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Introducing the mysterious Myanmar

This is a guest post from a friend of ours – Natalie. After watching her slide show of beautiful travel images we wanted others to share her experience. After all, Myanmar is not a typical destination, and the country has often been misunderstood, clouded in secrecy, and politically vulnerable. We can guarantee you’ll be adding Myanmar to your wandering list!

Having recently returned from a month in Myanmar, or Burma, depending on your political slant, it is hard to reconcile the country we visited to images that the media currently focuses on. Due to the recent democratising actions of the country’s military government and the recent success of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy the world media has been agog with the country.

Media descriptions, especially those that discuss the country at large (and incoming FDI) are almost obsessed with the apparently dismal state of the country and the pervasiveness of military rule. Yangon is crumbling, down-trodden, impoverished and filthy; in a state of entrenched disrepair, where regularly patrolling soldiers carry M16s and the general population remains politically mute.

While every person’s impression of a country (even their own) is theirs, it is hard to reconcile these incredibly gloomy images with those of the Burma I visited. Don’t get me wrong – Burma and Yangon in particular is no Singapore, filled with pristine streets and sparkling skyscrapers. However, to focus on Yangon’s decrepit buildings and precarious sidewalks ignores the burgeoning wealth of northern Yangon, the bazaar like commerce that takes over a good section of downtown daily – not to mention the breathtaking beauty of the Schwedagon Pagoda.

Going further afield, the lack of maintenance that makes rail travel feel more like a theme park ride rings true to the tales of poor infrastructure. But in contrast, the buses that run on time astounded long-term SE Asian travellers.

Further, criticism of the government is certainly to be upheld – yet to describe the population as politically mute ignores the very deep (for now) impact of the recent democratisation process. If there was anything that resonated for me (as an entrenched political junkie) was the Burmese’s excitement about political change.

Throughout the country, pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi plaster tea-shops, restaurants and private dwellings, almost (but not quite) competing with the ever-present Buddhist iconography. This excitement seemed to pervade most conversations with locals, who eagerly discussed the political change process, their hopes for the future, and of course, The Lady. That being said, not all Burmese are optimistic, one taxi driver noted that he was cynical about the changes; as a Generation ’88 veteran, he has seen (and watched it all collapse) before.

In my blog posts to come, I’ll provide an overview of travelling to the Golden Land; covering the major tourist destinations, including Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Bago and Mawlamyine. However, my next post will focus on – Myanmar – know before you go.

Nat

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