24 Nov 2012
As Myanmar kicks open its long-shuttered gates and welcomes in the world, it will almost certainly struggle to cope with hordes of tourists.
Most will conduct themselves pleasantly. Some will behave like insufferable pricks.
So far, the country has been spared from the worst breeds of travelers. If you want to get hammered by the beach, or prowl for prostitutes, there are much more welcoming locations in Thailand, Cambodia or the Philippines.
But, for now, Myanmar isn't a choice destination for a boozy, carefree holiday. Getting a visa requires a few bureaucratic hoops and, once you arrive, the power might short out and your taxi might break down.
In the midst of this tourist rush -- no doubt accelerated by Barack Obama's recent visit -- the government has released a "Dos and Don'ts" cartoon guide for visitors.
This is not something I expected to say about government-sanctioned instructions from Myanmar, long a propaganda and police state.
But the guide is really quite impressive.
Traditionally, the government has been loathe to endorse even remotely negative imagery from Myanmar. But this guide, assembled with the help of Germany's Hanns Seidel Foundation, touches on the country's dark side. I was surprised to see cartoonist rendering prostitutes and underground vendors of bloody elephant trunks. (Soliciting either is -- you guessed it -- a "don't.")
I was also pleased to see contributions from the clever, brash cartoonist Harn Lay, who is better known for depicting military oppression
Most of the instructions on local faux pas -- like pointing to objects with your foot -- are useful for anyone venturing to mainland Southeast Asia's Buddhist countries: Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. You might assume college-educated Westerners would know better than to visit revered temples while dressed like hobos and hookers. Or commit heinous acts of PDA in the street. But you'd be very wrong.
Now, if I may, a few bonus don'ts for tourists in Myanmar:
DON'T show up without crisp U.S. bills and no hotel reservations. Unless, of course, you want the monastic experience of sleeping in a temple and begging for food.
DON'T risk eating fish curry on the street at 1 a.m. in a state of mild intoxication. Just trust me on this one.