I’m still on the road and now in Myanmar. Unfortunately VIP Backpackers does not cover this amazing country in its tours and hotels, probably for some quite obvious reasons. However being here has challenged me on a number of levels and I thought these insights might be of interest to others.
To boycott or not to boycott?
The first was obviously making the decision to come. In 1995 the Nobel Laureate for Peace, Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest in Yangon, asked travellers to boycott Myanmar. She felt it was too early for tourists or even investment as money coming in would give the military junta Slorc less incentive to change. She has now changed her stance on this and is encouraging independent travellers (rather than package tourists) to come as 80% of what they spend tends to go to private sources. I fit into the independent category – as do most that travel using VIP Backpackers – but it still was a decision I had to make. I don’t regret it. I’ve learned far more in the last two weeks than I would have reading about it at home. Whether or not my presence has helped or harmed I’m not sure but at least I can take home what I have learned in Myanmar. And that’s really what Suu Kyi wants. She said “tourists can open up the world to the people of Burma just as the people of Burma can open the eyes of tourists to the situation in their own country if they’re interested in looking.”
The second challange was to act responsibly as a tourist in a country that remains remarkably unaffected by outside influence or tourism. There’s a real genuineness to people in Myanmar and most towns are unmarred by Coca Cola signs, MacDonalds, hotel signs or touts. The worst I have come across are the souvenir sellers at the Bagan temples but they are still nothing compared to what you find in other places. As a result it actually has challenged me to watch my behaviour, to discern what I might talk to people about without endangering them, the importance of not buying artifacts and removing them from the country and treating all monuments and ruins with respect. Basically it’s all a matter of not being part of or the start of any spoiling effect here.
Australia – Aboriginal people and camels
These situations have actually made me think of tourism at home in Australia and how others might view our Government’s policy on things such as indigenous Australians and the treatment of feral animals. I was in Alice Springs in June when the intervention policy, to protect women and children from physical and sexual abuse, was introduced by the Northern Territory Government. I met some travellers there at the time and was shocked at how condemnatory they were about it when they had such limited knowledge of the issues cconcerned. Similarly people seem to get very upset about treatment of feral animals or those in plague proportions in the outback such as camels and kangaroos, again without really seeking to understand the issues involved.
Obviously this blog isn’t about making statements about these issues but I really felt challenged by Suu Kyi not to be judgemental of practices I might see only in passing. As a tourist trundling through you usually don’t get the full picture or understand what is going on. At the end of the day too, the people living there have to continue to do so, long after we’ve passed through and said our bit.
Aboriginal culture and outback lore is fascinating and if you are interested in learning more about the feral animals, indigenous culture and land management practices then get out there amongst it. There are some great tours through the Red Centre or you can stay in some real outback watering holes such as in Tennant Creek on an old stock route or up far west in Kununurra where Nicole and Hugh made the film “Australia”. The old mining town of Broken Hill, home of a famed painter Pro Hart, will also give you a good flavour of the bush. VIP Backpackers has plenty of tours and accommodation on offer in these regions.
Have any of you felt similarly challenged to be a responsible tourist in your travels? Do share your comments!
Hope you’re enjoying the VIP Backpacker’s Travel Blog. There’ll be an update added every other Friday, so keep tuning in to keep your travel dreams alive! If there are any travel topics you want covered feel free to contact me, Jo, at firstname.lastname@example.org