Beaches, Temples and Sex—Will Burmese Tourism Follow the Thai Model?
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Monday, July 15, 2024

Beaches, Temples and Sex—Will Burmese Tourism Follow the Thai Model?

By DAVID PAQUETTE / THE IRRAWADDY Friday, March 23, 2012

Western visitors to the Thai resort of Pattaya negotiate with local sex workers. (PHOTO: Kay Chernush)
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“We don't have many discos and bars,” he said. “And Myanmar people don't tend to drink too much. Where there are bars and discos, there are prostitutes. By knowing this, we can prevent it.”

Burma's tourism authorities say they prefer to aim at a different influx of international visitor: the culture tourist. 

“We have more than 130 nationalities, different traditions, different languages, different costumes,” said Maung Maung Swe. “It's one of the most wonderful cultures in the world. And of course the Myanmar people have such a friendly and gentle nature, same as Thailand 30 years ago.”

There's no doubt that Burma is a Buddhist Disneyland. Almost every hill and promontory in the country is topped with a stupa. It is probably the only country in the world that can match Thailand and India for “temple tourism.”

From the dazzling Shwedagon Pagoda dominating the Rangoon skyline to the legendary Mahamuni temple in Mandalay to the sacred Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, Burma has the potential to offer Buddhist devotees, pilgrims and the curious a full itinerary of temple visits and good karma.

Perhaps it is just as well, because by far the highest numbers of visitors to the country are currently from China and Thailand, two nationalities commonly stereotyped in Burma as tour groups that, when not shopping for jade and gems, are to be found praying and making offerings at Buddhist temples.

Until Burma's beaches, nightlife and infrastructure are developed to the point they can compare to Thailand or even Vietnam, it is more likely that the country will cater more confidently for Buddhist culture tourists from regional countries.

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Moe Aung Wrote:
Andrew Hunter,

Sure you are doing some sterling work for those who are very vulnerable, who lack representation and whose rights must be acknowledged and honored.

Andrea's concern and The Irrawaddy's piece are both however timely and relevant. The point is to stop the burgeoning sex trade by sound economic measures where tourism is of paramount importance in this regard and a good education/vocational training on the part of the policy makers.

Moe Aung Wrote:

Yes indeed. You hit it on the nail, thanks.

Yes Wrote:
@ snoopy: do you really think all (outdated) GREEN google snapshots represent virgin forest. i don't think so, unfortunately not.

@ CTH: "Women has a right to do what they want" -> do you have any idea how many women are being exploited against their will? woman who were promised a "proper" job (eg. selling °°quote°° "garment and shoes"), ending up like sex-slaves.

note too that many girls doing sexwork, are forced by their family, in order to bring in money. no such thing as 'FREE WILL'.

@ andrew: this article might fail to mention current existing sex industry, this very website has written numerous times about it. also, every Burma visiter who opens his/her eyes observing *daily life* (instead of watching temples) knows about it. just like in thailand, the problem is: buddhist societies cannot openly/maturely face the BAD/NASTY/NEGATIVE things of life. or it doesn't exist (head in the ground), or you laugh about it.

Sai Wrote:
Many women choose fast and easy money. It happens everywhere, even in America. In Mandalay and in Rangoon, any kind of women from various ethnic groups are have been available in hotels. You may not like it but they are available anytime. Day or night. 24/7.

Ko cho Wrote:
Ko Cho;BA,Q(History)Dip in Hotelmanagement,
Ass Degree in HospatilatyManagement.(USA)

Burma Hospitality industry is no need sex.
We have tourist attraction is Pagan and
Myrouk U,Shwedagon pagoda.Also We have a lot of crystal beach.

CTH Wrote:
I'm sure women does not want to be prostitutes unless they are hungry and poor to feed their family, the solution is to give them a good education and also create jobs for them like inviting foreign investments for Garment, Shoe and other industries where women are employed most, and NOT BARS AND MASSAGE PARLOURS.
Women has a right to do what they want, it's
their body but they should not be controlled by PIMPS. Prostitution is there since the days of Christ and Buddha. Every country has it, some like Thailand and Singapore are open, others like Malaysia,Indonesia, Viet Nam and China are not, but it is there.

