Ideas for greener tourism in Myanmar [Relevant to other countries too] (Apr18)

There are over 3,000 temples in Bagan…​

Aureum Palace Hotel in Bagan claimed that 99% of clients 
want their sheets changed daily

“99% of people like to have their bed linen changed at hotels at least once a day”. Really? I wondered how this assertion could be validated.  But, I haven’t been able to respond because it was written by the manager at the Aureum Palace Hotel, Bagan, in Myanmar, on Trip Advisor.  My review of the hotel bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t seen the little notice that I needed to put on my bed, to say that I didn’t need the sheets changed during our 2 night stay.

Clearly, it was good I had the option, but totally ridiculous to say that 99% guests would choose to have their linen changed daily.  I don’t believe that for a moment, but Trip Advisor doesn’t allow one to enter any sort of debate, so they’ve had the last word…
Most hotels nowadays have a notice about hanging up your towels, if you don’t want them changed – to reduce energy and water impacts of excessive laundry.  In Myanmar, I’ve had to hunt for these notices – they’re often not so easy to spot, which means that far more towels will be washed than necessary.

One of the hotels we stayed at – the Rupar Mandalay in Mandalay, there were no notices about either towels or bed linen. Even worse is that all the sun beds around the pool have not one but two towels for guests to use and discard after a single use. I’ve held onto mine (only one, of course!).

Arriving at the Princess Inle Hotel, where they actively promote their eco policies


Our holiday around Myanmar has been a bit of an eye opener, in relation to the eco policies of hotels in the country.  On the plus side, most of them are aware that there is an issue and some are actively keen to promote their sustainability policies – and even seem willing to do more.  But there’s some way to go.
Plastic straws are a hot topic at the moment.  I’m finding this a more difficult issue to tackle than paper napkins.  With disposable napkins, you can often refuse them before they’ve been used and so generally avoid them. With straws, unless you remember to tell the waiter when you’re ordering your drink, it’s too late.  And, it’s incredible how prevalent they are. When did this happen?  When I was travelling in my 20s, the only straws I remember using were in fresh coconuts, where they do have a practical function.
Savoy Hotel in Yangon gave us re-usable metal straws

Our first night in Myanmar was in the Savoy Hotel, Yangon.  I was both surprised and impressed with their metal straw policy – they simply washed the straws like other cutlery.  Most of the other hotels have plastic straws in abundance and we’ve managed to refuse them with varying levels of success.  Best is when we’ve told the management at the beginning of our stay that we don’t want any, and they have been effective at passing the message onto staff.  This hasn’t always worked though.

