A (THE) concern most people have with traveling to Myanmar is the fact that the ruling military government is notoriously oppressive to free speech and individual opportunity for the citizens of Myanmar. Just before flying to the country, I read Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s “Letters from Burma” detailing a bit of the political and traditional background of the country. Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s greatest Revolutionary Figure, is the leader of the opposition to the ruling government and in that capacity has spent most of the last XXX years under house arrest in the capital.
As a traveler, we’re mostly urged to do two specific things. The first is to take care where your tourist dollars go. Some government-benefiting spending is unavoidable, like the visa cost or certain admission tickets (Bagan and Schwedagon Pagoda). For pretty much anything else, but especially accommodation and food, it will usually be possible to find some small family-owned place that puts money in the pockets of locals rather than the government. These also, conveniently, tend to be the places owned and staffed by the most friendly people you could hope to meet. With the exception of two avoidable but desirable train journeys, I think I managed to do a pretty good job of this.
The second thing most travelers are urged to do is to talk to people. Instead of just showing up and taking photos, trying also to engage with Burmese around the country and have open discussions about life. Most interesting to me, but only if the other person was really open and started the dialog themselves, were discussions about politics. I had this conversation several times; in pagadoas and beer stations, with Burmese and minorities, teachers and monks. One, in particular, I (more or less) transcribed shortly after we said goodbye and will post it on here in a few days. I actually didn’t always agree with the other viewpoints, but in a country where for locals political discourse is an easy road to trouble I was certainly always willing to listen.
Aside from the government, though, Myanmar is a beautiful country. Like so many other places, reading books set in or based around the country before and during my visit only served to heighten the excitement. I had, in fact, heard so many good things about Myanmar from so many other travelers that I was probably more excited to show up here than I have been to anywhere in months.