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Doctor dreams of ski trails in Myanmar heat

YANGON, April 21, 2006 (AFP) - In the sweltering heat of Yangon's nights, Paing Soe dreams of skiing -- not in the Alps or the Rockies, but in a virtually inaccessible stretch of rebel-held territory in northern Myanmar.

It's not for everyone, the 62-year-old dentist readily admits.

But with a bit of imagination and a lot of investment, he believes, the snowy Himalayan peaks could become Southeast Asia's only ski resort -- even if Myanmar is one of the most secretive and isolated nations in the world.

"If we develop these areas to ski, at least a few tourists and skiers would come," he says.

His choice for a ski resort would be the 11,500-foot (3,500-meter) peak of Phon Kan Razi in Kachin state, which will eventually be a bit easier to reach thanks to a new highway now under construction.

Although he has scaled many of the mountains in northern Myanmar, he hasn't tried skiing them yet.

But he proudly notes that the Myanmar Hiking and Mountaineering Federation, which he heads, has some 200 members who have already hiked throughout that area and could act as guides.

"Our mountaineers are always ready to help the tourism industry whenever they need us," he says.

The federation's entry requirements are grueling, including a hike up a mountain at least 10,000 feet high, and a 100-mile hike back to base camp.

Although the region is largely under the control of ethnic Kachin rebels, he points out that most of the fighting ended with a ceasefire deal two years ago.

The idea of luring tourists to a rarely seen part of Myanmar snowballed among Yangon's elite after a local filmmaker, Sin Yaw Maung Maung, shot his film "Mystery of Snow" on Phon Kan Razi in 2002.

In a country where foreign films are banned, "Mystery of Snow" was a blockbuster of "Titanic" proportions.

Sin Yaw Maung Maung brought 300 people to the mountain to shoot the film -- the most expensive movie ever shot here at 165,000 dollars. It has since played at small screenings around the region.

"We have faced many difficulties at that time. But we succeeded together," says the director, who had never seen snow until he went to the mountain.

"I decided to show this film around the world to promote the mountain as a tourist attraction," Sin Yaw Maung Maung says.

He says many people were surprised at the scenes of snow-capped mountains in Myanmar when he showed the film during his presentation at a regional tourism meeting in Malaysia.

"Many tourists wanted to come our country because of these ice mountains," he said.

But the military government is less enthusiastic.

"We have no plans for skiing there," a senior tourism ministry official says. "The new road under construction to Phongan is only to improve communication and transportation for local people."

The official says the government is worried about possible environmental damage from developing a ski resort on the mountain.

Despite periodic efforts at luring tourists to Myanmar, the military rulers have never had much luck.

The country's iconic pro-democracy leader, detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has urged tourists not to visit the country until the government changes.

Even so, tourist arrivals have slowly increased, with some 660,200 foreigners visiting last year, bringing in about 153 million dollars, according to the tourism ministry. Neighboring Thailand got 11 million visitors.

Myanmar's military rulers tightly restrict travel around the country. Much of the region around Phon Kan Razi is designated as wildlife refuges.

Environmentalists have accused Myanmar's government of a variety of offenses, including widespread illegal logging along the border with China.

For Thandar Aung, a 26-year-old tour operator, the bigger issue is the lack of development in the region.

"There is nothing of interest except the ice mountains," Thandar Aung says.

"Only a few tourists are interested in seeing the snow-capped mountains. Most tourists ask to see the ancient Bagan city," which is home to famous ruins of temples and castles, she says.

"Basically we cannot have much hope for skiing there."

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If the author of this post is still active, could you provide me an update on this issue? I have spent time in Burma/Myanmar, and I would for example, like to contact some of the persons cited in this piece to find out what the advances are on this ski resort project.

In fact, I'd like to get involved with the project myself!

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147,933 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Not sure how reliable this source is, but it's from 2008 ( :

Plans to Myanmar's Hkakabo Razi into a ski resort have been halted to guerilla separatists and uneasy relations with Thailand. But once it goes ahead it will allow skiing in one of the world's remotest place.
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