What is Burma Called nowWhat's Burma's name now?
You call it Myanmar (or is it Burma?): Tips you need to know about travelling
Myanmar is one of the most vibrant and intriguing places on earth. Since the recent "openness" (read: lift penalties and issue more tourism visas), everyone, from Anthony Bourdain to the New York Times, has made the land a target for 2013. However, Burma is more than a touristic traveler' s paradise on the back packer trail or a hot spot in Travel & Leisure.
It has a wealthy, polarising and violent past that continues to this days. While the transition to an open Burma was impossible five years ago, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a democratic nation and its peoples can enjoy real liberty.
I' ve travelled through the countryside at a period of violent revolutions and catastrophes and also got to know the demands of everyday use. Whilst the rest of the globe is cheering for the new and open Burma, I am remaining careful, both with the Myanmar authorities and the newly discovered "development", but I am confident that the removal of travelling barriers will make travellers better acquainted with the countryside and the locals comprehend.
It now seems more "open" and has freed a large minority of Burma led detainees and militants, among them Burma's most prominent democratic defender, Aung Sung Suu Kyi, who was under detention for her work for humanitarian and democratic values and her capacity to mobilise the country population. But the e-mails and telephones of reporters and campaigners are still being intercepted, racial and worship tension remains high (there are more than 130 racial groups in Burma), and there are breaches of the law, even though we may not heed them.
When you go as a visitor, you will probably be watched over, but to fully appreciate the land, you need to know its past and policies. Burma or Myanmar? Burma was renamed "Myanmar" in 1989 by the Burmese army in order to redefine the historical and past of the country's minority population.
Burma's population had no option because the administration was not democratic. "Myanmar " is recognised by the President of the Republic of Myanmar and the United Nations in a step of strategy to recognise the independence and involvement of the country's authorities, but the tribe still calls it Burma. I still use" Burma" because it shows that I am supporting the nation of the land and not the war.
Being" open to tourists means that there are fewer clandestine cops on the streets, that the authorities tap telephones and computer a little less, and that there is more room to move outside the touristic hub. It is unlikely that you will be endangered, but if you go to a place without an appointment or speak to someone about a delicate topic, you know that they could get into difficulties.
Prior to being an open land, there were tales of towns being attacked or questioned because foreign nationals had left the state-regulated path to come and see them. You just need to know that your being here can still affect humans when you go. It is really important to be conscious of your environment, not to take photos of the administration building and to realize that "open" does not mean undemocratic.
Check out local information websites like Mizzima and Irrawaddy for Burma local information to see what's going on right now. In the past, when you were visiting Burma, you would have to spend the night in state-run accommodation and only go to the places that one of the guides had recommended.
Instead of going to state-run and tourism centres, I suggest that you support them. It may be a little more difficult to find, but you can find and safe meals like lepheth choke (tea lettuce ), burmesian curry and meals like Shan Khauk Swe (Shan Noodle) on the streets.
Also, please be aware that many of the booths that sell arts and crafts in Burma can be run by the Burmese people. However, there are a number of fairly traded and income-generating schemes (both in Burma and on the Thai-Burmese border) that keep Hmong, Karen and Shan tradition of the web going, such as Borderline Café, WEAVE and Karen Women Organization.
It is important for those who live with the upturn in the tourism sector to invest their funds where the local population, not the government, can profit. Burmese are really friendly and kind - their resistance and warmness towards the outside world is truly second to none. While you are travelling around the countryside, I ask you to study a few sentences, while respecting the different cultures and faiths and learning as much as possible about the foods, the histories and the population.
A of my greatest worries about "New Burma" is that the fast "development" will be accompanied by a quick drop - there will be an upturn in the number of tourists in a place that does not have the necessary infrastructr. Is it going to result in drunk roads, chains of food and an even wider socioeconomic gap, or could Burma possibly make Burma's economy more attractive to tourists?
Consider where you are spending your moneys, keep the party's tough stance at bay, as well as treating them with the same friendliness and consideration they show you. In the near term I am hoping to come back to Burma not to work but as a visitor. Several of my Bosnian buddies will be spending 18 years in jail after their returns because of their violation of international humanitarian law in recent years.
Burma's "openness" may therefore only be for a few. However, if you are fortunate enough to get a tourism permit, I urge you to move in an ethical and responsible manner. Hopefully many more travellers will come to the land and raise people' s consciousness of this area.
Put in a nutshell, Burma will forever alter your attitude and influence you for life. Photograph of Burma by friendly permission of Shutterstock.