2016 has been a turbulent year for Myanmar. The rapid increase in the number of tourists has stopped abruptly, an earthquake shook central Myanmar, armed conflict and refugees have been prevalent in the border regions.
In 2015, 4.68 million tourists visited Myanmar and the ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar which had for years been surprised with higher tourism numbers than forecast expected six million visitors in 2016. However in 2016 the international tourism numbers decreased by 38 percent to 2.9 million tourists. These are the total number of visitors over land and through airports; the tourist arrivals in airports dropped only marginally.
Despite hopes that the new NLD government would bring an end to the conflicts, the Burmese Army has intensified offensives in Rakhine and the northern Shan states. More than 500,000 people have been displaced across Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states since October 2016.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the country leader; and the world has waited a long time for her to address the problems in Rakhine. The failure of the NLD government to act on the crisis and the unrest in other parts of the country is having an impact on tourism. To be fair, Aung San Suu Kyi has limited options since the Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, hold the real power in Myanmar. Under the army-drafted constitution, the military controls the three most powerful government ministries: home, defence and border affairs. Ruling a country with as many conflicts as Myanmar is like Shovelling Frogs into a Wheelbarrow.
Myanmar has embarked upon a Road to democracy after the first free elections in 2015. Are they still aiming for full democracy or is one party "Kicking the can down the road"? Perhaps there is no road? Perhaps no democracy either?
A quote from the venerable monk U Uttara: "All suffering in Myanmar is man made. What we need is a mind change. If we don’t change the way we think, the suffering in this country will never end." (September 16, 2015, frontiermyanmar.net)
The hotel situation in Myanmar
Hotel prices in Yangon have doubled in 2012 and tripled in 2013, but in recent years the hotel rates have been declining. The overall picture is that the number of tourist arrivals in international airports has had a temporary adjustment last year (2016).
The hotel and tourism situation:
The hotel situation (30 Aug, 2017)
Earthquake damage in Bagan.
On 24-aug-2016 Myanmar was hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake; the quake damaged almost 400 temples in Bagan.
Following the earthquake the government has started to build four new sunset viewing platforms, and once these were finished all major sunset pagodas were closed. More information on Bagan's temples:
Situation in Northern Shan state.
In 2016 there have been a number of reports of landmine victims in the northern Shan State north of Hsipaw and Kyaukme. In april 2016 two tourists were hurt by a landmine in the northern Shan state. There is a negative travel advice from most governments for the area outside of the Mandalay-Lashio highway and railway.
Note that the unrest is in villages north of Kyaukme in Kyaukme township; which is a very large area more like a district and which includes for example Hsipaw, Namtu and Namshan. Trouble in Namtu is thus quite far away (100 km) from Kyaukme town.
The situation around Hsipaw is normal and for a one-day walkabout there are no problems. For multiple day trekking it is necessary to hire a certified guide. More here: Safety around Kyaukme and Hsipaw
The news archive from 2011 to 2017 : News archive
Tourist traps (2017)
There are some tourist traps and scams in Burma; though much less than in other asian countries. There used to be money changing scams in Yangon when people changed on the black market; before 2012. The latest popular scam is the Dala tour Scam; the hit of 2016. If you take the ferry across the Yangon river to Dala (Dallah), some rickshaw drivers offer a guided tour for "whatever you want to pay". Turns out to be quite expensive (some end up paying 100$ or more). You will be asked to buy a bag of rice at 50$ for orphans or victims of the Nargis cyclone or such things.
And get your Myanmar E-visa ONLY at the official goverments' site!
More on Burmese tourist traps:
+ SHOW The good news.
Is there only bad news ?
The good news is about the Myanmar restaurant scene ...
Is it finally improving after all these years?
And finally something about the Burmese cuisine that is strongly influenced by China and India. Burmese cuisine? Let's just call it "Burmese food" because cuisine is a rather too elevated description. Burmese curry is very different from the delicious Indian curries - a Burmese curry is just a few pieces of chicken floating around in a bowl of oil. No creamy Biriyani, no delectable Makhanwala, no surprising Navratan Korma ... but they do make the regular dishes like Thalis, Samosas, Masala dosa, Dal, and so on.
Fortunately things have been improving rapidly the last few years; new reasonably priced restaurants have been opening up left and right. The value of the Kyat has also tumbled because of the high inflation in Myanmar; which helps to bring dinner prices down - except in the high-end restaurants in Yangon that are priced in dollars (e.g. L'Opera, Le Planteur and The Strand). The pricing range is huge; for example a large bottle of Mandalay beer can be 1500 to 2000 Kyat, but in a resort on Inle lake they sometimes charge 7$ for the exact same beer; about 9500 kyat. The cost of a dinner can also vary considerably; and the food hygiene is not up to the level of neighboring countries.
If you're a Foodie then you should try Shan noodles, and the Lahpet Thoke or Burmese Tea Leaf Salad is really worth a try. And if you're quite bold and interested in exotic food then you might like Ngapi (a fermented fish paste) or fermented beans (Pè Ngapi).
More on the new Inle lake eateries:
Inle lake eateries
And what about Ashin Wirathu?
And what about Ashin Wirathu? In 2017 he has been newsworthy:
irrawaddy.com - "Burma’s infamous nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu was banned from delivering sermons across the country for one year, starting from March 10, due to his religious hate speeches". (11 March 2017)
mizzima.com - Ashin Wirathu is the subject of a new documentary showing at France’s Cannes Film Festival (May 2017).
frontiermyanmar.net - A shadowy group of “patriots” nostalgic for junta rule is exploiting religion in the hope of creating a national emergency that would justify a Tatmadaw takeover.
www.atimes.com - Asia Times: Despite a clampdown, Buddhist extremism spreads in Myanmar.
www.dvb.no/news - Wirathu proclaims "Maungdaw has fallen".
www.newmandala.org - A better political economy of the crisis by Lee Jones (20-sept-2017). And some solid background articles on the political events in Myanmar.
- Tourism news and also the history of the conflict in Maungdaw, Rakhine state from 2016 to 2017.