Myanmar has been on my travel ‘wish list’ for quite a few years. The temples of Bagan and the busy streets of Yangon seemed to call to me, and so at the beginning of 2017, I decided that this would be the year that I finally bite the bullet and visit Myanmar.
At this time, Myanmar was already experiencing unrest between it’s majority population (Burmese Buddhists) and one of its minority populations (Rohingya Muslims) but this was not something I became aware of until the second half of 2017.
In fact, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (and the rising body count) didn’t garner much attention in Western media until August.
By the time the true extent of this persecution became more evident, I had already booked my flights to Yangon and had pretty much planned my trip.
It was at this time that I faced a conundrum – did I cancel my trip or go ahead and visit anyway?
This did put me in a sort of moral dilemma. I had seen debates around this very topic on several different forms of social media, and one of the prevailing arguments seemed to be ‘tourism is one of the governments main sources of revenue, so by feeding more money into tourism you are just supporting the persecution of Rohingya Muslims’, and I gotta admit, that argument has some merit.
However, the idea of boycotting an entire country based on the (undeniably heinous) actions of the military does seem a bit extreme. I strongly disagree with the actions of many governments across our globe, but that doesn’t always equate to the justification of a blanket boycotting.
After all, tourism doesn’t just provide revenue for the government. It also provides jobs and support for a huge number of Burmese people; Burmese people who have absolutely nothing to do with the military actions of their government.
So, I decided to forgo any cancellations and go ahead with my trip, and I gotta say, the experience was overwhelmingly strange.
Why was this so strange (aside from the obvious)?
To be perfectly honest, had I not known that a genocide was occurring before I arrived in Myanmar, I would likely never have known it was happening!
There was absolutely ZERO news coverage of the violence taking place.
No newspaper headlines, no news stories, no nothing!
Furthermore, there was absolutely no discussion going on about these events. I did not hear the word ‘Rohingya’ used ONCE during my time in Myanmar. It was honestly so odd. How could what is essentially an ethnic cleansing be taking place in this day and age, and how – in the age of social media – could an entire country seem to be unaware (or just blatantly ignoring) some of the most utterly reprehensible and disgusting military actions imaginable?
Travelling in Myanmar during this time was truly a strange experience. I had expected to see civil unrest and tension. I had expected arguments, conversation and news coverage. Instead, I found a country that on the surface appeared peaceful, calm and safe.
It just goes to show – looks can be deceiving.