How to be a responsible traveller in Myanmar

After years of isolation Myanmar is now open to tourists. Sustainable tourism expert Richard Brownsdon makes a visit and comes back with tips on how to see it responsibly

Myanmar is open to tourists – what does that mean for the country? For the past 50 years, the military government just wasn’t that keen on letting outsiders come in, but with international sanctions and growing internal pressure, things have changed. But are they changing in a positive way?

The short answer is yes, and you can be part of it. More tourists equals more money, more jobs and a growing economy. We have to be careful, though. It also equals more problems for the environment. It’s an important issue, because Myanmar is home to the majority of rainforest left in South East Asia, a vital area for biodiversity of the region’s ecosystem.

What can you do to help keep the country green? Here are five top tips for responsible travel in Myanmar:

1. Do your research
I love adventures and not knowing where they are going to end up, but I do always research the country I’m going to. I don’t plan everything in advance, but I try to connect with people who can help me. Research and connect with responsible travel agencies, such as Go Myanmar. Find out what makes your travel agent responsible or ‘eco’. As I’ve found out, it doesn’t always mean the same thing in different countries.

2. Travel independently
Travel independently as much as you can. You can still join day tours and trips, but organise them when you get there, and give your money directly to your guides. More of your money will be staying within the local economy that way. Nobel Peace Prize winner, leader of the opposition, and perhaps future president of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, encourages independent travellers, not cruise ships of tourists.

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3. Stay local
Stay in locally-owned guesthouses. A lot of the high-end guesthouses are government owned, and that means your money is not going to the local people that need it most. Most guidebooks will tell you if your hotel is government or locally-owned.

4. Take your time
Use the day bus between tourist hotspots. It’s a great way to meet people, see the sights and arrive refreshed. I’ve had enough of night buses. You never sleep properly and you have to spend the next morning in bed at your hotel anyway. But either way, day bus or night bus, you’ll keep your carbon footprint lower without the internal flights.

5. Go electric
The electric scooters are a bit more expensive to rent than normal bikes, but worth it. I loved silently scooting miles between deserted ancient temples and pagodas in Bagan. If only we could get electric boats, the day trips on Inle Lake would be a lot kinder on the environment – and on the ears too!

Positive Travel is edited by Aaron Millar. He writes about adventure travel and personal development through exploring the world, at The Blue Dot Perspective.