Myanmar or Burma?

Otto de Voogd is a Netherlander who has considered the ethical dilemma of traveling in Myanmar.

It is impossible to travel to Myanmar without being confronted by the current travel boycott against the country. Specifically the Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma which recently launched a new campaign, in which they ask people to sign a pledge, that they will not visit Burma.

All the arguments used in support of the travel boycott may be correct, but there are two points of discussion. The first is about the unequal treatment of offenders, why after all would a travel boycott not be applied across the board to all countries that commit human rights violations? For example why is there no travel boycott against China, for its actions in Tibet or its human rights violations at home?

The second point is that it is unfortunately the people of Myanmar who bear the brunt of this boycott. Already living in difficult circumstances they may now also be starved of the revenues that foreigners could bring them. Rest assured that the generals, with their support from Beijing, will remain in power and live a life of luxury at the expense of their citizens, regardless of the boycott.

I would strongly urge any person who chooses to visit Myanmar, to think very carefully about where they spend their money. Do not go through official travel agents, but visit the country independently.

To read about his visit (and lots of other places – his travel journal is both eclectic and amazingly detailed) go to my new and improved website and follow the link to otto.

And while you’re there you might like to read emails from Suzy in India; I’ve also smartened up the South American pages and posted some photos of our trip last year.

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John Morhall
John Morhall
2024 years ago

I last visited Myanmar some 20 years ago and it was like stepping back in time. The colour gray seemed to be everywhere: from the neo colonial buildings, and their then more modern Russian counterparts; the ancient cars on the streets, and even sheets on the beds of the hotel, which was feted to be the best! Despite the beauty of the of its Buddhist architecture, even then it seemed to have laboured under its isolation from the rest of the world for too long. Originally a rice exporter to much of the region, it was, and probably still is now a net importer. Poverty seemed endemic amongst the majority of the population.

The issue of democratic change in Burma has been on the international agenda for far too long. The willingness of the international community to ignore Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle against SLORC, particularly given the NLD’s overwhelming victory in the 1990 polls is shameful. It will be interesting to see how the ASEAN nations will be deal with prospect of Burmese chairmanship next year. It is worth reflecting on the fact that despite having had in the past apparently strong leaders such as LKY in Singapore, and perhaps having the greatest interest in seeing democratic change in Burma, ASEAN collectively has done little of effect. Australia perhaps even less.

‘Should you visit Myanmar?’ is a hard question to answer. It is a beautiful country caught up in tragic circumstances. If it is “off the tourist agenda”, then as suggested, those who rely on the tourist dollar most will suffer most. It was not an easy country to enter or travel around when I went there, and I doubt if it has changed for the better in the interim. The poor are probably poorer, and the rich richer.

I will still remember walking in the torrential warm monsoonal rain, with my then teenage children at a war cemetery North of Rangoon, and reflecting on the fact that the headstones were almost all of young people, not much older than my kids.

Burma needs change, and to be embraced within the global community but the ideas of SLORC are to put off democracy seemingly forever. Their current seven stage process to constitutional change will be anything but democratic. I would hope nevertheless that Burma does not have democracy visited upon it as in Iraq. I guess the oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Matapan are insufficient to attract such attention, and the seeds of the poppy are a business that few openly discuss.