Hotel and restaurant prices rise as tourism booms in Myanmar
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The last two years have seen a series of democratic reforms in Myanmar, with the country now apparently emerging from five decades of isolation and military rule. The reforms have impacted nearly every sphere of life in Myanmar. In the fourth of a special five-part series, we look at how the Myanmar's tourism industry has been affected by the changes.
Temple bells ring at the Shwezigon Pagoda, one of the key sites at Myanmar's premier tourist destination, the ancient city of Bagan.
Tourism is booming here, and local restaurant owner Win Win remarks on his busiest year since he opened his business in 1996.
"Now it is very busy, and the people are happy," he says.
In the last 2 years, Win Win has increased his staff fourfold and doubled wages for everyone.
He accredits the current boom to Myanmar's changing political situation.
Most importantly, to the fact that democracy activist-turned-politician Aung San Suu Kyi, often referred to here as simply 'the Lady', has been free since 2010.
"Because she is free. The Lady says 'Ok, please come to Myanmar. Myanmar is nice.' Because of that, the tourists are coming, Myanmar is getting more good business."
According to government figures, Myanmar welcomed over a million tourists this year, the highest number on record.
But the country's infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
Myanmar's banks have only recently joined the international networks, and cash machines – if and when they work - are few and far between.
Tourists regularly complain that the country's hotels are difficult to book, full or overpriced.
"It's actually much more expensive than where we've been staying. We definitely shorten our stay here and take the overnight buses. We can't stay here as long because it's too expensive," says one visitor.
"Yesterday I was trying to find a guesthouse and I was like Yes or No? Yes or No? So that problem of booking the room is difficult", explains another tourist.
Another person was surprised at the cost of living: "We came in with a lot of US dollars - but it turned out to be not as much we needed because Myanmar's more expensive than we expected. ATM's have been a bit unreliable – but it's been ok, we've managed so far."
Officially Myanmar has 27 thousand hotel rooms across the country, but many more are needed to meet the demand.
Here in Bagan tourists have sometimes found themselves sleeping in monasteries or on restaurant floors because of the shortage of hotel beds.
"Demand and supply is not balanced. I think we should have to learn more to develop sustainable tourism and responsible tourism," says Aung Zaw OO who is a local tour guide who has been working Bagan for over ten years.
Aung Zaw Oo adds that many locals are missing out, as land prices are also skyrocketing in Bagan.
"They think Bagan will be developed, and they come here with investment to build hotels, restaurants. But the land is very expensive, too expensive for locals."
Elections are scheduled for Myanmar in 2015, and even more tourists are expected to flock here if democracy takes hold.
It remains to be seen if Myanmar's tourist infrastructure will be ready.
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