Get To Burma By 2013 Or Don’t Bother Going At All?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

burma

There is a predictable pattern for the emergence of new travel hot spots around the world. First, that country must be mired in civil war or be under the thumb of an oppressive dictatorship that frowns upon outsiders entering their country (which has the perverse effect of staving off over-development and preserving culture at the expense of personal freedom and safety).

Then, as the regime falls or war wanes, said country begins the first tentative steps into normalization, with a trickle of adventurous travelers and a gaggle of eager travel writers visiting the country, amazed by the lack of infiltration by the tourism masses, yet keenly aware that this is likely short-lived.

Then comes the onslaught of visitors who make it a point to get there themselves after hearing one too many stories of how great the country is and how few tourists are there, and who arrive somewhat aghast at the number of other travelers there doing the same.

Then, finally, tour companies, luxury resorts, flash-sale websites and retirees enter the fray, firmly establishing the destination as a true “vacation” spot.

The list is seemingly endless, but a few off the top of my head are: Vietnam, Thailand, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, China and Indonesia; all of which have spent time in various parts of this cycle during the last 40 years.

And you can now add Burma to that list. As Burma’s once repressive regime opens up, travelers are beginning to stream into what was once the last holdout in Southeast Asia to foreign visitors.

Just this week, friend of The Expeditioner David Farley filed this article with the San Francisco Chronicle detailing his time spent in Burma last year. His reason to get there so soon? As he points out, the time is now to avoid the crowd: “I wanted to see it before the crush of tourism changes the face of the country. After all, a million tourists are expected to visit in 2012 — up 300 percent from last year.”

And when should one get to Burma to visit U Bein’s Bridge, the longest teak span in the world; trek into the Shan Hills to experience rural life with the locals; or see Inle Lake with its floating pagodas and lakeside villages? Per David:

[Matt], a Burma travel veteran and tour guide for Intrepid Travel, was there to scout out new itineraries for the tour operator. Intrepid, hopeful about the changes, had just reinstituted its Burma tours after a decadelong absence because of Suu Kyi’s call for a boycott on tourism in Burma.

Now, he told me, many of Intrepid’s organized tours in Burma for 2012 were already sold out or selling at a brisk pace. “If you’d been here a year ago, as I was, and come back now,” Matt said, “you’d be amazed at the changes that have taken place. It’s going to change even more in the next year.” Matt went on to say that anyone who wants to see the pre-tourist-explosion Burma should go by 2013 at the latest.

You’ve been warned.

[Experience newly open Burma before the crush]

[Praying Couple by Roger Price/Flickr]

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