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

It’s started. A wave of obnoxious, pushy, and rude tourists is descending upon Myanmar this year. I suppose it was inevitable, considering all the favorable publicity that Myanmar is getting lately, but it still saddens me to see this beautiful country infested by ugly tourists.


Of course we can lay the blame solely upon Aung San Suu Kyi. Ever since “The Lady” came to the belated realization that tourism was not such an evil thing for her country after all, and she finally gave her conditional approval for foreigners to visit, Myanmar is now a “hip” destination and western tourists are arriving in droves. As a result of this tourism wave, hotel rooms are now becoming scarce (Thinking about visiting during the year-end high season? It may already be too late to book rooms in some towns), and the ones that are accepting bookings have jacked up their room rates astronomically. Hello, commerce!


I’m not bothered so much by an increased number of tourists — the more people who discover this amazing country, the better — but it’s the quality of the new arrivals that concerns me. Many of these newcomers appear to be the sort of pushy types who feel like they are entitled to deluxe treatment; being pampered and fussed over, and having their every wish and whim accommodated. But quickly and cheaply, of course. They are types who interact as little as possible with local people, worrying more about the cable TV options in their hotel room than the fact that the woman who cleans their room can’t afford to eat lunch. Won’t some of these dweebs be shocked when they discover their hotel doesn’t have wi-fi, they can’t get a latte with skim milk, and they can’t use credit cards! And that’s only the tip of the discomfort iceberg. Power cuts, bad roads, their cash (bank notes) being rejected for having imperfections. A visit to Myanmar is fraught with inconveniences. That said, it’s still the most interesting and enjoyable destination in Asia, and anyone with an open mind and patience will be rewarded with incredible experiences.


During my recent trip, I witnessed an example of this “new wave” of tourists in the presence of one extremely annoying asshole. I was visiting Shwe Yan Pyay monastery in Nyaungshwe late one morning, during the monks’ lunchtime break. I had brought my usual donation of fruit (this time 30 mangoes) and was strolling around the monastery taking some photos. At one point I was standing near the side of the building taking a shot of a monk who was next to a window. A rather garishly dressed, and quite obese, western tourist, standing about 50 feet away, hollered at me: “You know you are in my picture! Will you move?!” In his picture? I looked over and he appeared to be taking photos of a group monks standing near the middle of the building, far from where I was situated. Was wide-ass using a wide angle lens, or what was the problem? Rather than saying anything, I glared at the fat fucker and retreated into the shadows. I took some more photos, both inside and outside the beautiful monastery, and on my way back to where my bike was parked I saw — and heard — Mr. Flabby attempting to line up a group of novice monks for a photo. Of course he couldn’t make the necessary arrangements himself, so he was ordering his guide to tell the monks where to stand, and how to pose, impatiently shouting and waving instructions with his piggy fingers. I was tempted to shout my own blunt message to that obnoxious twit, but I decided to make a graceful exit instead, not wanting to see the monks — most of whom I know from previous trips, and have taken on trips — to see me losing my temper. Here’s a photo (below) that I took of the monks a few days later — without any loudmouth tourists around.


I fear that more obnoxious pricks like this fool will soon be stomping around monasteries and temples all over the country, trampling on both the people and their sacred customs. How will the courteous and kind locals deal with these creeps? It’s going to be a very “interesting” year for the Myanmar tourism industry, and a real challenge for them to handle this heavy influx of sometimes “difficult” visitors.  


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