Andrew Hunter Wrote:
Andrea, I'm the coordinator of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers. Done my research and know the numbers. I don't believe the Cambodian Government have released the figures you cite. Maybe you should do some research and check David Fiengolds research on actual numbers of trafficking victims in Cambodia. Nice big numbers like that produce nice big budgets for anti trafficking groups. 
What this article fails to look at, as do most of the commentariat is that there is a large sex industry in Burma. There are also thousands of Burmese women who have migrated to Thailand to work, support their families and escape conflict. Protecting the rights of current sex workers and looking out for the rights of Burmese sex workers who,want to return home would be more useful for a magazine like the Irrawaddy than a tabloid like speculation piece about possible "sex tourism"

aung kyuu Wrote:
I am scared of pushing Burma's tourism industry towards sex trade business. Although it is still under control thanks to a series of Western countries led sanctions. But how long? Thailand and Cambodia are also Buddhism dominated culture and have similar life style and tradition. Frankly Burmese girls are not much different than their counterparts from neighboring countries such that they can be prone to the victim of sex and drug driven by greed and by force out of high demand from sex tourists. I hope the local rights and civil groups are well aware of the situation and the government is able to take lesson from the mishaps of the tourism industry of the neighboring countries.

junii Wrote:
What a lot of comments this topic has generated. And that in is the sad truth. Sex sells. Thailand chose it route and it seems that Burma has already chosen hers. If you think it is not yet corrupted with a prolific sex trade, then you are surely misguided. Since the early years of 2000, karaokes and night clubs have promoted prostitution. Take a look at the shows that are now put on in the country. It sometimes shames me to see how low our society has become.The influx of foreigners, NGOs and tourists alike, have further degraded the society. I am a proud Burmese and I hate it that the country has become this way, mostly due to the mismanagement and corruption of the local authorities.Economic sanctions also forced young girls and boys to turn to prostitution after losing jobs in factories. I am happy that things seem to be looking up now in terms of transparency BUT is this the price we have to pay for progress?

Snoopy Wrote:
Hi YES,just google-map and you will see that Myanmar and Laos are still green, while neighbouring countries are depleted of forests. Establish national park and forest reserve, plant more tees all over the country. That's all we have to do to protect the remaining flora and fauna.

Yes Wrote:
@ ZW: please wake up. true, you don't have the equivalent of Pattaya but there's plenty of sexworkers, KTV-bars and street prostitution in your country (and enough articles on this very website reporting about it), at the moment mainly catering to Burmse men.

no offense intended but your reaction is an example of yet another MAJOR issue in burma: the naivity of the people. a great characteristic if one lives in utopia, but not ideal in the real world, and certainly not in burma.

again: potentially, burma is a dream for every sexpat paedophile, all-round pervert: tons of uneducated, ultra-poor people, tons of corruption and (let's not forget) tons of "Untermenschen" - who aren't considered Burmese - with no rights whatsoever, and who can be treated like sh*t without having to fear any punishment.

ZW Wrote:
We have not sex city in our country,because our custom and culture was shameful for these in it.
In s'pore they have sex town inside their country,mean Gayland.Thailand was most sex develop country of our neighborhood country.
We weren't paste for it.We need to protect for our woman and ladies for sex business. We don't want to earn money from sex industry.

Yes Wrote:
(continuation)... nah, burma is a farce, and as long as the country isn't able to handle its internal issues (which it isn't at present, not at all!), kick out for good the (ex-)military scum and their collaborators, claim back the billions of $$$$ stolen by always the same clan of people, etc., it shouldn't make tourism a priority.
the only priority is justice to the people. the burmese people, including all non-bamars and non-buddhists too, have been robbed and raped for too many decades.

