"Don’t come in with your camera and take only pictures. We don’t need that kind of tourist. Talk to those who want to talk. Let them know of the conditions of your life." (Yangon resident quoted in Lonely Planet Myanmar, 2008)
"If you want to go, go. I just try to discourage people from taking package tours. Nothing goes to the people. I encourage people to go individually." (Pascal Khoo Thwe, author of From the Land of Green Ghosts)
Here our suggestions for traveler's who wish to visit Burma responsibly:
Before the journey:
- Read up about Burma, about politics, the local culture. Watch the videos we posted on our site.
- Learn about the do’s and don’ts (see below Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism's list).
- Research the Tourism Transparency directory and make notes where you want to go or don't want to go.
- If you visit Burma with a tour operator, we encourage you to check the operators’ ethical stance and what information they provide about Burma. You can also ask the tour operator for specific information about where their money goes when you book with them. Be sure to check out our directory of international tour operators that offer tours to Burma, and add your opinion about your tour operator.
- If you would like to donate or bring gifts to Burma, it is better to support social projects rather than individuals. You can bring useful gifts such as books, magazines, CDs, USBs, or an old laptop for example. Education is the key. More information about projects that you can visit on your trip will be added to our website soon.
- Be aware of where your money is going – check out our tourism directory and learn what tourism businesses are family run and which ones are recommended by the government.
- Prefer locally owned teahouses, restaurants, shops or businesses that engage in effective outreach programmes.
- Always wear appropriate clothing when you visit religious sites (cover your shoulders and knees!).
- Try to keep your money within the local economy. Don't forget about economic leakage!
- Engage, engage, engage.
- Talk with people but don’t bring up politics (let them bring it up).
- Trust your instinct – if you feel uncomfortable, change the subject or leave.
- Buy locally.
- Go to the market and discover all the amazing things they offer. Purchase their products, arts and crafts.
Back at home:
- Talk about your travel experience with your friends and family, and explain how you attempted to travel responsibly.
- Start a travel blog, and link it to our site.
- Contribute to the responsible tourism movement by adding your story, photo, video, opinion piece, poem or anything you can come up with.
- Comment on places you stayed at in our tourism directory listings.
- Write comprehensive feedback to your tour operator. Include what you liked and disliked, and add suggestions how they could reduce the negative impacts and increase the benefits to the local communities.
- Always be constructive in your criticism.
Here Lonely Planet's (2008) suggestions for travelers who wish to visit Burma responsibly:
The days when uninformed travellers checked into government-run hotels are now almost entirely past. The dwindling number of government hotels – usually named for the city they’re in (eg Sittwe Hotel in Sittwe) and haphazardly run – are frequently vacant these days. We recommend choosing from the 600 private accommodation choices, which we focus on in this book. That said, some money from your accommodation expenses – an estimated 12% tax – goes to the government no matter where you stay.
Visitors who want to be sure the least amount of their money goes to the government can stick with budget family-run guesthouses and minihotels. Those who want their stay to reach the most people sometimes choose to stay in midrange and top-end hotels, which can employ staff of 100 or more and often fund community projects.
SPREAD YOUR MONEY
Critics of independent travel argue that travellers’ spending usually bottle- necks at select places, even if those spots are privately run. Familiarity can be reassuring – such as your trishaw-driver buddy, or the plate of noodles that didn’t get you sick – but try to mix it up a bit. A few things to consider:
- Don’t buy all of your needs (bed, taxi, guide, rice) from one source.
- Be conscious that behind-the-scenes commissions are being paid on most things you pay for when in the company of a driver or guide. If all travellers follow the same lead, the benefits only go to a select few.
- Plan en-route stops, or take in at least one off-the-beaten-track destination, where locals are less used to seeing foreigners.
- Mix up locations where you catch taxis and trishaws – and try to take ones from guys not lingering outside tourist areas.
- Try to eat at different family restaurants and if you’re staying at a hotel, eat out often.
