Friday, 25th September 2015
Responsible travel in Burma
It is well documented that travel to Burma has only opened up in recent years, after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for the tourism boycott to be lifted. Since then, the country has become a destination on many people's bucket lists, but rapid development in the industry can have its downsides. It is important that all those travelling to Burma do so in a responsible manner and think of the impact their journey has. Here are some tips to ensure you get it right.
Opt for a responsible tour operator
One of the main ways that visitors can help the people of Burma is to ensure that the money they spend goes to these people and not the government. Choose a tour operator that uses smaller hotels and guesthouses that are run by the citizens of Burma and therefore help them to make a decent living. This can be extended to drivers and guides too, so that the best can be made from your holiday spend.
Spread your custom around
Eating at different establishments and buying items from various stalls or shops will mean your money can help a selection of people as opposed to just one or two. This will ensure that whole areas and communities benefit from the increasing numbers of tourists visiting Burma and everyone is given a chance.
Don't give to beggars
Turning down the pleas of beggars can be very difficult, but giving to them perpetuates a cycle in which begging is seen as profitable and therefore favoured as opposed to other options such as working. This is especially important when it comes to children, as parents are likely to send their kids out begging instead of to school if they earn enough doing so.
Think before you buy souvenirs
There are some beautifully made and sustainable handicrafts created in Burma and purchasing a number of these is a great way to help local people and have a lovely souvenir. But before you buy, think carefully about whether any component of the item has come from a natural source that cannot be replaced or a wild animal. Buying pieces that are made up of such materials only reinforces the idea that it is alright to damage the environment to make a profit and should not be encouraged.
It is easy to think that when you are on holiday in a hot place you need to wear barely-there clothes to keep cool, but this is disrespectful of the culture and will attract unwanted attention. While it is especially important to cover up when visiting temples and other religious sites, avoid showing too much flesh in general. Long, baggy items made of cotton are the way to go.
Interact warmly with locals
The way you interact with local people can deeply impact the enjoyment of your stay and the general impression of tourists. Always smile and enter into situations with patience, especially if you don't speak Burmese, as it is up to you to give a good impression and try to communicate. Be aware of important customs and etiquette, such as never touching a monk and ask before taking photos of people, then show them the result if you have a digital camera.