(Axel Boer) #1


gling the complex web of fi nancial connec-
tions in Myanmar’s economy is like unpick-
ing the Gordian knot. The government has
recently been divesting itself of certain na-
tionalised businesses – the supply of petrol
being a key example – but it still controls
large chunks of the economy.
While some cronies are easily identifi able
(see p 26 ), other ‘private’ companies are run
by government members or supporters on
the sly, or by their family members. Such
links can be diffi cult to trace, partly because
there is no equivalent of surnames in Myan-
mar, so each member of the family has his or
her own name.
When researching this guide, we made
every eff ort to identify government-owned
or government-friendly businesses. Where
there is a good alternative to such busi-
nesses, that service is reviewed instead of
the crony-owned one. Where there is no
alternative business or service (ie trains,
or the only hotel in a location), a note of
the government affi liation is made in the
It should not be assumed, however, that
all other reviewed businesses in this guide
have no involvement with the government.
Ownership is frequently murky, and as in
any country, taxes (both the offi cial kind
and the bribes that are a necessary part
of getting things done) are a fact of life in
Myanmar, with no business being able to
avoid fi nancial dealings with those in power.
Also, when it comes to buying souvenirs and
products, keep in mind who may be supply-
ing them; see p 319 for details about precious
stones and jewellery.

Bottom line: the only way ensure that
none of your money will benefi t the govern-
ment is to not visit Myanmar.

Spread Your Money
Critics of independent travel argue that trav-
ellers’ spending usually bottlenecks at select
places, even if those spots are privately run.
Familiarity can be reassuring – such as your
trishaw-driver buddy, or the plate of noodles
that didn’t make you sick – but the more
places at which you spend money, the great-
er the number of locals likely benefi t. A few
things to consider:
» Don’t buy all of your needs (bed, taxi, guide,
meals) from one source.
» Be conscious that behind-the-scenes
commissions are being paid on most things you
pay for when in the company of a driver or guide. If
all travellers follow the same lead, the benefits go
to only a select few.
» Plan en-route stops, or take in at least one off-
the-beaten-track destination, where locals are less
used to seeing foreigners.
» Mix up the locations from which you catch taxis
and trishaws – and try to take ones from drivers
who aren’t lingering outside tourist areas.
» Try to eat at different family restaurants, and if
you’re staying at a hotel, eat out often. In Ngapali
Beach, for example, local restaurants are just
across the road from the beach and hotels.
» Buy handicrafts directly from the artisans
as you travel around the country, or if you’re
spending most of your time in the same location,
don’t get all your souvenirs from one private shop.


Some of the benefi ts, and dilemmas, of tourism in Myanmar are illustrated in this
interview we conducted with a trekking guide in Shan State, who wished to remain
‘I’ve been leading treks since 1990. I was a civil servant for 15 years but in 1988
I took part in the democracy movement and was put in jail for three months. They
couldn’t fi nd me guilty of anything and when I was released, I didn’t want to work for
the military government. So I started doing this after helping some visiting foreigners.
'It’s a good job: I have a lot of chance to speak English and improve [my language
skills]. I’m even reading books in English now. But after I help my son through univer-
sity I’d like to become a monk.
'I think tourists should come to Myanmar. If tourists come, then our people can earn
money. But [the downside is that] all hotels have to pay money to the government –
this means that the military generals have more money to buy weapons and guns.’

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