Tourism key to Kachin growth, but transport infrastructure is lacking

At the very first investment seminar held in Kachin State last week, the government and local ethnic businesses agreed to focus on developing tourism and other sectors of the Kachin economy to reduce its reliance on mining.

Kachin’s economy contributes just 1.9 percent to Myanmar’s GDP, most of which comes from the mining sector.

“Kachin State has many tourist attractions such as the Hkakabo Razi, which are the only snow-capped mountains to be found in Southeast Asia. Building up the tourism sector will provide job opportunities and increase the incomes of the local Kachin people,” said Vice President Henry Van Thio.

“Kachin will surely become a peaceful state and the main driving force of its economy then will be tourism,” said U Aung Naing Oo, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.

To get a clearer picture of the Kachin tourism sector and its potential, The Myanmar Times caught up with U Seng Hkun, founder of Myitkyina-based Green Xingra Eco-Tour & Travel, which organises activities for tourists to Kachin. U Seng Hkun also heads the Kachin Tourism Promotion and is a member of the Kachin Ethnic Entrepreneurs Association. Here is an excerpt of our interview:

What needs to be done for Kachin tourism to take off?

We need to get the young people vested in the sector for the long haul. Now they are mostly interested in short term gains from the mining sector. Few are keen on sustainable tourism and the need to preserve and protect our mountains, rivers and landscapes. Few are knowledgeable about Kachin’s attractions or have skills like manufacturing souvenirs or holding cooking classes that will add value to tourism.

Government policies are vital for the development of tourism sector. Right now in Kachin, there are many must-go places in Kachin which are open to tourists but restricted to businesses. In Puta-O, Kachin residents and Myanmar nationals can travel freely but foreigners are restricted.

Since last April, foreigners were allowed to visit Machanbaw and Kaung Mu Lon Pagoda. But we want more places to be opened. We need to allow foreigners to travel to the snowy mountains. Foreigners would love to stay in the homes of Kachin residents. But currently, home stays are not yet allowed. So, we hope these conditions will change.

What are the attractions of the Puta-O region?

The snow capped mountains are just 50 miles away from Puta-O town. The nearest one is Mt Phonekanrazi with its height of 12,000 feet, which is located on the western side of Puta-O. Everyone knows this mountain. Anyone healthy enough can climb it easily after a little training. It takes eight days to complete the trek.

We can also arrange for people to go skiing there as well. The only problem is transportation. Currently, a road is being constructed for direct access to Phonekanrazi. When the road is completed, Puta-O’s tourism will develop by leaps and bounds. Right now, we will reach Puta-O in the evening if we leave from Myitkyina in the morning.

The other popular mountain is Mt Phonyin Razi, which is 14,000 feet. However, it takes only one day more than Mt Phonekanrazi but only experienced mountaineers who are familiar with technological devices are able to climb this. Also, the group should not be larger than ten.

There are tougher mountains such as Phankaranrazi, Ma Twel and Zera. It takes more than 14 days for a return trek. Mt Hkakabo Razi is the highest mountain in Kachin that has been scaled so far, requiring 30 days to complete the trek. There are higher mountains than this but no one has managed to scale those so far.

What are the other tourism attractions?

There is Indawgyi Lake, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its age is not much different from the world’s oldest lakes in Mongolia. It takes four hours from Myitkyina to Indawgyi by car. The distance is around 80 miles. The road is in good condition. Indawgyi is also famous for the Shwe Myintzu Pagoda. There are two places there for lodging: Indawmahar Inn and Indaw Motel although the conditions could be improved. Some local houses provide night stays as well.

Sadung waterfall is about 40miles from Myitkyina. The weather is similar to Pyin Oo Lwin and Kalaw. Sadung is also an old colonial city.

Zalone Mountain is becoming more famous recently. Also Katha, the house of an officer during the British era is still there.

If you are thinking about an adventure trip, you can kayak along May Kha River. Some trips offer bike and motorcycle tours and camping.

Although Kachin State is a very attractive place for tourism, it still faces transportation difficulties. How can this issue be solved?

I think it’s the biggest challenge for this sector. It takes two hours from Yangon to Myitkyina by plane, but if the flight stops in Mandalay, it takes about three hours. We should find ways to reduce the cost of flights. Many people don’t come just because they can’t afford the cost. By train, it takes two days from Yangon to Mandalay, and then Mandalay to Myitkyina. Despite lower costs by train, travelers will have to be spend a week in total just on the train. We need to upgrade the railways. There is direct access by car, but it takes around 18 hours. More people will come when transportation is good.

What are the other costs involved?

A two-night, three-day trip from Myitkyina to Puta-O by car costs about K350,000 and about K500,000 by plane. For mountain trekking at Phonekanrazi, the cost of a 10-day round trip from Myitkyina by car is about K800,000 and about K950,000 by plane.

Car rentals from Myitkyina to Indawgyi Lake cost K220,000. For a day trip for four, it will cost K150,000 each and for a night’s stay, it will increase to K180,000. From here to Myitsone, small vehicle charge is K70,000-K80,000 while bigger vehicles like vans are about K120,000.

What can be done to lower the costs?

For the tourism sector to develop, the authorities need to invest in transport infrastructure.We need public transport vehicles from Myitkyina to Indawgyi, Myitsone and Sadung. Visitors to Myitkyina have to hire separate cars. Or they have to use the cars arranged by hotels and travel agencies. So, traveling expenses from Myitkyina to other Kachin locations is higher than Yangon to Mandalay, for example. If regular vehicles can be arranged from Myitkyina to the attraction sites, it would be much better.

What other benefits are there for Kachin if tourism develops?

Aside from new business opportunities related to tourism, the development of tourism can positively impact the peace process. People lose contact with each other when they don’t visit other parts of the country. So, they don’t have enough knowledge about other places and fail to understand one another, which can lead to misunderstandings. – Translated

Source : Myanmar Times

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