Most of Asean has been given reason to celebrate as a bizarre list by the US State Department on travel safety puts eight of its 10 members among the safest countries in the world to visit.
But governments in Phnom Penh and Nay Pyi Taw should wait before celebrating and glance at the rest of list, which suggests Washington’s foreign affairs office has lost touch with reality.
The list, which was launched on January 10 but has received very little media attention, ranks countries from 1 to 4 based on the threat level for US visitors.
Only the Philippines and Indonesia were given level-2 ratings, while the other eight were ranked as among the world’s safest countries.
Myanmar/Burma, which has ethnic cleansing, a dozen concurrent civil wars, an unchecked police force which imprisons foreigners, poor health care, appalling road safety, a rampant drugs trade and intense religious intolerance, is given the safest ranking. Denmark, one of the safest countries on the planet, where no conflict has occurred since the Second World War, is given grade 2, the same as Ukraine, a war zone.
Myanmar is struggling to adapt to an influx of visitors. In September, a Russian female tourist was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour for wearing shoes inside pagodas at Bagan.
In October 2016, a Dutch tourist was sentenced to three months of hard labour for unplugging an amplifier that was broadcasting Buddhist chants and not removing his shoes in a religious building.
Klaas Haijtema had been sleeping at a hostel in Mandalay when a neighbouring Buddhist prayer room began broadcasting religious material. He stormed into the room and unplugged the speaker without removing his shoes.
Albania and Cambodia are also both level 1 on US list.
A level 2 ranking advises visitors to “exercise increased caution” and “be aware of heightened risks to safety and security”.
The list appears to suggest that US parents should advise their backpacking children to avoid the perils of Western Europe and head instead to the “safest” countries, like Liberia and Peru.
Level 1 says visitors should: “Exercise normal precautions. This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risks. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.”
Cuba is ranked as level 3 and therefore more dangerous than Ukraine.
The list coincides with the controversy of Donald Trump cancelling his trip to the UK and reports that he called Haiti and African states “shithole countries”.
Myanmar: “safer” than Denmark. Picture credit: Asean Economist