musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Tourist Tsunami

While I was in Myanmar this month I was astonished to see that they were having a flood too. But unlike in Thailand, where rising waters were creating havoc, Myanmar was dealing with a huge wave of tourist arrivals. I’ve been visiting the country two or three times a year the past seven years and I’ve never seen as many tourists as I witnessed over the past three weeks. Frankly, it was astonishing.


And there is one big reason for this increase in tourism: The Lady. Yes, now that she has dropped her opposition to tourists visiting her country, it’s no longer deemed a politically incorrect thing to do. Sigh. Of course, that whole tourism boycott thing was ridiculous and misguided from the start. During the previous two decades, if you dared to tell those diehard “Free Burma” blowhards that tourism was actually helping many people in the country, you would be ridiculed and branded as an “apologist” for the junta. But now that The Lady says that tourism is okay, well nobody is squawking about boycotts any longer. And since Myanmar (or Burma, as many still insist on calling it) is now an acceptable destination in the eyes of the PC watchdogs, tourists are beginning to arrive in droves.


My hotels in Mandalay and Nyaungshwe were both fully booked while I was there. And even in Bagan, where I am often the only guest at the hotel, there were other tourists staying there, and plenty of them to be found on the streets; cycling, walking, or riding in horse carts. Hotel and restaurant staff, drivers, tour guides, and souvenir vendors were all glowing with big smiles. Finally, after many bleak years, business was looking up. Hope. They now have hope.


One day in Nyaungshwe I dropped by Shwe Yan Pyay monastery to give the novice monks copies of photos I’d taken of them at the balloon festival in Taunggyi the week before (more on that event in a later post). Predictably, the monks were excited to get the photos and huddled together in a corner of the room, divvying up the bounty. A group of French tourists was also at the monastery at the same time, and they circled the monks, frantically taking photos of the scene. Cute, but a little scary too. They won’t be “my monks” for much longer, now that the rest of the world has started to discover their lovely quaint wooden monastery, and this beautiful, engaging country.

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