Yes Wrote:
virgin forests? you mean the pathetic leftovers which will be gone in 5 years. note too that the tourists burma is looking for are big spenders visiting the classic 4 destinations (which are reachable without risking a lumbago) and not "eco-boyscouts".

beaches? the only proper beaches accessable to tourists are the ones in southern rakhine state and western delta (bay of bengal). nice area but the real gems are the beaches in tanintharyi region (andaman sea), which are virtually impossible to visit (i was there after loads of hassle) and getting destroyed too. (To be continued).

Maung Ba Wrote:
Here's my opinion for whatever it counts. It's an age old problem and facts are simple. If a country opens up, it attracts people based on what it has to offer. If it has brothels and bars to offer, it will attract predators and idiots. Think about how some developing countries are not that kind of destination in spite of their status. So Burmese people will have to use their freedom wisely and decide what it wants to offer to the world, then build the system around it (with laws, campaigns, and people's attitude). Different products attract different customer. Simple, yet hard to execute.

Snoopy Wrote:
The Truth is that money does not buy happiness. Myanmar and Laos may be 'poorer' than neighbouring countries, but we are happier than those who live in glass-houses. We had better preserve our ecosystem,cultural and spiritual values, such as love and respect of one another. Never sacrifice these good values in exchange for capitalism.

Andrea Valentin Wrote:
@Andrew Hunter - don't shoot the messenger! In 2006, the Cambodian government stated there are more than 30,000 children involved in sex tourism in Cambodia. The situation is still very problematic. There are many articles and reports about this, just do your research.

Chris Jericho Wrote:
Ok..ok.. Tourist dollars are welcomed, but pervs are not? How about imposing a law that requires every man who comes to burma with tourist visa go through mandatory self-impotency treatment when they land at mingalardon airport..... (pun intended)

Chris Jericho Wrote:
@ snoopy - my dear, Eco-tourism or tourism of any sort cannot co-exist with virgin forests. Preserving ancient or natural relics by promoting tourism is a sham. Tourism may be a smokeless industry, but it is not carbon-less industry. The very presence of human can tip the ecological balance of virgin forests for worse.

Road Runner Wrote:
Dear David, just drove to Bangkok from Pattaya about an hour before reading this article, its actually double the 70kms you say it is,

myo Wrote:
This is what happen when citizen do not have good education, they start walking on the street like that.

Delmore Wrote:
No, Burma will not follow Thailand.
Thy are very different cultures and the kind of scene depicted would just not go down well over here.
With Thailand just next door, why would it need to?
An increase in prostitution is AN economic inevitability-but it wont become like Thailand-not in the foreseeable future anyway.

Yes Wrote:
Burma is so ultra-corrupt, and many people so ultra-poor, that nobody can stop what is indeed going to happen: the same as in Thailand and Cambodia, or probably even worse. I'm pretty sure the Wa's have already a businessplan ready. One good thing for now: your average sex-tourists doesn't wanna pay much money for hotel rooms, being used to bargain thai and cambodian prices, and everything below 15USD in burma is utterly budget/grim, which will keep them out for a while.

sad_to_see_it Wrote:
Hate to tell you that those Thai and Chinese business men are already procuring prostitutes in Yangon Hotels. They are used to it in their own countries.

You can go to a bar or disco in Yangon and pick the working girls in minutes. The police are paid off and do not enforce the law there.

What is needed is enforcement of rules to stop Myanmar woman going to hotel rooms as guests at night.

This is enforced in lots of hotels in other parts of the country.

30 years ago there were no prostitutes on Koh Samui but how it has changed.

In Myanmar the Myanmar army are the biggest procurers of prostitutes. So if the Police are also paid off what hope have you got? Before too long this is going to grow past anyones control.

JustinBomber Wrote:
Prostitution as the one of the oldest profession in human history and neighboring a country like Thailand indeed Myanmar must try very hard not to fall into this darkness. Poverty and poor education systems had already taken toll in Myanmar creating a quite alarming level of sex workers in it’s capacity.
Every major places in Yangon is occupied by large Restaurants (they named it) openly selling beers and all sorts to customers at any age level (including teenagers) of course with live entertainment ( so called female models and singers dancing along with rubbish background music. Where this all going to end up is needless to mention.
Authorities must manage tourism business a responsible and sustainable one or no doubt what Myanmar will see in the near future is not the real development but jeopardy.

