Saturday, March 16, 2013
THE TOURIST TRAP
You may notice the many tourists taking photos of the monks on their way to their morning meal. The monks at this monestary (Sasnayaunggyi Kyaung) a thousand monks reside. Unfortunately, there must have been four times that many tourists photographing and josseling each other for a better vantage point. The crowd must have been four or five deep!
Myanmar men are expected to be monks at some point in their lives - usually once as children, and once as adults. This country is devoutly Buddhist, and when the local people take a vacation they do a pilgrimage to religious sites: pagodas, stuppas, temples, monasteries, and caves full of Buddhas. The tour agencies assume that is what tourists will want to do. So our itinerary was one after the other of these sites. Unfortunately, all the other tourists were following the same trail. We met an 84 year old man from England, Dermit - who we ended up seeing three times - in three different cities.
In Bagan we went to what we thought was a remote pagoda as a vantage point to take a photo of the sunset. When we climbed to the top it was full of tourists who had come to capture the same sunset. This is a picture of all the tourists climbing down after photographing the sunrise.
A year ago Myanmar only had 300,000 tourists. In contrast, Thailand had ten million. This year Myanmar has had a million tourists, and anticipates three million next year. I'm glad we took the advice of travel articles in the San Francisco paper and went now. The country doesn't have the hotels or infrastructure to handle many more tourists.