Managing Risk in Face of Mourning

This past week in Hsipaw, in our Northern Shan State, a South Korean female traveler died while on a river tubing adventure. It is so sad to hear of this loss for her family and friends, and we empathize with the guide who was taking her on an adventure that suddenly went from joy to tragedy.

But this tragedy also serves as a warning, perhaps a wakeup call for many in the industry, which in Myanmar is largely uncontrolled. Coming from Canada, there are so many regulations and requirements to be able to guide people on adventures like this, and my feeling is that Myanmar guides in the adventure sector are far too cavalier with safety.

In each activity we offer, we must consider the worst case scenario, and be able to plan and prepare for these scenarios. Hopefully we never have to put our preparation into action, however it is inevitable when we do things that have risk. Guides knowing how to manage risk, as well as respond in a calculated and effective way when tragedy comes knocking on the door.

Myanmar has a guide training program, which perhaps serves the purpose of preparing people with knowledge about the country and how to show landmarks, but it does very little, if anything, to prepare people for adventure preparedness. There are no requirements. One can just start a river tubing company, and not know how to perform first aid, not know how save someone who is drowning, and even worse, not know how to swim at all. So what happens when someone gets trapped under a rock in the rapids??? Well, tragedy results!

There are lots of things we would like to do, but managing risk keeps us wise and honest with our capability. We know of several caves, but are not guiding them, because we don’t have sufficient experience in cave rescue. However, we do a lot of water activities. Knowing our waterfalls and rivers is essential. Doing the research, not with clients, and know how to prepare them for every risk they may encounter, this is our job as guides. We need to assess the risk, and steer our clients away from things that could endanger them. Now this is the challenge, those who are thirsty for adventure find energy from the adrenaline of risk, and so we embrace both risk and then managing the risk! It is why when we guide waterfalls, specifically with strong current, or paddle board on the river or lake, we require at least one lifeguard certified guide or staff member be with our clients.

Preparation takes time and commitment to safety and walking through each scenario as a team. It takes being prepared with first aid kits with us at all times. It requires that we have practiced rescue and rescue techniques.

People come to us as the experts, and we need to be experts in every way. I would love the adventure guiding industry in Myanmar to invest in expertise and requirements for adventure activities as well. It is time! Let’s not lose another life before changes are made in the adventure industry in Myanmar.


Byron Hartzler

Myanmar Adventure Outfitters is a socially-conscious eco-tourism company offering customisable adventures between Lashio, Myanmar and north along the Burma Road to the China border. Our adventure options include mountain biking, motorcycling, river tubing, and hiking with overnight stays in villages.