Why I'm Visiting Burma

Well, by the time you read this, my AirAsia plane will have departed Bangkok Airport at 7:15AM on Thursday, Setember 3rd and have landed in Yangon (Rangoon), Mynamar (Burma) at 8AM.

Yes, I’m off to explore Burma for 7 days. No, It wasn’t an easy decision to make.

Here’s what I started with - the knowledge I had one week to go anywhere/do anything in Southeast Asia post Cambodia and Thailand. I have a return ticket to the U.S. on September 10th and it can’t be changed so I knew I had limited time but wanted to explore one more country while I was in this part of the world.

Vietnam came close. So did Laos and Indonesia. But then the craziest (or typical bending of the universe) thing happened. About a month ago, Burma was everywhere I turned. I talked to another Kiva Fellow, Merrick, went there last year and said the temples were amazing in Bagan, even better than Angkor Wat in Cambodia and minus the tourists. He also told me he had a great visa agent I could use to apply for a visa.

Then, I met an Australian girl (Cherie who I mentioned here) and she lives in the Philippines but has worked closely with Voices for Burma about responsibile travel to Burma and ways to travel without supporting the junta government.

Temples? Special visa? Travel that doesn’t suport the government? I realized all I knew about Burma was Aung Sun Suu Kim. I wanted to know more.

So I read, and looked online, and started asking people and found out that on a small budget, staying at family-owned guesthouses and not government hotels and creating my own itinerary instead of taking an organized tour, that only 10% of my total budget would go to the government. Backpackers aren’t the bread and butter of the economy there. Shocker I know.

Cherie also told me that with the social deficit created from going to Burma, I could make a donation to an NGO that does work in Burma or find another way to subsidize that portion (which I’ll take as writing and posting pictures and being a reference for all of you who want to know what it’s like there).

Then, I thought about my quest to be a humanitarian and fight for those in poverty or who are disenfranchised and I realized I don’t personally know a single person who has gone to Burma.

I want to fight for things I’ve seen with my own eyes. I want to speak for people who I’ve met, villages where I’ve walked through the market, ate food and stayed for a night.

What’s more, in countries like Burma, it’s the PEOPLE who suffer from lack of tourism, it’s the people who can’t get their voices heard. Less atrocities occur in places where the outside world can see - or so I’ve read.

After all, there is an official US sanction advisory against travel there…it’s not like Cuba, you actually can go to Burma but you’re not supposed to…and that travel sanction means credit cards don’t work, no ATMs, and so take all the cash you need while you’re there.

Burma jumped onto the internet in 2001 (whoa nelly) and I’ve heard most sites are blocked that I want to use like gmail and facebook (wonder if they’ve heard of twitter, hmmm).

So here’s what I have to say. I didn’t take this decision lightly. But I figured spending about $500 over the course of one week (so $50 approx to the government) on flights, hotel, food, transportation, entrance fees and presents isn’t going to make or break what they’ve got going on there.

It will however, open a window for me to be able to talk and tell all of you what’s it like there. I’ve heard there are little to no tourists and that the people are amazingly kind, the Burmese food is supposed to be incredible - a mix of Indian, Thai and Chinese - and I’m hiking around Inle Lake, visiting the temples of Bagan and exploring Rangoon.

I’m obviously not going to be running through the streets screaming for democracy and I’m not swimming across the lake to Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s house.

Yes I’ll be careful. But overall, I think this is going to be unlike any experience I’ve ever had and I will be able to step forward afterwards and voice my first-hand knowledge of what day-to-day life is like there - at least in my small window into their world.

I’ve realized I thrive in off-the-beaten-path situations. I realized reading about a country in the media does not lend me to know what it’s actually like there. I realized given the opportunity to be on this side of the world, I wanted to shock my system one last time with a place and a people and a culture unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Wish me safe travels and if by chance you’re reading this and you HAVE been to Burma, please leave me tips. If you’re dead set against anyone traveling to Burma and you completely disagree with my reasons for going, well, I welcome that feedback too.

Signing off from Bangkok, Sloane

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