The hotels are full or eye-wateringly expensive, creased dollar bills are worthless and credit cards are widely refused — welcome to Myanmar, Asia’s next big tourist destination.
The Southeast Asian nation, once shielded from international eyes by a brutal military junta and a travel boycott supported by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, has become a must-see for many travellers.
“Because the country has been so isolated, the deeply Buddhist ‘Land of the Golden Pagoda’ resonates with a strong sense of place, undiluted by mass tourism and warmed by genuine hospitality,” the New York Times said in January, ranking the country third on its list of the top 45 destinations of 2012.
But the influx of tourists is posing a challenge to the burgeoning travel industry in a country where a string of political reforms has not been matched by infrastructure development.
The few hotels in Yangon offering international standards of business accommodation have begun to charge up to several hundred dollars a night for rooms that were half the price, if not less, a year ago.
Even hoteliers admit that the situation is unsustainable.
“To be really honest at this point I don’t think that Myanmar is ready yet to cope with the high demand of mass tourism,” said Thomas Moons, front office manager at the colonial-style Governor’s Residence hotel in Yangon.
“At the moment in terms of availability and accommodation that we’re able to offer, it’s just not enough to cope with demand,” he told AFP.
“People might think that if they come to Myanmar they will have a cheap holiday when it’s completely the opposite.” While few doubt Myanmar’s attraction to tourists, some people returning to the country say they enjoyed it more before the hordes arrived.
Klaus, a 61-year-old German travelling with his wife in the remote western town of Sittwe, said they were “disappointed” by their third trip to Myanmar.