a faraway conflict which they can do little about.” This is true, but behind this is the opinion that what is happening to the Rohingya enjoys a lot of popular support inside Burma—this is very concerning.

What are your thoughts? Would the current situation in Burma have you reconsidering travel to there?

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,943
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Posted by gecktrek on 20/11/2017 at 00:36

hey, boycotts/sanctions have always been blunt instruments, and ones that hurt/impact on those far from any position of power. ironically, suu kyi while under house arrest, previously encouraging tourists to boycott the country, and now supposedly leading myanmar, we see both tourism and ethnic cleansing of the rohingyas.


i suspect that the generals have become successful puppet-masters, with suu kyi symbolically in charge and the bulk of the population, themselves brutally suppressed for many years, now lashing out against the marginalised rohingyas. violence begets violence.


diplomatic solutions are really the only way forward, sanctions have never worked.. and yes, i would still travel there.

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Posted by daawgon on 20/11/2017 at 05:45

Posted from within Vietnam.

I went last year and loved Rangoon, but I would find it very hard to go again under these circumstances.

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Posted by exacto on 20/11/2017 at 19:13

No. I don't think we should be visiting Burma right now. From everything I've seen, this action qualifies as at least an ethnic cleansing, and more likely a genocide. Visiting the country that is inflicting this on a portion of its population is tacit approval of the action. I recognize that ordinary Burmese would also suffer from a boycott, but the country's leadership needs to feel international pressure, and we as fellow humans need to use every means we can to make sure Burmese leaders feel that pressure.

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Posted by flijten on 21/11/2017 at 23:25

I've been to Burma in 2012 when the country was just opening up a bit, we saw festivities for a city its first ATM and all. Back then we also doubted but ultimately decided that a fully independent trip of weeks would benefit loads of locals and counterbalance the few dollars that would end up in the governments pockets.

I'm not sure I'd make the same choice now. I have no clue if it makes sense, but the current genocide (let's not use a pretty word for it) feels worse. I've no illusions that the regime in 2012 didn't make victims or wasn't oppressive, but somehow this feels like a new low and I think I wouldn't want anyone thinking my visit would endorse anything in any kind of way.

Having said all that I'd still doubt. Most people are extremely friendly (I know we say that a lot but of the about 50+ countries I've seen the Burmese and the Omani top the charts) and the country is beautiful. I lean towards no, don't go.

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Posted by DLuek on 22/11/2017 at 02:29 TF writer

I second what exacto said above. Sure, none of these Southeast Asian countries have clean hands (neither does the US and others for that matter). But what's happening to the Rohingya is so wrong, inflicting so much suffering unjustly, that I wouldn't be able to block it out of my mind and go enjoy myself as a tourist.

I would however go there to study how monks can encourage these atrocities and still believe they're following the Buddha's teachings. I haven't read the entire Tripitaka but I've read enough to know that the way the Rohingya are being treated runs 100% contrary to Buddhist scripture. "Do not kill" is the First Moral Precept of Buddhism, the most important out of five precepts which are the ethical foundation for all Buddhist practice no matter if you're a monk or a shopkeeper, a part of the Mahayana tradition in Korea or the Theravada school in Burma.

The type of Buddhism that predominates in Burma is very similar to that of Thailand, and at the Thai monasteries I've been to, monks go to great lengths to avoid killing mosquitoes and cockroaches. I'm sure that many monks in Burma do the same; in fact it wouldn't surprise me if even the worst hate-spewing Burmese monks practice the not killing precept to that extreme in their monasteries. How is it then that the most senior monk in Burma can say that taking the lives of non-Buddhists is basically okay? The example he gave to back up his point came from an ancient Sri Lankan historical chronicle, not Buddhist scripture. Unfortunately that was not mentioned in most media reports about the speech.

So far as I know, there really isn't much of anything, if anything at all, in accepted Buddhist scripture that can be interpreted as saying that it's okay to kill a human being. In one famous passage, the Buddha accepts a man from an "untouchable" caste, bathes him, ordains him as a monk and is kind to him for the rest of his life -- that's the sort of tolerance towards "the other" that characterizes the Buddha, according to scripture.

In Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Hindu traditions, I know that there are some passages from sacred texts where you could say, "Yes, I can see how they could interpret it to mean that killing certain people is okay, even if it probably wasn't meant to be interpreted like that." Not so for Buddhism -- and it really makes me wonder how Burma's Buddhist tradition went astray in such a big way.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 6/3/2018 at 03:09 admin

This long read in Politico is pretty much a must read if you are still considering travel to Burma. It is a thorough and well-researched piece.

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Posted by gecktrek on 6/3/2018 at 19:12

hey, great article, well worth the read, thanks for sharing!

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Posted by amnicoll on 13/3/2018 at 08:49

A difficult question and no right or wrong answer. Personally I have not visited Burma since 1986 but have visited other countries since with questionable regimes.

The argument about not boycotting because it will be the ordinary people that suffer is strong. However it would appear that in this instance the not only do the ordinary people seem to be giving at least tacit support to the ethnic cleansing but also the fact that Aung Suu Kye has remained silent means that I fall on the side of boycotting.

I too find the concept of Bhudism and this atrocity somewhat confusing but unfortunately the world is full of examples where religious beliefs have been been twisted to justify killing "non believers".

One thing I am not going to do is however tell others what to do we must all make up our own minds

I am surprised that this has not generated more discussion - a sign of the times?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 13/3/2018 at 19:51 admin

This recent piece in the NYT is a good one on Buddhism and violence.

“Colonial discourse that praised Burmese Buddhists for their tolerance functioned in part to condemn the “superstitious” and “backward” practices of caste Hindus and Muslims in colonial Myanmar. This discourse was picked up by Burmese nationalists and is now invoked, tragically, to justify violence toward Rohingya Muslims.”


Interesting stuff.

As far as discussion goes, I've been emailed quite a bit from travellers asking if they should still go or not, my standard reply has been pretty much to explain why I wouldn’t go and why we’re not sending writers there, but I leave it very much to them to decide what is the correct decision for them.

Interestingly I’ve received more than a few email where the traveller has been totally unaware of the situation there—I find that quite amazing.

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Posted by amnicoll on 13/3/2018 at 20:50

Hard to believe that many are unaware. In the UK at least it has been big news with a lot of adverse publicity. In particular they have been very critical of Aung Suu Kye not just her decision to keep quiet but actions such as the pressure bought on dignitaries like the Pope to not even mention the R word.

What concerns me the most is the idea that the Rohinga will be encouraged to return to Myanmar - to what I ask more discrimination and persecution?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 14/3/2018 at 19:25 admin

The enquiries are generally along the lines of “Is Burma safe?” to which I reply, yeah mostly, but obviously the far west is off limits and they then ask, what are you talking about?

Realistically I can’t see the people who have already fled being let back in—the government/military mined the land behind them and have been busy bulldozing and reappropriating land, so they do seem to be playing for keeps.

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