You are here:   Aung San Suu Kyi > Unethical Tourism

Temples at Mrauk U, Burma: An exquisite country, but still run by a repressive dictatorship (photo: J.M. Hullot)

The carousel of tourism in a conflicted world is always turning. War zones become bucket destinations and blood-soaked soil absorbs lager spillage from stag weekends. Vietnam and Cambodia are must-sees and Croatia is top honeymoon fare.

A holiday travelling through Iran by train was recently advertised in the FT. “These days,” wrote Sophie Ibbotson, “travelling through Iran is just a little easier.” She describes travelling in style on the newly- launched Golden Eagle Express, amid silk furnishings and a piano bar, touring Iran’s holiest sights, the ruins of Persepolis and Isfahan—travelling chadors and champagne on ice included. Sounds unmissable—old Persia aboard my favourite mode of travel. If you think so then call Jewels of Persia; from just £9,895, apparently.

Probably, though, I won’t be booking. It seems a little early for me to give my trust and my travellers cheques to Iran, merely on the promise that the newish leader smiles more than the last lot and speaks a drop of King’s English. There is a whiff of Aesop’s fables in the sudden détente between the US and the Ayatollahs since the latter slowed down their uranium enrichment timetable by a whisker in exchange for the long-term lifting of sanctions. “Jump onto my back,” said the fox, “and I’ll take you across to the other side.”

In my case the problem won’t arise because I have Israel stamped on my passport so those smiley men at Tehran airport would be unable to admit me. Similar bans would arise for me in most other countries in the Middle East. But we won’t call that apartheid or racism, will we?

So soon we forget. Everyone is rushing off to visit Burma now that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from 15 years of house arrest. For 50 years one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world has starved, deprived of education and terrorised into submission the people of Burma. During the years of her house arrest, and confinement in the deadly Insein prison, Daw Aung San asked the world not to visit Burma.

Then, quite arbitrarily, the generals freed her, took meetings with her, and allowed her a passport to travel and the means to resume her political career. A fanfare heralded the release of a number of political prisoners and the promise of a democratic election. The world gazed in wonder and logged onto Trip Advisor.

I was fortunate enough to meet her for a second in Westminster where she spoke with customary restraint and discretion about her hopes. I also watched her speak to the expatriate Burmese at Westminster Hall the following day. She was a different girl in a different hat full of verve and personality and making her audience roar with laughter. She suggested that we should dip a toe in the Irawaddy and finally visit her homeland.

The country is exquisite, the travellers report. The people are charming and hospitable. The temples are even better than Thailand’s, the Irawaddy is romantic and the hotels are fine. There are flowers on the pillows and fruit cut into orchids. There are no restrictions, they tell you, although few make it up to Naypyidaw, the futuristic city in the jungle built by slave labour to house the new parliament.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.