Of course, it’s not just straws, it’s plastic stirrers, disposable chop sticks, little plastic packs of butter and of course disposable paper napkins, which have been on my hate list for a while.
My eldest son Connor pointed out that I was getting dehydrated because I was trying so hard to avoid opening another plastic water bottle.  It’s very hard going waste-free in countries where most of the water is not potable.  Some hotels have got their own bottling system and put refillable glass bottles in our bathrooms – but this system doesn’t appear to be used in their restaurants. I’m not sure why.  Also, at Tharabar Gate in Bagan, they put a disposable plastic seal on each bottle to show they hadn’t been opened.  But at the Princess Inle, they’d been more thoughtful and simply put a small paper tab, which served the same purpose.
A couple of hotel managers suggested that they were looking into ‘biodegradable plastic’ options.  No, no, no..  This is not a good solution.  For a start, it won’t actually biodegrade for a very long time, if at all. Meanwhile, it’s still a litter problem.
There is some recycling done by a few hotels. At the Sandoway in Ngapali they said they had a system in place for glass and metal but not plastic.  But, most of the country don’t seem to have any waste collection facilities at all, let alone recycling facilities.
Here are my pointers for more sustainable hotels in Myanmar:
  1. Towels: Explain to tourists that towels will only be changed if left on the floor. Make it easy for them to use the minimum number of towels – including for swimming.  (Please don’t leave 2 on each sun bed)
  1. Bed linen:  This should only be changed after at least 3 nights occupation, unless a guest requests it.  Leave a notices to explain this – but the default position should be no change of linen.
  1. Straws, stirrers etc:  Bring in re-usable metal straws as the main option.  If you’re determined to stick with disposable straws use paper ones and get guests to ask for one, if they want one.  Introduce re-usable stirrers.
  1. Napkins:  As with straws, get people to ask for a paper napkin if they want one – you could put a box on the table so guests can take a napkin if needed.  Linen napkins should also be optional – not all guests want a fresh one with each meal. I dislike waiters trying to lay one out on my knee, when I sit down to eat. And, don’t forget the extra energy and water for laundering.
  1. Butter:  Serve butter in small china bowls, which are filled from a big pack. You simply smooth the butter across the top and can re-use what has not been consumed afterwards. This avoids all those wasteful little plastic packs.
  1. Bottled water:  If you don’t have one already, bring in facilities for refillable glass water bottles – not just for bathrooms, but for restaurants too.  Have chilled ones in the mini-bar, and bring them for customers at meal times.  You could even have re-fillable, hotel water bottles in metal or plastic for guests to take with them on expeditions – and sell them in the shop.
  1. Recycling:  Team up with other hotels and restaurants in the area to bring in recycling facilities for all.  This should include paper, metal, glass and plastics.
  1. Waste collection:  We were horrified at the lack of waste infrastructure in Myanmar.  Most of the villages didn’t appear to have any waste collection, which meant that there’s a huge amount of rubbish just dumped out in the open – ultimately, much of it will end up in the sea. The tourism industry need to recognise that this is a problem that they should be doing something about.  (Note what’s happened in the Philippines – they’re having to close a resort for 6 months )
  1. Food waste:  Think carefully about how much food you are cooking relative to the number of guests.  In pretty well all the hotels we stayed in there was massive over-catering. The food waste must be horrendous.  On a few occasions we asked if the excess food was eaten by staff, or given away locally.  Although we were told it was, I’m not convinced that’s true, or very common.  And, on our cruise up the Irrawaddy, they said that waste food was thrown in the river ‘to feed the fish’ – they were keen to reassure me that no plastics went with it.
  1. Sewage treatment:  I don’t think that any of the hotels we stayed in had untreated sewage going into the river or the sea.  Thank heavens for that.  However, many of them were very close to areas where this was happening..  Please recognise that this is not just someone else’s problem – get involved in improving the system.
The WC is on the left with sewage going into the lake – and a lady washing her hair close by – Lake Inle
  1. Air conditioning:  I hate it.  I’m probably a bit of an exception in that I turn it off, immediately I get to my room.  But, even for those that like it, there are big improvements to be made.  It’s far too cold. The reception area of the Rupar Mandalar Hotel in Mandalay is like a fridge – it’s uncomfortable walking in there.  Temperatures should be no lower than 24C and, guests should be encouraged not to have it on all the time, particularly when they’re not in the room.  This is not simply an energy issue – although that’s important, air conditioning also uses cooling gases that are a big contributor to climate change.
  1. Paper:  Most hotels print out their bills and put them in envelopes before passing them to guests.  I managed to refuse all envelopes, but at the end of my trip, I’ve ended up with a large wad over A4 paper, along with tickets and smaller receipts.  At my final stop I asked the hotel to email me my receipt – and they agreed.  This option should be offered to all guests, and no-one should be offered an envelope.
This list is by no means comprehensive.  I haven’t really got going on energy and water consumption or swimming pools and gardens but I can’t cover everything in one blog, so leaving it here for now.   Comments and feedback from the hotels mentioned, any anyone else, are welcome.
Both our guide and the boatman were very enthusiastic in helping with our rubbish collection on Lake Inle


3 thoughts on “Ideas for greener tourism in Myanmar [Relevant to other countries too] (Apr18)

  1. Tim Reus, GM Savoy Hotel Yangon says:

    ear Julia,

    Thank you very much for staying at our hotel! I am glad you pickup some of our efforts to make the hotel industry in Myanmar a bit more sustainable. Since my start at Savoy I have been pushing for more green solutions. The metal straws are a very simple thing to implement, but create awareness.