Sai Williams Wrote:
Careless promotion of more tourism and investment will bring more mental, physical and environmental problems, loss of ownership and unity.

Look around. Are the suicides, rapes, family conflicts, and other social problems are due to drug and alcohol as the media and authorities usually report? How much of the misery life have been unreported? Outdated taboos create probability that some problem sources will not be found, understood and solved.

Also aware of increasing unbalance in the flow of love, respect, trust and opportunities among the human – another serious source of world’s conflicts.

What Burma need to do now are helping each other, study your own country, its different peoples, land and environment; improve mental and physical health and strength; self sufficiency, skills and knowledge building. You need to stand on your own, to own what you do and your environment.

Let the tourism come naturally but slowly. Peoples need to be strong & knowledgeable enough to properly exchange with the outside world.

Ohn Wrote:
Burmese business world with connection with the military is controlled by ethnic Chinese people. The morality of Chinese businessmen is that of a crow.

They will have hundreds of apartments for 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, etc in no time.

But that itself will not be the cause of the downfall of pristine, beautiful, gracious Burma which seems pretty inevitable, and soon.

The downfall will be because, the majority Burmese do not believe tn 5 Precepts any more, let alone observe them and they do not care for each others as evident in Kachin situation and are simply subsumed by greed as seen by the desire to be like Singapore at all cost.

bruce Wrote:
I will miss the Burma I experienced in 2006 and 07. For sure it will follow in the path of Cambodia and Thailand.But, CAPITALISM needs new customers to survive!

shwe moe Wrote:
This is my concern, our young men and women will now turn into prostitutes and our cities into brothels like our next door neighbor; our temples and monasteries into pick-up joints; the Jeanie is out and the jury is out.

komyolaymdy Wrote:
We have different history with Thailand. Some different in culture. We don't like sex tourism. Which Asian country like Thailand's tourism way? We, Myanmar people don't need like this money.

Concerned Wrote:
You have to do more than showcasing pagodas. Control booze, drugs and prostitutes if the govt and the people don't want Burma to become like Thailand or other sourth east nations. Don't give into demands of unscrupulous tourists for bars and discos.By the way the claim by the minister that "Myanmar people don't tend to drink too much" is not true. Alcohol is freely available, even to youngsters.

Those who feel Myanmar lacks the night life etc etc should stay away.People who come to Burma should come to see its unspoilt landscaptes and traditions. Once they are ruined and gone, Burma will become just another raped exploited nation, with no awe and mystic aura left to facinate!

kerry Wrote:
It would be an absolute travesty for Burma to have its innate dignity corrupted by greed (and any more social degradation than has been foisted on them) before it gets education, proper safe infrastructures and health care.

Enough is enough. The people have a say.

Maung Ko Derek Wrote:
Harsh penalties for pedophilia.
Thailand depends too much on alcohol fuelled entertainment. Myanmar can develop a cafe society especially in Yangon. Tea shops are quite quaint for now. Reflect on Italian piazza's. Take influence from the best European cities.
Develop Chaungtha along the lines of Monte Carlo. The road from Yangon needs to be a priority. The journey could be 3 hrs.
Decriminalise Cannabis. Coffee shops full of tourists smoking strange smelling cheroots than violent streets full of drunken louts. Link to factory outlets in Bandung. Tourists will willIngly spend a couple of thousand dollars on suitcases full of Gucci.
Ensure Paris Hilton signs the deal to open her Paris Hilton Beach Resort in Ngwe Saung and there is no irony in her opening a second in Ngapoli.
Subaru needs roads into China and Outback, XV are ideal for the roads. 555 State express sponsored Subaru long before Star Trek. I recently watched a Skyline drifting in Bagan. Imagine what Paris Hilton could do in a BRZ.

sparks Wrote:
All very well decrying the western discos and nightlife etc but the western tourists still demand and want western comforts and foods etc
even the backpack crowd enjoy the thai nightlife when they want to kick back and relax.

