Travelling to a country with conflict….

As I planned my trip to Myanmar, people were skeptical and worried mainly due to the big old fact that all we ever really hear about the country are headlines concerning the human rights violations and crisis that many are currently facing. But, as travel becomes ever more accessible and easy for us all, I want to share my thoughts on whether it’s ethical and good to travel to countries with conflict. I also want to add that these are just my thoughts and you might still have your own reservations after reading which is fine, as long as you’re not quick to reject the idea of visiting and boycotting a whole country and its population by not doing so.

There are SO many countries that we all travel to with conflicts and situations that we don’t all agree with. Whether it’s animal cruelty in Zimbabwe, detaining immigrants in America or gender discrimination in India, it doesn’t stop us visiting the entire country and it doesn’t mean that you’re directly support these issues either. I believe we can cause more good than harm by being aware and present, so where do we start?

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What’s the situation?

Before visiting any country, I do feel that it’s really important to understand and know about any situations that may cause concerns regarding ethics, safety and culture. Myanmar (what used to be known as Burma) is home to the world’s longest ongoing civil war with conflict plaguing the country since 1948. It’s currently under accusation of ethnic cleansing with many fleeing genocide, persecution and widespread rape. It’s a really serious conflict that many of us don’t know really know much about.

The Rohingya have been made stateless (though they’ve been living in Myanmar for centuries) meaning they’re without ID’s, unable to work, and are basically unrecognized people with no homes. They’ve been called the world’s most persecuted minority group with many seeking refuge in camps hosted by Bangladesh and India.

The news in Myanmar is also restricted, biased, fake and over-dramatized so many others around the country are not even fully aware of the atrocities happening, making it even worse.

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Is it safe?

Myanmar is one of the safest countries in Asia for tourists. Travelling to the areas of conflict are off limits and inaccessible, even for volunteer work and border crossings.

 

The people are not the government

Myanmar is one of the least wealthy populations in Asia with those living in the main city earning around $60 a month. Tourism keeps money in people’s pockets and not visiting will have a direct impact on them. I actually spoke to one man in particular who expressed his heartache for the fall in tourists due to the ideas of not visiting Bagan, a place where 85% of people rely on tourism. Ask yourself; are you helping anyone by not travelling? The military are mainly financed by exporting gas, stones and agricultural products so tourism money isn’t connected at all. The community needs more than people who are deciding not to visit. It’s not as simple as just turning a blind eye and doing nothing. Money and conversation helps the individual and brings awareness and access to things they might not know about otherwise.

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This type of travel isn’t for everyone

There are so many different types of travelers which is amazing, but for countries like Myanmar, I do feel like you have to be a more aware, more understanding and more responsible type of traveler regardless of the conflict.

Myanmar is not a country to party or to just flitter through. The religion, culture and traditions are all pretty untouched and unaffected by western influence and tourism which is what makes it so incredible and sets it apart from countries like Thailand and Vietnam. And the country itself is still a developing one. I think it’s important to know how to be around sensitive situations, to create genuine connections with people and to appreciate and take in their choices and culture without judgement and with honest intentions and respect.

You can visit places like Sanon in Bagan, a non-profit restaurant that trains underprivileged kids to work in the hospitality industry. Good food and a good cause! Could you do that from home?

Like I’ve said before, create little connections. That’s how we all benefit from tourism.

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Am I doing more harm than good or vice versa?

As I watched the sunset one night, I couldn’t help but think about the people who were not safe in that moment, not that far away from me. The crisis was always on my mind, but you have to remember that you can make a difference by being there. Ask yourself where is my money going? Where can I make a small impact? Small amounts of money and supporting locals can go a long way for so many here. Use the local taxi men, eat at small eateries and buy souvenirs and gifts from the stalls.

I’ve also worked at a school for Chin refugees, another minority group that fled Myanmar to Malaysia. You can volunteer your time, help to teach classes and hear the heartbreaking but inspiring stories told by the man who helps to run it, Tawk Lian Sang. You can contact me privately if you’d like to get involved with this project.

Educate yourself, educate others and be open to learning more

Be a conscious traveler with respect and understanding

Spend money locally

Support NGO’s

It’s a different kind of travel and a trip that left a mark on me in so many ways. I can’t express how beautifully natural and untouched the country was. I felt so safe and cared for and this was due to the people being the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever come across. All in all, I really would encourage you to visit Myanmar if you truly want to (read my blog on travelling the country here). Let’s ensure we’re being better, more sustainable and more responsible travelers.

Just do as much good as you can, always, everywhere.

  Vanisha

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https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/rohingya-refugee-relief-fund/

https://www.unhcr.org/rohingya-emergency.html

www.iyfubh.com/Myanmar_Travel_Essentials.cfm?http://www.dosanddontsfortourists.com/digital.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/09/rohingya-refugee-crisis-myanmar-burma-spd/

https://www.actionaid.org.uk/donate/emergency/rohingya-refugee-crisis

https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/rohingya-refugees/

https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/world-emergencies/rohingya-refugee-appeal

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/rohingya-refugee-crisis

https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/myanmar/

My Top 10 Favourite Countries Ever

“To land in foreign worlds, where everything is new and exciting and scary, where you communicate through smiles and hand gestures, where you taste amazing foods and discover new smells, where you make the most life-changing experiences and learn the biggest life lessons.”

As many of you know, I LOVE to travel. And by travelling, I mean backpacking, exploring, fully immersing yourself into new cultures, countries and experiences. Reminiscing through these adventures for this blog has made me feel super lucky and grateful for my life of travel. I’ve worked hard and am super proud of my travel accomplishments and experiences. This world is incredible. And people always ask, “what’s your favourite place?!” which is the most impossible question to answer ever! So, in no particular order, I have managed to roughly give you guys my top 10 favourite places (so far) in the world!

