Myanmar has seen a dramatic recent rise in tourism that threatens its intrinsic charm. Mark Bibby Jackson examines the booming sector and discovers some places to visit before it’s too late.
After so many years of boycotts and sanctions, Myanmar has seen an unprecedented explosion in tourism. It’s easy to see why they are coming.
“There is still a real sense of a unique Asia character not overrun by the ravishes of chain stores and international corporations,” says Phnom Penh-based photographer Nathan Horton, who has run tours to Myanmar since April 2012.
“It has many attractive sites, mainly in terms of religious monuments, in nearly every city, but also has a lot of diversity from ancient ruins, colonial buildings, attractive countryside, great trekking potential with open and friendly ethnic minorities and of course the unique nature of Inle Lake – both pretty and interesting culturally,” he says.
With tourist numbers only likely to increase, there is a danger that Myanmar may be losing the charm that makes it so attractive to tourists, both mass and independent travellers alike. This is certainly the case as regards the quality and price of hotel accommodation.
“Demand often overruns supply of decent hotels, so the good ones can cost a lot and your second choices can be fairly lousy,” says Horton. “Standards are getting better, but price does not appear to be coming down.”
Anne Cruikshanks, country manager for cycling tour company Grasshopper Adventures, agrees. “We found that in 2012 and 2013 the complaints about hotels increased dramatically,” she says.
It is not just accommodation that people are complaining about. Many have raised concerns about the environmental impact of tourism on architectural heritage in major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay.
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