Myanmar (Burma) facing challenges after huge tourism growth
Angela Saurine, Escape
November 17, 2013 12:00am
AFTER being closed off to the rest of the world for nearly 60 years Myanmar is welcoming tourists at an ever-increasing rate.
A tourism boycott of the country formerly known as Burma put in place in 1996 was lifted three years ago when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – who will visit Australia for the first time later this month – was released from house arrest.
Recognising the need for change, Myanmar moved from a military to a democratic government.
Tourism has increased from 300,000 visitors in 2010 to about a million last year.
By 2020, seven million international travellers are forecast to enter the country.
The South-East Asian Games will be held in Myanmar in December for the first time in 44 years.
Marcus Allender, who founded the tourist information and booking website Go-Myanmar.com, says the country is changing quickly.
While big hotel groups such as Accor have plans to open new hotels in the country, development is struggling to keep up with demand.
Allender, who moved from Britain to the former capital Yangon a year ago, says
tourists are facing exorbitant hotel prices in some parts of
“They’re building hotels pretty fast in Yangon in particular and places like Inle Lake,” he says.
“There’s a real squeeze in Yangon in particular – hotels are quite full so you have to book in advance and the prices are higher than they should be.”
“The prices aren’t as bad outside Yangon, but they’re probably a bit more than they should be.”
Allender said he stayed at the Parkroyal four years ago for $60 a night, but prices have climbed to about $300 a night.
The country is more accessible than ever, with
flights to Mandalay with low-cost carrier Air Asia and Bangkok Airways.
“It used to not be possible to travel overland into the country but now the government has opened it up so you can go from Thailand into Myanmar at four border points,” Allender says.
“It’s not like they’ve opened up and there’s heaps of tourist buses going through – for that to happen they’re going to have to improve the infrastructure.”
The newly opened border crossings include Mae Sot/Myawaddy, which provides access to Hpa An, Mawlamyine and the Golden Rock, and Rangong/Kawthaung which provides access to the Myeik Archipelago, which is opening up for cruises.
A new China crossing at Ruili/Muse is also expected to open before the end of the year.
But Allender says the roads in these remote areas can
be rough. “You can go to most places in the country now but you need to have time and patience,” he says.
The border crossings were made possible after peace agreements were signed between ethnic groups that have been fighting since independence in 1948.
“There are places that you wouldn’t go, but you wouldn’t end up there by mistake,” Allender says.
The cities of Yangon and Mandalay are the most popular tourist destinations, along with Bagan – which has more than 2000 temples and is likened to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat – and the scenic Inle Lake.
“Outside of those places travel tends to become pretty slow and the infrastructure is poor so you have to be quite determined and a reasonably hardy traveller to do it,” Allender says. “But the people are so friendly and welcoming to tourists as it’s so new to some of them, especially if you go off the beaten track.”
The country was named Burma in the 19th century but was changed to Myanmar by the former military rulers in 1989 – the same year Aung
San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest.
While the United Nations recognises Myanmar as the official name, democracy groups prefer Burma.