Myanmar continues to feature in the international news almost on a daily basis.
I’m not a political commentator, but in the case of Myanmar tourism and politics is often 100% intertwined, and yesterday’s visit to the country by President Obama confirms the dramatically positive change in the attitude by the USA and indeed the whole Western World towards Myanmar. These changes over the past year have been huge, and my guess is that we will see Myanmar rapidly absorbed into the international community in a relatively short number of years.
Along with this, we will certainly see a massive rise in tourism. The numbers of tourists entering Myanmar over the past year are expected to show a dramatic increase over 2011 and as a result the tourism infrastructure is struggling to keep up. I continue to hear reports of infrastructure shortfalls – lack of hotel rooms and the consequent repricing upwards of the hotel’s that do exist, and a huge increase in tour groups and individual travelers.
So, my suggestions to prospective visitors are the following – go in the off-season – I took my family in August last year, and hotel rooms were easily available. The only popular regions that don’t work in the off-season are the coast and Golden Rock – but the other main tourist regions are open and easily accessible.
Also, history tells us that from time to time there will be regions in Myanmar with unrest and violence. From my experience, this should not necessarily put off travelers, simply because it’s virtually impossible to get anywhere near regions that are suffering unrest. The government simply does not allow tourists access – you won’t be allowed to board public transport headed for anywhere near these regions, and military road blocks make sure that private cars with tourists don’t have access either. Perhaps this will change one day in the future, but for now, there is no real freedom of movement for tourists in Myanmar, unless the government wants it to be that way. I expect this control to be maintained for years to come, until eventually tourist are free to travel wherever they like, as we saw happen in Vietnam over a period of a decade or so.
To summarise, the world is heading to Myanmar, and if you are thinking of going, best to do so earlier than later, while it is still relatively untouched and authentic!