Lonely Myanmar

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure and privacy policy for more information.

Last Updated on April 26, 2024 by Audrey Scott

Don't worry, we're not feeling lonely. The title refers to the current reality here in Myanmar where once bustling tourist sights and streets have been transformed into ghost towns. Strings of flashing lights still hang from restaurants advertising the best Burmese, Indian, Nepalese – and even Tibetan – food in town, but the sobering and obvious fact is that most of these restaurants have only a few customers per day…and that's on a good day. There are simply very few tourists here.

Burmese Mother and Child
Proud mother in Myanmar.

While we normally enjoy places that are off the beaten tourist path and offer a healthy dose of solitude, we're witnessing a dearth of tourists in small towns – particularly those whose economies revolve around tourism – that borders on the surreal.

Child Postcard Vendor - Bagan
Postcards for sale in Bagan, Myanmar.

We are currently in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city and where the dip in tourist traffic is less noticeable because of the volume of people and relative diversity of industry. However, in Bagan – our home for the previous four days and home to a plain scattered with 1000s of Myanmar’s beautiful red brick temples – the devastation to the local tourist trade was obvious.

The area of Bagan in which we stayed usually plays hosts to a sea of travelers around this favored time of year (the dry and cool season). Both locals and repeat visitors that we’ve spoken to estimate the drop in visitors at 80-90% compared to last year. The situation is so dire that the number of guest houses and restaurants appeared to outnumber tourists by at least four to one.

Small business and restaurant owners remain remarkably and genuinely friendly, but they remind us – less out of guilt-tripping than reporting of fact – that if this continues much longer, they’ll be going out of business. When you consider all the other suppliers who make a living from selling services and souvenirs to tourists, the situation begins to appear rather grim.

One thing we heard repeatedly from vendors was, “Please, lucky money.” Lucky money is money from the first sale of the day. We heard this many times close to sunset, meaning yet another day had gone by without any sales.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Bagan Temple Vistas - Myanmar
Sunset vista in Bagan, Myanmar.

We've been in Myanmar for ten days now, traveling overland by bus and train. Hard wooden benches on trains and middle aisle plastic chairs on long-haul buses may not qualify as the most comfortable means of travel, but we have found them to be tickets to a fascinating, genuine, and interesting way to see the country and meet its people.

Myanmar is a complex place, but people here express their thoughts in simple yet surprisingly sophisticated ways. Given recent events here in Myanmar, we feel more comfortable opening up and sharing all of our stories once we are out of the country.

One quick note for anyone considering travel to Myanmar: if our experience is any measure, this country is very safe, not to mention that Burmese people have been living up to their reputation as some of the kindest people on the planet. Of course, that's not to say that we haven’t had to bargain occasionally to get a fair price or that we haven’t met a swindler or two. Overall, however, we have been amazed by the generosity and kindness of spirit here.

We have approximately two weeks left to explore Mandalay, get in some trekking around Kalaw, and relax near Inle Lake. Then it's a long bus ride (like 16-20 hours, if the bus doesn’t break down) back to Yangon before flying out. We had hoped to return overland to Thailand, but the special permits required are expensive and the application process time-consuming. Scores of international flights have also been dropped from airline schedules recently, because – you guessed it – there are no tourists.

We managed to find a place with regular electricity, a non-dial-up internet connection, and sophisticated proxy software to allow us the freedom to access our website and email. It's nice to be connected again to the world, for a short time at least.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

5 thoughts on “Lonely Myanmar”

  1. Hi,

    I’ve read all your post regarding Burma and I can say I am looking forward visit Burma this year. Hope so.

    We were saying that to cross back by land into Thailand is quite difficult ( special permits required are expensive and the application process time-consuming ). Is it than expensive or?. I was thinking to cross back at Mae Hong Son then to head to Chiang Mai.



  2. @Sorin: Glad you found our Burma articles useful. It’s a very special country, very special people. Unfortunately, we don’t have experience with land border crossings into and out of Burma. That’s probably something you’ll get better information on once you are on the ground in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai. I imagine the situation changes pretty frequently. For reasons of refugees, drug trade and others, the government prefers that tourists take the easy, trackable way of flying into and out of the country through Rangoon / Yangon.

  3. I was searching my name + Myanmar and found the comment I wrote 4 years ago. Did not managed to enter Myanmar in 2011 but now, after 4 years I am here, settled and living the “real” burma.

    And it’s strange to read the article and wrote the reply while in Yangon :).

    • Sorin, that’s terrific to hear. We’ll look forward to hearing more about your experiences in Myanmar, or the real Burma. Life is fascinating!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.