Myanmar… so should you go?

The 14 states and divisions of Burma.

Myanmar... or Burma?

I meant to pop this up after I left, but was so busy posting the regular diary entries I forgot. Myanmar’s a tricky country to decide whether to visit mainly due to the way it’s run. The dictatorial government are sat at the top of the pile because they’re rich and to get richer. The actual population lives in relative poverty. Any time you visit you’ll be giving the government (usually referred to as The Generals) some of your hard-earned.

Thing is, you will also be giving cash to the locals with any luck. And depending on how you run your trip you should be able to ensure that the vast majority of your cash goes to the real people and not to the filth sat at the top of the pile. Gone are the days where you had to convert your cash into FECs upon entry to the country thereby ensuring further cash flow to the establishment. Unless you’re an NGO. They have to convert dollars to FECs and then these into Kyat so that they actually have money they can spend.

While there are a fair few beggars, hustlers and rip-off merchants they’re genuinely far less prevalent than in surrounding countries. The vast majority of people are open, honest and most definitely hard-working. They’re also happy to see a foreign face and to chat to you or help you out.

The day I got there, a fairly well-dressed man walked up to me and the chap I was walking with and shook our hands. He thanked us for visiting his country. To see their borders opening means this much to the people of Myanmar.

For the non city-dwellers, it’s even more of a novelty. Despite being on commonly-used hiking trails, the children and adults around Kalaw and Inle Lake never seemed less than delighted to see some foreigners. As is often the case, people who have little are more likely to offer to share what they do have with you than the rich and wealthy. A lot of these folk are subsistence farmers. They live on what they reap or can trade. The occasional person passing by who can drop them off some painkillers, toothpaste or whatever will be warmly welcomed.

I enjoyed Myanmar. It opened my eyes to how wonderful people can be even though they’re living under very poor rule. As far as I was able, I gave my dollars and kyat to the working people and not to The Generals. Don’t use the ferries, don’t use the train and don’t use the national airlines. Don’t pay the taxes, don’t pay the “entry fees” and don’t make their lives easy for them. Where you can, push your luck. You’ll find in Myanmar that unless you do something incredibly stupid the worst you’ll face is a telling off or a night in a jail… with the staff sat with you sharing their dinner (happened to someone I know when he entered an “off limit” zone without a permit).

Ignore the bleeding hearts who tell you not to go. The reaction of the “real” people when they see you is enough to tell you that you’d be doing a lot more good than harm by paying them a visit.

Check it out. It’s hard work getting round by bus, but it’s rewarding. Let them know that the world hasn’t forgotten about them. And if you see one of The Generals, spit in his face and steal his wallet.

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