there is a balance needed of tradition and progress. Burma needs to take the best of whats thailand does for tourists and avoid its many pitfalls like whats been mentioned re Phuket with its taxi mafia etc.
with western tourists will come some sex tourism- it is unavoidable and lets face it - it does go on in rangoon now.
as long as the overtness of pattaya is avoided and a balance is reached it shouldnt impact too much on the cultural side of things that Burma strives for

Mualcin Wrote:
The rule of law is what Democracy is all about. Prostitution in Burma? As long as it is regulated, let be it. Women are selling their bodies everywhere in Burma and the pimps are soldiers and policemen. If women sell their bodies, let them benefit. Prostitution is the oldest form of business. It is not a new thing at all. You cannot stop it. Ne Win made it worse and Than Shwe made it worst. Burma has never been better off than Thailand.

Snoopy Wrote:
Myanmar is a land of spirituality and natural beauty. We should promote eco-tourism to preserve our virgin forests. We don't need sex tourism. We just need a good and clean government that loves the protects its people from unnecessary greed and lust. Irrawaddy, please educate our people through the media.

Pieter Wrote:
Tourist Authority Thailand (TAT) has for years spouted mantras about "Cultural Tourism", "Eco-Tourism", "Hi-Value 5 Star/Spa Tourism"....but the reality is easy visas & cheap charter flights for a million single Islamic male sex tourists a year from the Gulf States and Iran, cheap lo-end package tours for a million mainland Chinese per year, almost a million package low-budget tourists from India a year and hundreds of thousands of girls, ladyboys and rentboys providing "service" to the incoming lo-end hordes (that is, when they are not busy providing "service" to their regular customers from Thailand).

Moe Aung Wrote:
Heaven forbid. We have enough massage parlors and karaoke bars already in Yangon. Why would we want to create a decadent 'nightlife' just to attract tourists? We are better off attracting the right sort and not the riffraff or paedophiles like Gary Glitter. 'Warmly welcome'(in quaint Burmese English) to those Thais and Chinese who stick to the 'Three Gems' and actual gems.

Andrea Valentin's timely warning must be heeded notwithstanding Maung Maung Swe's very sanguine attitude coming from, let's face it, a vested interest group which granted is more welcome to most Burmese.

Burma is in danger of getting the worst of both worlds if we are not careful and vigilant over how private enterprise tends to develop. No society is completely immune to such cultural and more importantly financial corruption. This issue is bound to pit traditionalists against modernizers and will prove to be a difficult balancing act. BEWARE.

MawShe Wrote:
Myanmar should not be Thailand. We should not copy those red districts in Thailand. Any kind of sex industry should be strictly regulated and taken actions. We should not let our children become sex slaves. People should be taught to make a living by morally rightful and dignified ways of lives.

Ya Da Yu Mae Wrote:
Majority of people in Burma are struggling to get themselves out of poverty. Many will need model labor skills with booming investments in the future. Most of young girls who are born in poverty circle has very little labor skills to work on those new labor markets in the future. For sure many will become apart of entertainment partners for tourism. Materials are a big temptation for many young girls....! Don't know if Burmese Buddhism will be able to influence those young girls’ morality once I-phone, I-pad etc...are on the Burmese market in the near future...! “ Morality and real life survival are in conflict of interest at this stage”

Andrew Hunter Wrote:
It would have been worth asking where Andrea Valentin gets her ludicrous figures from. Cambodia has less than 30,000 sex workers in the whole country so, no there are 30000 children involved in sex tourism. Complete and utter rubbish.....

Marcus Collins Wrote:
One should be very careful if NGO's speak out. NGO's have created a enormous business around the sex-workers. They are probably more harmful than the traffickers itself. Let's not forget that 70% of childporn is produced within the USA and around 10% in Europe. I assume that the climate in Burma and Thailand is better than back home. It is more attractive to live here than back home.

Andrea Valentin Wrote:
I really hope U Maung Maung Swe will prove me wrong. I really really hope so.

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