Myanmar (formerly Burma) has announced it will reopen to tourism in 2022, but difficulties facing the nation have complicated this welcome back.
Myanmar Tourism to Reopen
Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is readying a welcome back to tourists. In 2012, the country opened to the outside for the first time in more than 25 years. As I have mentioned before, my wife and I visited Yangon (formerly Rangoon) shortly after it reopened to the world. We were a few days behind Anthony Bourdain who was filming his first episode of his new series, Parts Unknown. There were no ATMs at the time, limited internet, virtually no cell phone service, and almost no outsiders.
Coca-Cola had arrived just two days before we did, to give context to how closed the country had been.
In fact, the now infamous, Myanmar currency mistake fares that allowed us to fly from RGN to LAX in business class for $400 was the very first post I wrote about here, and launched this blog nearly a decade ago.
In the years since we visited, Myanmar has grown. They added chain hotels, eased the visa process, and made access to money easier. Prior to re-opening, just 800,000 visitors (regional with diplomatic ties to Myanmar) had visited with slight growth over the prior half decade. By 2016, that number had grown nearly 250% to more than 1.9MM, settling close to 1.5MM through 2019.
The country had closed its borders again during the pandemic in early 2020.
Myanmar’s COVID Entry Requirements
Current COVID restrictions require a negative test within 72 hours of arrival with additional testing on days three and seven following arrival. Dependant on the results of those tests, a quarantine extending up to 14 days may be required. Going forward, vaccination will be required for entry.
“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,’ Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.”
COVID closures were particularly concerning less for the bourgeoning tourist destinations like Inle Lake, and more for the religious pilgrimages to the many temples across the country.
Military Junta Rolls Out Red Carpet
Tragically, in February of 2021, a coup d’etat took place in the country placing administrative authority under a military junta. Politcal turmoil is nothing new to Southeast Asia over the last few decades, I have twice been in Thailand under military rule. But trouble in some regions, especially border regions and areas like Kayin state have remained subject to challenging conditions.
However, the coup itself is concerning. For tourists that were worried about COVID, the evacuation of embassy staff, the presence of military tribunals and the imperiled safety of free speech advocates are far more serious.
Nonetheless, the Junta would like to welcome back vaccinated tourists in an effort to normalize the country and restart the industry that brought new money into the territory.
My wife and I loved Myanmar, Matthew did too. It was exciting to see a piece of Asia before Starbucks and McDonald’s had taken over and this has somewhat remained the case. I also found the advancements that Aung San Suu Kyi had made to open her country up, help install democracy, and introduce that wonderful place to outsiders to be inspiring. That said, it’s not a good time to visit even if you are fully-vaccinated, test COVID negative and feel comfortable traveling without the safety of diplomatic relations with the US (and other western nations.) This reopening is a welcome sign to religious pilgrims but most will find it ill-timed.
What do you think? Have you been to Myanmar? Would you go in the current climate? If not, do you plan to go when circumstances change?