Tourist Robberies Rise in Bagan

By Nan Hseng Hswam 22 February 2013

RANGOON—Robberies of foreign tourists are increasing at Bagan, an ancient temple complex that is one of Burma’s most popular tourist attractions, but local police in Mandalay Division are failing to improve safety, tourist businesses complain.

“Cases of robbery and deceit against tourists from foreign countries have increased these days so they need to be protected and we shouldn’t be negligent,” said Tin Htun Aung, the Secretary of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association. “There can be more of these kinds of incidents if we don’t take any action.”

Tin Htun Aung said local police should do more to help foreign tourists when they are approached for questions or complaints. He added that police were supposedly ready to assist tourists as they had put up signs in hotels and guesthouses near Bagan with the motto “Let Us Help You!”

Some local tourist guides in Bagan said two Burmese men in their early twenties robbed two British women on Feb. 16, stealing their money and phones, while a Chinese woman was mugged on Feb.14. They complained that local police had so far failed to apprehend any suspects in the cases.

“Robbery cases in Bagan have increased because more foreigners visit there. But perpetrators have never been caught,” said a Japanese tourist guide, who preferred not be named. “Such incidents took place not only in Bagan but also in other [tourist] areas,” he added.

Some said the poorly lit tourist areas near Bagan created an unsafe environment for foreign visitors, adding that authorities should improve safety by deploying police officers at night.

“In most cases, perpetrators hid in dark places and robbed tourists,” said Myo Min Zaw, an English-language tourist guide. “There are a number of reasons that contribute to different cases, such as when tourists go on their own without guides, or language barriers between police and tourists.”

The Irrawaddy contacted the local police station for comment but officers answering the telephone refused to take questions on the reported robbery cases.

In 2011, a Japanese tourist was raped and killed close to Bagan after hiring a motorcycle taxi to go sightseeing. Police arrested a taxi driver on suspicion of her murder.

Burma’s tourism industry is experiencing a rapid growth in visitor number due to ongoing reforms and a lifting of travel restrictions. Statistics from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism show that over 410,000 foreigners entered the country in 2011 and last month the ministry claimed the total arrivals had risen to one million in 2012. Tourist visits are expected to increase with 15 percent this year.

There are concerns about whether or not Burma can handle the surge in visits as it reportedly only has 800 hotels with 28,000 rooms. As a result of the tourism boom, hotel rates and price of domestic flights have sharply increased in 2012