- Either buy handicrafts directly from the artisans, or, if not, don’t get all your souvenirs from one private shop.
DON’T COMPROMISE LOCALS
In a country that imprisons its people for disagreeing with the government’s line, travellers need to ensure that they don’t behave in a way that will lead to locals being compromised in the eyes of the junta.
- Don’t raise political questions and issues in inappropriate situations; let a local direct the conversation. For example, don’t come out with something like: ‘Did you march with the monks in 2007?’ or anything about Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD where there are others that may be listening in – even if you are riding on a trishaw.
- Show equal caution regarding what you ask or say on the phone or via email.
- Asking a taxi driver to take you past Aung San Suu Kyi’s house or to a NLD office could implicate them.
- Exercise care in handing over anything to a local that could carry political overtones (such as a copy of the Economist or Myanmar- related books).
- Outside of politics, be wary of places that treat minority groups as ‘attractions’. The ‘long-necked’ Paduang women in Shan State have led to a zoo-like tourist event. This is particularly problematic from visitors on the Thai side of the border, where Thai agencies offer $8 tours of women who aren’t allowed to leave. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told the BBC in 2008 that ‘one solution is for tourists to stop going’.
Here the DOs and DON'Ts for tourists as recommended by the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism:
- Friendly, helpful, honest, but proud.
- Treat everyone with respect and you will be respected.
- When addressing people, don’t leave out U (which stand for Mr) or Daw (which stand for Ms/Mrs)
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Not always necessary to shake hands.
- Don’t hug or kiss in public.
- Don’t touch any adult on the head.
- Don’t step over any part of a person, as it is considered rude.
- Accept or give things with your right hand.
- In Myanmar, unlike the Indian continent, nodding mean YES, and shaking head means NO.
- For hygiene reasons, eat only in decent restaurants.
- When not available, always eat heated food.
- Don’t eat food purchased from street vendors.
- Don’t drink tap water.
- Drink only bottled water and soft drinks that haven’t been opened yet.
- Let the oldest be served first.
- Chinese food is common and suggested.
- Myanmar food are often complained as ‘oily’.
- To try good Myanmar food, go to decent restaurants in Yangon area, where they cook Myanmar food according to international standards.
- When buying gems, sculptures, or any expensive souvenir, make sure it comes with an export permit.
- Buy arts from authorized dealers only and get a certified receipt.
- Don’t leave expensive items in your room. Use safe deposit box.
- Beware of cheats, swindlers, imposters.
- Stay away from narcotic drugs.
- Carry some medicines for diarrhea.
- If sick, don’t worry. All doctors are English literate.
- Health insurance is not available.
- Accept that facilities may not be the best.
- On trains, keep windows shut.
- Speed or distance descriptions are in miles, not kilometers.
- Carry toilet paper in your bag.
- Most Myanmar do not wear shoes in their homes. Take off when visiting.
- Don’t jay walk. Watch where you walk and what you step on.
- If driving, city speed limit is 30 mph. Drive on the right side.
- At religious places, remove footwear, but to remove headwear is not necessary.
- Avoid shouting or laughing.
- Avoid being a nuisance when taking photographs.
- Tread Buddha images with respect.
- Tuck away your feet. Don’t point your feet toward the pagoda or a monk.
- Don’t play loud music in these areas. Note that Buddhist monks are not allowed to listen to music.
- Do not put Buddha statues or images on the floor or somewhere inappropriate.
- Don’t touch sacred objects with disrespect. Hold them in your right hand, or with both hands.
- Leave a donation when possible.
- Show respect to monks, nuns, and novices (even if they are children).
- Don’t offer your hand to shake hands with a monk.
- Sit lower than a monk and elders.
- Don’t offer food to a monk, nun, or a novice after noon time.
- A woman should not touch a monk.
Please add your suggestion on what else you think responsible tourists could do, and we will update our list accordingly. Thank you!