    I agree on most points in your article, I will share it on our Facebook if you don't mind. Lucky we have implemented most of your points. To add:

    We have started last month with “Recyglo” this company does waist management audits, trains my staff on the effects of waist and have a traceable was of recycling our plastic, aluminium and papers.

    At the moment I am planning to join the campaign #refillnotlandfill which focuses on using aluminium bottles in stead of plastics with refill stations nations wide.

    Food waist is terrible in our industry, mostly it is because of those buffets. Not in our hotel, we only offer a small breakfast buffet with most items a la carte. A great way to reduce food waist. In Bangkok they collect all the food waist in barrels and send to the pig farms, maybe an idea.

    Thanks trying to make the industry aware! Thank you for visiting Myanmar.


    With kind regards,

    Tim Reus
    General Manager


    129, Dhammazedi Road
    The Republic of the Union of Myanmar

  2. Julia Hailes says:

    I've just written this email to the hotels, guides and travel agents involved with our trip:

    Dear all,

    I've recently got back from a wonderful trip to Myanmar. My father was born in Mandalay in 1920 and his parents left during the Second World War, so I have some connection to the country. This was my first visit and I came with my family.

    As you will be aware, the choice to come at this time, was not so easy. Continuing headlines about the plight of the Rohingya and the power of the military, meant that we nearly cancelled our trip. We're glad we didn't – as it was clear that tourism is important for so many people who don't support the violence. And, we also began to understand how complicated the situation is.

    I've worked as an environmentalist for over 30 years – and have written 9 books on the subject. One of them sold over a million copies worldwide. I was quite impressed that when I asked hotels about their sustainability policies or challenged them on certain practices, that there was quite a lot of interest and often a commitment to improve. Our guides too were enthusiastic about the issue. I have to particularly mention Bone Pyi Lwin, in Lake Inle, who was so enthusiastic about helping us clear plastic and other waste from the Lake – and the boatmen too.

    On my return, I decided to write a blog entitled 'Green Tourism in Myanmar' – .

    I'm emailing the hotels we stayed in and the guides who helped us along the way with this link – you are copied into this email. I hope you'll find it interesting and even better use it to get some ideas for improvements.

    Comments in the blog or to me directly are more than welcome. I'm posting this letter in the comments section. As, I've said in my blog, there are quite a few things I haven't covered, but I hope this is a good start.

    Please forward the link to anyone else you think might be interested. Thank you for looking after us during our visit.

    Best wishes,


    P.S. The most shocking thing I discovered when in Myanmar, was that the country previously had 65% forest cover – and now it's only 25%. Concern about tropical deforestation was the reason I started working as an environmentalist, so this horrifies me. Here's a link to a very good organisation campaigning on this issue: Anything the tourism industry can do to help reduce deforestation, would be great.

    Travel Agents:
    Seventy Ten Travel (UK)
    Khiri travel (Myanmar), / Twitter: @KhiriTravel

    Savoy Hotel – Ms. Honey Win (
    Tharaba Gate Hotel – Mr Thura Htet Oo & Mr Ernst who is our General Manager and email –
    Sandoway Resort – Ms. Alinkar
    IPR – Mr. Aung Tun
    Rupar Mandalar Resort – Ms. Nwe Nwe
    Aureum Palace – Ms. Cindy (

    Yangon: Sai Pyi Sone –
    Bagan : Pyi Sone Hmue –
    Inle: Bone Pyi Lwin –
    Mandalay: Thein Htike Oo –

  3. Julia Hailes says:

    I've just re-read my article. Occurs to me that I've let the Paukan cruise off lightly – . They should NOT be throwing anything directly in the river. Food waste should be taken ashore and composted.

    First of all hotels and restaurants need to minimise food waste. This means good menu planning and kitchen management, as well as giving people the choice about what they want and how much. And second, all food waste should be composted and, if possible, put in an AD digester to produce biogas.

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