I first went to Burma/Myanmar in 1988. At the time I visited there was a series of marches and riots that became known as the “People Power Uprising.” Thousands of monks, students and locals demonstrating against the regime were killed and the uprising led to the country being ruled by the military. Although Aung San Suu Kyi won an election for the National League for Democracy party in 1990, the results weren’t recognised by the military junta and she was placed under house arrest and was only released in 2010.
My memories of visiting Burma then were feelings of suppression. I had no idea what the people were going through as there were nightly curfews and nobody discussed what was happening to their compatriots. But to the outsider the people seemed happy enough so you wouldn’t have guessed that there were problems.
In 2009 I visited Burma for the second time. I’ve read many articles over the years arguing the ethical dilemma whether tourists should visit Burma or not as going there only lines the pockets of the military rulers and doesn’t assist the local people. I disagree. I was there for a month travelling all over the country staying in local Guest Houses and avoiding the Government run institutions. I mainly travelled on public transport such as buses which meant getting up at 4am to get a seat and pick up trucks sharing the rear with multiple sacks of plant fertiliser, thus avoiding the trains and air companies also Government run. I ate from food stalls or cheap restaurants.
It was a marathon task that knackered me out and starved me of home comforts, decent food and frequent power cuts but well worth it for four weeks considering the human rights issues the Burmese people have been subjected to and endure daily. Yes, some of the money I spent will no doubt end up supporting the powers to be, but at least I was trying my best to support the local people.