Since Myanmar began to encourage tourism a few years ago, it’s become the “place to go” with many travel journalists advising to “go now” while it’s relatively unspoiled by hordes of tourists in the way that Thailand has been.
It’s certainly become a popular destination in the past few years, but not this year. Several of our local guides have mentioned this. Our food tour in Mandalay was run every day in Oct 2016 but only a few times this month.
It must have a lot to do with the tension and apparent genocidal persecution of the Rohingya muslims in Rakhine state. Many potential tourists see <country name> + “violence” in a news story and keep away, without investigating whether tourist areas are actually affected.
We experienced something similar in Kenya in 2014. It was less than a year after the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall that killed 70+ people and bomb & grenade attacks were happening near the Somali border around that time.
The Masai Mara and other reserves were unaffected but they were very quiet. In one camp we were the only guests. We felt like Brad & Angelina – without the wealth, fame, looks or ridiculous number of children.
Visiting Myanmar in a slow tourism year has its pluses and minuses. On the positive side, none of the hotels have been near capacity (although they are no cheaper). Restaurants always have free tables. Tours can be booked with a day’s notice and at popular tourist attractions there are few other people, if any.
On the negative side, hawkers at tourist sites often outnumber visitors. Sometimes it’s only us that they can try to encourage to purchase their lacquerware, sand paintings, buddha statues, t-shirts, opium pipes etc. A polite “no thankyou” will suffice but saying it 100+ times a day gets a bit wearing.
Any taxi driver we utilise is always keen to be of service for our entire stay in the city. This can be really useful but I always feel bad when we have other plans, knowing that they are struggling to make a living.
Overall I think it’s good to visit in a slow period, after all our tourist dollars are very much needed at these times. Just be prepared to say “no thankyou!” a LOT.