Every adventure comes with a certain degree of risk which is impossible to measure or predict. On a climbing trip, measures can be taken to significantly lower the risk of injury. Apart from the elements, human error can also result in nasty slips and falls. Other mistakes (largely preventable) include walking into the crater of an active volcano like Whakaari – which can be tempting as it can’t even be considered a mountain.
If you venture into an area of possible military conflict, you can only hope that you don’t end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The MFA has warned that there is fighting in Rakhine State. Mrauk U is unsafe. Experience tells me that how to interpret that. It means that the place is generally safe, but …. Again, just don’t be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The chances of getting yourself killed is probably as high as that of striking lottery. The air ticket to Sittwe that booked with Myanmar National Airlines would be my lottery ticket and as expected, I didn’t strike.
Some 6 years ago, I published Spellbound in Chiangmai, a collection of short stories depicting the misadventures of simple and sheltered Singaporeans stumbling and fumbling in complex and enigmatic Thai society.
One of the stories in the book tell the tale of a wandering Singaporean who fell in love with a Burmese girl at the Thai border town of Mae Sai. She was one of the many “undocumented” workers at a Chinese restaurant. When war erupted across the border, the Thai authorities pushed all these “undocumented” migrant workers back into Myanmar. The gate at the border was then shut.
The Singaporean in the story was braver than most of his kind, but he was still totally at a loss. There was no police he could turn to. The government had better things to do than to help him with his personal problem and the problem was completely out of his league.
This was a war zone daring him to enter. He was as frightened as he was anxious over the well-being of the person he loved. No amount of military training prepared him for anything like this. Having lived in a safe, sheltered, orderly, predictable and sanitary environment all his life, he was not prepared to play the real hero in the romantic war movies he had seen.
At this point, a rival who had been keeping his thoughts to himself confessed to his feelings for the same girl. He was a descendant of Chinese refugees who had fled to Myanmar and then to Thailand. Unlike the Singaporean, he was prepared to risk arrest, cross illegally into Myanmar and rescue the girl, marry her and give her Thai citizenship so she could remain in Thailand. Could he do the same and bring her back to Singapore? He gave up. His inconvenient love story would have to be left for someone else to take over. Deep down, he could only thrive on a safe, obstacle-free path.
Back to reality, how safe or dangerous is Myanmar off the beaten track? It’s an impossible question to answer as there are too many factors at play. Like the Singaporean in the story, nobody can guarantee your safety or injury. But does the question really need to be answered? An isolated incident or a snapshot of a certain event is no indication of what happens or does not happen to you when you are there. Of course, you observe curfew times and scan the faces of the locals for signs of unease. If they smile and go about their daily routine in a relaxed manner, you can be quite sure that it’s OK for that moment. When things change, you move.
On this trip to Mrauk U, I heard explosions when I was at Ko Thaung Paya at Mrauk U. According to my driver, the fighting was taking place some 15 miles away. He warned me to stay away from police stations as they are the favourite targets of the rebels. The first explosion was pretty scary, but subsequently, they came at 10 minute intervals and became easy to ignore – like everyone who is living there. The town area was so peaceful that apart from the presence of foreign medical aid workers and refugee camps, there was practically nothing unusual going on.
Overall, my 12 days in Myanmar had been very rewarding. I will add links to my Myanmar 2019 trip reports to this page in the following days and weeks. Stay tuned.