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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good guidebook with some eccentricities, 27 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) (Travel Guide) (Paperback)
In 2010, Thailand had nearly 16 million tourist arrivals; Burma had about 300,000. Since Burmese tourist attractions eclipse those of Thailand in every respect except in brothels, since the political and security obstacles to tourism have been removed, and since one may be confident that the inconvenience of having to bring large amounts of cash in pristine $100 bills will soon be a thing of the past, tourism to Burma is set to explode. For the tourist, there is no way to go but down, but for long-suffering Burmese this will be a blessing, and for the publishers of this Lonely Planet guidebook, who now enjoy at least a temporary monopoly in the market for English language guidebooks, it should be a bonanza.
Deservedly so, because this is a very good guidebook. In our recent holiday, it proved very reliable, and its many maps were both accurate and useful. Some of its sightseeing "highlights" are whimsical--presumably no tourist really gets up in Mandalay to watch the 4 am teeth brushing of a particular Buddha-but most of its sightseeing priorities are well chosen. Its treatment of major sites such as the Shwedagon Paya and the Bagan temples is adequate but it might be worthwhile seeking out older guidebooks to see if there are more extensive accounts. Its text boxes are often interesting, and the introductions to Burmese history, culture, politics and the economy etc in the later part of the book are lively and well-written and will be useful for most readers. The discussion of currency exchange is inadequate but in any case the situation seems to have changed since the book was written, though it remains very confusing. Details of opening hours etc appeared to be generally accurate--the authors can scarcely be blamed for not noting an abrupt change of policy last November that closed the National Museum (and probably other museums as well) on Mondays and Tuesdays. No guidebook can ever be wholly up-to-the-minute but this does pretty well.
The Lonely Planet series began with a target audience of Antipodean backpackers but appears now to be trying to appeal to more mainstream tourists. Its hotel lists range from the very basic up to the very expensive, and its restaurant lists are also wide. Readers should be aware however that the "top choices", especially for restaurants, appear aimed at backpackers rather than the mainstream. On our first evening, we went to the Yangon "top choice" and found ourselves sitting on rather uncomfortable stools, eating a series of not very tasty curries in oily sources. The Bagan "top choice" had better food but the nastiest toilet we encountered anywhere.
The reason for giving the book four rather than five stars is less its fairly minor shortcomings than for its outrageous suggestions as to how to evade the $10 ticket that some local archaeological departments charge foreign tourists for visiting all the sites in a particular jurisdiction, on the grounds that these departments are part of the Government. I know nothing about Burmese public finances, but in most countries archaeological departments have awesome responsibilities and operate on a shoestring. British taxpayers would be rightly infuriated if a US guidebook instructed American tourists on how to get into, say, the Tower of London without paying.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 May 2012 16:10:47 BDT
palmashofu says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 1 May 2012 17:41:11 BDT
RTF King says:
I know quite a lot about Burma. I have wanted to visit there for more than thirty years, and have followed political developments closely. At an earlier moment of political liberalisation, I even started to plan a holiday which I had to cancel when Aung San Suu Kyi was put back under house arrest. But last year it became clear that things have very considerably changed-much greater press freedom, open political campaigning, at least some reconciliation with ethnic minorities, and this year there was a release of hundreds of political prisoners and free by-elections which has allowed Suu Kyi to lead a substantial bloc of opposition MPs into Parliament. There is a consensus among a huge range of eminent visitors that the political reform is real.

Of course, political reform does not mean everything changes overnight. There are still some political prisoners, and the army remains the dominant political force-and will do so until there is constitutional change. Military leaders, or former military leaders, also control significant parts of the private sector of the economy. If you visit Burma, some of your spending will be paid to the Burmese government since taxes are unavoidable, and probably other parts in will end up in the bank accounts of former generals, no matter how careful you are. But not all public expenditure is for military purposes. Local archaeology departments appear to be doing a very good job; they must get money from somewhere, they are evidently collecting it, and there is no particular reason to assume that they do not retain it.

Moreover, tourist expenditure also benefits ordinary Burmese, many of whom are very poor. These have been the principal sufferers from military rule and international isolation, and even incomplete liberalization and the removal of sanctions are to their advantage.

I have read Under the Dragon by Rory MacClean, and would thoroughly recommend it. I also recommend The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U, as a superb introduction to Burma and its history. Incidentally, Thant, who cannot be described as in any way sympathetic to the regime, did not favour the policy of discouraging tourism, even before the current political liberalization began.
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