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Published: June 12th 2015
I first learned about Myanmar in a class about armed conflict. This was before the country opened up, before its military junta loosened its iron-tight grip.
Since then, the doors have flung wide open and tourists have started entering the country. Never would I have thought of journeying to Myanmar, but a friend of mine described it as the “wild west of Asia” and I was sold. Yangon
We flew into the former capital Yangon, a bustling city. The international terminal presented a polished welcome, but then we stepped out into the dust. We headed to the domestic terminal, a wooden pagoda-style airport next door. Yes, wooden. pagoda. airport. Credit cards aren’t much of a thing in Myanmar yet, so we paid for all our in-country flights in cash. Bring cash. Mandalay
That same afternoon we journeyed further inward toward Mandalay. Driving across lush farmlands into the city, we seemed to have gone back in time, into a land entirely isolated from the rest of the world. For Myanmar, undeveloped is an understatement. Internet and efficient public transport are generally not to be found. Years of military rule have impoverished the country, but smatterings of
plush houses secured by high walls and barbed wired hint at deep disparity beneath the surface.
Had we not enlisted the help of our wonderful guide and friend, Soe Soe (09402538362, Soe.firstname.lastname@example.org
), we would not have been able to get around very easily. Our first stop was a Buddhist monastery where we observed and ate lunch. Here, we got to know Soe Soe and Myanmar on a more personal level. He described how many children live and learn at monasteries because they provide food and education. In the quiet courtyards of the monastery, we chatted about the country, the government, the development, the progress, the problems. After British colonialism, Japanese occupation, and the general destruction of World War II, a military government seized control in 1962. Tragically, this meant corruption, disparity, and the severe impoverishment of its people.
In more recent times, the government is better known for the genocide of ethnic minorities in Myanmar’s outer mountainous regions. In Myanmar, ethnic minorities are composed of people who are not Burmese, many of whom are not Buddhist, adding further division. Many of these groups want independence, in order to maintain political, social, and economic freedom, especially in areas with
abundant natural resources (petrol and precious stones). The tricky part…
The Burmese/Buddhist majority seems to oppose these minorities and favor integration, yet also oppose the problematic government, creating quite a diversity of opinion in the country. The government, however, has made great strides in the opening up of the country. Restrictions on expression and press have been loosened somewhat, and international tourists have brought with them fresh ideas and economic growth. My brief stint here has convinced me that economic and political freedom, including equal democratic representation of all its citizens, is the only way to peace and prosperity in Myanmar. The future is bright and I cannot wait to see the Myanmar of 10 and 20 years from now. Bagan
After we bid farewell to Soe Soe in Mandalay, we took a 6 hour minibus to Bagan. The ride was cramped, hot, bumpy, and miserable. I had intense déjà vu as I remembered a bus ride described in this same blog seven years earlier.
However, we were rewarded by our arrival to the hotel, probably the most luxurious resort we’ve ever stayed at and for only $62/night!
Bagan is pagodas. Pagodas everywhere as far as the eyes can see. Bagan was once the seat
of the monarchy in the 18th
century, and religious development flourished as the country exchanged with neighboring countries. This flourishing is seen to this day, as the Myanmar people are still very conservative and very religious. Save for the more modernized Yangon, women and men dress very modestly. Mostly everyone we met was incredibly nice, friendly, and honest. We felt extremely welcomed.
We were so welcomed we were even invited to a wedding. While in Bagan we rented bikes from Khin Win, who quickly became a friend. We had dinner, drank, talked about the country, even sang some songs on a guitar they had lying around – truly a special moment, thanks Khin. Khin and his family invited us to a wedding the next day of a couple whom they know. Weddings in Bagan are truly a community affair, and we were able to join the reception at a local restaurant. The happy couple looked like they had enough picture taking with guests to last them a lifetime, which made Allie and I laugh at the parallel. We left Bagan extremely satisfied, sad to depart that still untouched corner of the earth. Yangon
Yangon is the New
Street markets downtown bring the confluence of Chinese, Indian, and Burmese cultures. Business here was old-fashioned, I mean really. I’m talking using scales and weights, no refrigeration, buy anything in the world, these are the markets you dream about old-fashioned.
York of Myanmar. It seems to be the forefront of political, economic, and social development. Malls and short skirts can be found.
Notable highlights include the colonial-era Strand Hotel, where we took a mid-day rest and paid US-prices in its beautiful café. Street markets downtown bring the confluence of Chinese, Indian, and Burmese cultures. Business here was old-fashioned,
I mean really. I’m talking using scales and weights, no refrigeration, buy anything in the world, these are the markets you dream about old-fashioned.
We also went to Drug Elimination Museum, which highlighted the government’s war on opium. One display featured a press this button, see what happens when you do drugs display… hint: a demon will drag you to hell. Propaganda ladened, I learned more about the government and modern day Myanmar here more than anywhere else. Loved it.
We capped our stay with a ride on the circular train, which circumnavigates the city and was surprisingly like riding the MTA subway.
Overall, we loved Myanmar. It’s safe, people. The government is still bad, but getting better. Get better, government. Sadly, much of the country will change and much will be lost with its development. In spite
of this, I’m going help my people by bringing them more business. Go to Myanmar.
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