In recent weeks there has been an escalation of violence in parts of Rakhine State, in the west of Burma/Myanmar, close to the border with Bangladesh. Access to the region for foreign journalists is extremely restricted, and it is therefore difficult to build up a detailed picture of exactly what is happening. However, it does seem clear that the current problems started with a series of attacks by local militants on police posts on 25th August and that government forces have retaliated with force. As a result many thousands of local civilians have fled over the border into Bangladesh.
Whilst the violence has escalated in recent weeks, there have been tensions in this part of Rakhine State for a number of years and the whole region is completely out of bounds for tourists and has been for some time. The violence is confined to this area (which is where the vast majority of Burma-based Rohingya Muslims live) and has not spread to other parts of the country.
Therefore from the point of view of safety we have no concerns about travel to Burma and are happy to continue operating tours as normal. None of the areas on our itineraries are in any way impacted by the current problems. (Ngapali Beach is in Rakhine State but in the far south and around 500km away from where the violence is occurring). We will of course continue to review the situation but do not at this stage anticipate any change in this.
Some clients are concerned about visiting Burma from a moral point of view during the current troubles. This is a more difficult personal decision. Our own view is that avoiding travel to Burma does not achieve anything and can in fact be to the detriment of the country as a whole. Large parts of the country now rely on tourism to a very great degree. In the past, much of the tourist infrastructure was owned by the government and there was a compelling argument that a tourist embargo would help avoid giving money to the government and therefore help bring about change.
However this is no longer the case; the vast majority of hotels and restaurants are now privately owned, and employ local people. Guides are self-employed or work for privately owned tourist enterprises. Drivers again mostly work for privately owned tourist enterprises. Taxi drivers, porters, waiters, souvenir sellers, ticket vendors, hawkers, craftsmen and many more derive all of their income from tourists and would find their livelihood very adversely affected if the tourists stop coming. It is our opinion that avoiding travel to Burma will have little impact on the government and the military but a more profound impact on local people.
We are also of the view that any travel leads to an exchange of ideas and understanding. There is significant censorship in Burma and the official statements that we receive from local tourist partners are quite one-sided. This may be partly due to expedience and a reluctance to say anything controversial but will also be in part due to a lack of awareness of the ‘other side of the story’.
Whilst tourists should be wary of being particularly political during a trip to Burma/Myanmar, it is our view that any discussions and conversations that travellers have when in Burma are likely to aid understanding for both parties. An increased understanding of the situation for the tourist means that they return home more likely to be vocal about it; an increased understanding of the situation locally perhaps could lead to a situation where the government or military don’t feel able to act with impunity.
With all of this in mind, it is our opinion that Stubborn Mule should continue to operate tours in Burma and we therefore continue to do so.
If you have concerns about your own specific travel plans, please do call us and we will be happy to discuss this in more detail.
Stubborn Mule Travel
For more about travel in Burma/Myanmar see our Burma family holidays section.