Managing Breakneck Development

Women farming near Kalaw, Burma.


I didn’t end up flying at all while in Burma. My qualms about the first bus from Yangon to Bagan were mostly unfounded. The bus did take over 10 hours to go about 400 miles, and pinched my knees, but as my Burma travels progressed I realized that was one of the easier voyages. One trip, from Nyaungshwe to Hsipaw took 14 hour to go 140 miles. The bus attendants walked the aisles distributing motion sickness pills and barf bags before departure. People made good use of the bags during the mountainous drive. While somewhat difficult to travel, Burma is changing quickly. There are rumors that Burma might overtake Thailand in the next 10 years. With democracy rising, shoddy infrastructure is among the largest obstacles to progress.


The Gokteik Viaduct, a 112 year old relic of British colonialism, takes 7 minutes to cross due to the snail’s pace dictated by fears of its creaking planks.

Based upon my experience in Burma, I believe the allegations that change is coming rapidly. A lot of the information I had before entering the country proved false due to rapid change. Every source I checked, prior to entry, stated you can only enter and exit Burma by flying through Yangon. There is even a sign in the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok that says Yangon is the only entry point. This is false. Mandalay is now an option for flights in and out of the country. SIM cards cost over $2,000 US two years ago, $1,000 US three months ago, and 1,500 kyat (less than $2 US) during my visit. Burma even has ATMs that accept foreign credit cards now. Granted, the ATMs only exist in about three of the most touristy areas, but this should change soon too.


A boy plowing a peanut field near Kalaw, Burma.

With such rapid change there will be associated environmental and social impacts. Inle Lake is covered in signs warning against environmentally destructive behaviors, but signage is cheap. Thirst for foreign investment is sidelining environmental concerns, and sometimes local populations as well. One woman I met talked about how Chinese investors bought a huge tract of land on a hill above Inle Lake. Local people were not properly paid for the land, or given any choice about the move. Some people are still protesting the development. Currently, the land is cleared of trees, and the rainy season approaches. “What will happen when it rains on all that land without trees above the lake?” My Burmese friend asked this rhetorically, even untrained people can recognize potential for runoff, mudslides, and water contamination.


Somewhat questionable environmental advice at Inle Lake, Burma.

I’ve returned to cushy, developed, Thailand. I had a night of luxury in the tourist mecca, Phuket. Now I’m back up in the jungle of Kuraburi and starting work with Andaman Discoveries. For the next two weeks I will mainly be in the office familiarizing myself with AD’s work. Then, I will be exploring methods to manage the pace of mass tourism creeping North from Phuket.

A farmer heading to the market in the Shan State, Burma.