Charming, chaotic, controversial and serene, Myanmar remains to the visitor an intriguing culture. With over a millennium of Buddhist civilization, it possesses a rich and vibrant cultural tradition,and great natural beauty along with magnificent temple architecture. And everywhere the visitor encounters a warm and welcoming people.
Until recently Myanmar was one of Asia’s most inaccessible countries and visitors were restricted to a brief circuit of sites. Still one of the least western influenced countries in the world so that an enviable Buddhist way of life remains intact for us to explore and learn from.
Myanmar history is long and diverse and archaeological findings have suggested some areas have been inhabited more than 2,500 years. The road to present day Myanmar however,is more easily traced back to the time when the great Myanmar King Anawrahta came to power in 1044.he was the first to consolidate the various groups into one kingdom and was also instrumental in the introduction of Theravada Buddhism,which weas then,as it is today,the predominant religion in the country.After his death in 1077 the kingdom fell into disarray with conflicts occuring between the Mon and also with the Shan among others.
Finally in the 16th century the Bamar(Burman) King Bayinnaung was able to united all of Myanmar again.Following Bayinnaung’s death however,the kingdom once again fell into decline and the next major event was the takleover of lower Burma by the British in 1824 and the subsequent further colonization of middle and upper Burma by 1885. British colonial Burma was ruled from India as a part of the British Raj.
The coming of WWII and growing Burmese nationalism eventually led to post war independence.They came the ‘Burmese Road to Socialism’ under General Ne Win and Burma,nowadays called ‘Myanmar’,began to go deep into isolation.In recent years however the country has begun to open up to investment as well as to tourism and a steadily increasing number of travelers now make their way here to discover for themselves the cultural and viual treasures that make up the ‘magic of Myanmar’.
Myanmar has now opened the door and welcomes us to come and see for ourselves. “MINGALABAR” is the traditional word of greeting and the welcome is a warm one – not just from official bodies but from the ordinary Myanmar people. Locals are keen, after so many years shut away, not just to prosper but also for interaction with the world at large.
Already the cities of Myanmar have been transformed since the introduction of a tax-free market economy in the early 1990s. Whilst there is now a more efficient infrastructure and the standard of living has rapidly improved, there have been casualties – such as part of the magnificent architectural heritage dating from colonial days. Myanmar as a tourist destination is just beginning to flower and it is a terrific opportunity to get it right and to try not to become as commercialised as some of its neighbouring countries.
Throughout the tourism industry, it is urged that investors, local and foreign, follow environmentally and ecologically sound principles. It is hoped that tourism can be an instrument of improvement. It is also the responsibility of the caring tourist to respect Buddhist traditions – being modest in dress and mild in manner and supporting local products and services.
In recent years travel rules have been relaxed a little and some previous no-go areas are now open to tourists. Areas that still require a permit include Mogok, and some areas in the northern Shan State. The Kayah state is completely off limits to tourists as are certain parts of the Shan State, Kayin State, Mon Division and Taninthayi Division. Of course, all of this is only ever an approximation of the government’s state of mind; situations change, some ad-hoc rules are introduced while others are bent, local authorities add travel caveats of their own. If you want to get to somewhere off the usual tourist route, find out the current regulations from the authorities or your travel guide in advance, ask other travellers if the regulations are actually enforced, or make it up as you go along, and be prepared to be disappointed if your luck runs out.
Myanmar – Interesting facts
Full country name: Union of Myanmar (Burma was renamed to its pre-colonial name of Myanmar in 1989 after the government decided that ‘Burma’ implied the dominance of Burmese culture; the Burmese are just one of the many ethnic groups in the country).
Area: 671,000 sq km (416,020 sq mi)
Capital city: Yangon (Rangoon) (pop 5 million)
People: 65% Burmese, 10% Shan, 7% Karen, 4% Rakhine and Chin, Kachin, Mon, Chinese, Indian and Assamese minorities
Language: Burmese, also Karen, Chin, Shan and Kachin dialects (but English is widely spoken in the main tourist areas)
Religion: 87% Theravada Buddhist, 5% Christian, 4% Muslim, 3% animist, also a small % Jewish.
Government: Military council
Head of state & Prime Minister: General Than Shwe
Major products/industries: Agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry comprise nearly 57% of Burmese economic production. Timber is the 3rd export earner followed by manufacturing and garment industries.
Major trading partners: Thailand, Singapore, China, Malaysia, India and Japan.