1. Philippines

The Philippines was a dream. The islands were some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen and there are hundreds of them! The people were super friendly and there was so much to see and do. I’d definitely consider going back soon as it’s probably in my top 5 and I feel like there’s much more to explore! One thing in particular that I loved was the lack of tourism and tourists, and because of this the Philippines had so much beauty and authenticity still. It was also pretty cheap!

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2. Mexico

Mexico holds some of my most personal and best memories. It’s full of beauty, colour and great food. People seem hesitant to visit certain areas but I would encourage everyone to visit the country. Every place has it’s dodgy areas but as long as you’re reasonably cautious and vigilant, you’ll probably be fine! Cancun was great if you like resorts and package holidays but because of this and the over-westernisation, it was my least favourite. Tulum was a gem but slightly overpriced, Playa Del Carmen was full of fun, Mexico City was incredible and I loved the city but of course, my favourite was Tapachula; the home to some of my favourite people and Misión México. If you’d like to volunteer, donate or have any enquiries about the refuge then please don’t hesitate to message me 🙂

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3. Italy

Italy will always remain one of my favourite European countries and I’ve loved every city and town that I’ve visited. The food and wine is obviously a winner in itself, but it’s the romantic vibes that make the country a winner. Some of my silliest memories with my fave gal are here, like the time we stayed in an old monk’s monastery, the time we nearly died because we accidentally hiked onto a ski slope, when we bought items rhyming with Pisa for our photo-shoot at the famous tower… I won’t go on.

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4. India

Obviously on my list because of my heritage but also because it’s an incredible and insane country. It has absolute manic and diverse city scopes along with some of the most extreme poverty that I’ve ever seen, alongside absolute beauty, beaches and tropical landscapes. The culture and religion here is deep and adds to all of the beauty. Plus the food is obvs amazing too, which seems to be a running theme here in my top ten!

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4. Malaysia

Malaysia had it all! Beautiful islands, clear waters, culture, great foods, jungles and big cities. It had an incredible vibe and mix of cultures which was just beautiful. I’d definitely recommend visiting Penang, trekking in the Taman Negara jungle, volunteering a couple of your days with these munchkins and visiting some of the islands too.

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6. Peru

Peru was a country like no other. One of the worst bus journeys I’d ever experienced but some of the most incredible adventures. Trekking Machu Picchu, the salt mines, alpacas, the colourful culture and the mega cities, me and B both fell in love with the place. And Cusco was just magical! Literally, it felt like there was just magic in the air at times. We also felt pretty safe here which I know is an important factor if you’re travelling as a girl or alone. You can read more about this trip here.

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7. Brazil

Full of colour, happiness and beauty, Brazil was fun from the get go. Me and B visited a good mixture of places and loved them all. The cities, the islands, it all just got better and better. And there are black beans on every corner! My fave. We went to Rio, Sao Paolo and the heavenly island of Ilha Grande. Safety here is obviously a slight issue, be sure to stay in the touristy areas and don’t just wander accidentally into a favela. Common sense really people…!

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8. Indonesia

Indonesia was a right little adventure. Me and the girls did the usual Bali, Gili T islands, got our diving certificates and did yoga in Ubud, but we also visited some of the non-tourist islands like Sulawesi. Me and Ana did a work exchange there for two weeks, where we stayed with a Muslim family in their traditional home and were really immersed into their ways of life. I learnt so much on this trip. There’s also a place nearby called Tana Toraja which still remains to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It felt like I was an extra in a movie, it was so surreal. You can read more about that trip here!

 

9. Vietnam and Cambodia

Okay, I know technically these are two countries but I feel very similar for both so I’ve grouped them. I also visited both very briefly and at the same time, we managed to get a cheap coach across the border and back! Both countries are beautiful with fascinating and very recent dark histories. The countries are both re-building themselves but you can feel the pain of the past like no other countries that I’ve been to. They both really moved me. And they’re both really beautiful! Cambodia has Angkor Wat and Vietnam is full of beaches, beautiful mountain scenes and pretty little towns. The culture and religion is deep and that’s one of my favourite things to see and feel.

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10. China

China holds a big place in my heart because it was my first solo adventure, and my first working/living experience abroad. As a travel destination, it compares to no other. It’s full of variety, full of unusual sights and a one-of-a-kind culture (which will always surprise you and also make you think wtf on a daily basis!).  There’s so much to see and do, with the North being completely different to the South, plus everything in between. The country is so huge, you could spend a while visiting even the main sights, and that’s on their sleeper/fast trains! Also, you know what else bangs? The food. And of course, I’m back here again, because it’s a great country to live and work too.

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Pretty tricky to come up with just 10 because there’s been so many places that I’ve loved and every place leaves you with a different feeling for different reasons. Travel is one of the only things that I’ve ever been truly sure about and there’s not one moment that I regret. It brings you highs, lows, the biggest life lessons, the best experiences and all sorts of people. Think you aren’t lucky enough to travel? Think again (read more here… ). I encourage anyone to jump on that plane, do not be afraid to leave your hotel room and truly travel and immerse yourself as much as you can! It’ll always be worth it. The world is incredible.

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Special thanks to every single person who has made every single moment in my journeys so special. You da best for crossing ma path.

 

Thanks for reading guys! Give me a shout if you have any questions! Go book that ticket, live ya life to the bestest.

V

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And follow me and my adventures here on instagram! https://www.instagram.com/vanishamay/