Day #168: Tourism in Myanmar

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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Kalaw
September 22nd 2013
Published: September 28th 2013
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Another long coach journey to reach Kalaw, this time on a "tourist" coach, as they are called, (i.e. air-conditioned and with room to stretch legs, though they are actually used by the locals too). When we arrived we were immediately seized upon by a range of guides, drivers and touts, trying to get us to use their guesthouse/use them for transport/pay them to be our guide. Not threatening, but a disorientating arrival.

It can be a strange experience being a tourist in Myanmar at this point in its development: because so much of the country is barred to foreigners, and infrastructure is still limited, all but the most adventurous tourists (which I am not) end up following pretty similar routes through the country and going to all the same destinations. So it can feel touristy, although the actual tourist numbers are still low compared with the rest of SE Asia, and you see the same people again and again at different locations. There's a lot of "Hey! There's that French couple we saw in Bagan!", and so on. If you were really determined to get off the usual tourist trails it is possible - within the limits of the areas permitted to foreigners - but it is discouraged by the Myanmese themselves: when we planned to stop between Pyay and Bagan, the attendants at the bus station were surprised, and keen to persuade us that it would not be worthwhile, and we should stick to the usual route. It's a cliche to say that in 5-10 years time it will be a completely different place, but I think this is probably true, both in so far as the country will become more Westernised, and there will be a greater diversity of places for travellers to visit.

Accommodation standards in Myanmar are generally low - we pay more here than I have anywhere else on my trip for a much lower quality of accommodation. Typically we pay $20 per night for a room, but they are often faded and shabby and occasionally actually grubby (one place had a fly infestation in the bathroom), and sometimes there is no hot water. The power shortages have also taken some getting used to - there are usually at least a couple a day. Today there was one whilst we were having dinner in a restaurant, and within two minutes the staff had re-lit the place with candles.


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