We finally arrived in Burma, the country that initially was not on our list. But the more we travelled, more and more amazing Burmesee stories echoed in our ears and few months ago we knew that Burma cannot be missed. So here we are.
Yangon the country’s biggest city invited us with insane bus rides, expensive hotel ($25 for a room with no bathroom!), lack of pavements, limited electricity and with no doubt the friendlies people of South East Asia. Everyone smiled at us with an honest looks on their faces. The man in the car who passed by shouted hello, another one overhearing our conversation about a certain building came over and explained what it was in broken English (he then too apologised he had too much to drink, hence his help was limited). It felt good being back in a place that somehow reminded me of Cambodia and from what we have learnt this is probably the last chance to see the Burma as it is, innocent, modest and unwesternised.
For many people Burma brings in an imagine of a poor south-east asian country with a dictatorial leaderships and the Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, actively leading the opposition by fighting for her people’s freedom. But things not awlways went against Burmas favour. For centuries Burma was a strong kindgom and ruled parts of India and Thailand.
Yangon became Burma’s capital city in 1885 shortly after the British empire colonised the country. At that time Burmeese colony grew in its powers. Buildings were raised up from the ground, and with Yangon’s location close to the sea the country became the world’s largest exporter of rice. High litteracy rate put other Asian countries to the shame, the press was free and well established.
However, this flourishing time of colonialism did not even last the century. In July 1947 association of Aung San, a young student and a military leader who negotiated independence from Britain, brought dark clouds that hovered over Burma for the next few decades. The country felt into civil wars and although a brief moment of democracy followed it did not sustain. In 1962 new government suspended the constitution, country’s infrastructure was demolished during the fights and as the flights continued anyone who dared to speak against the new political leadership was either imprisoned and sent to labour camp or killed. Then, in 1988 a peaceful pro democracy demonstration was violently crashed and 5000 innocent people were killed. A new government called State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was established and Burma was renamed to Myanmar. Two years after these events the government lost most of it seats in elections to the National League for Democracy, which resulted in NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi being put under a house arrest for 14 years and only realsed in 2010.
More demonstrations followed in 2007 including the one in Yangon were monks marched with their begging bowls tured upside down and were joint by hundreds of people. This demonstration was also met by another violent response from the government.
Now Burma’s borders are no longer closed but the 25 years of dictatorial leadership and the war against minorities lead the country into disrepair and corruption. When in the 1988 the government decided to make Bagan accessible to foreigners, locals were forced to leave their homes at no notice, so that hotels could be built to accommodate tourism. In most cases no compensation was given, leaving hundreds of people homeless and in poverty.
The country does lack basic infrastructure, electricity is not guraganteed and the gap between rich and poor is becoming wider. But similarly to what we have experienced in Cambodia, the tragic history and the cruel events of the past years, have not made Burmeese bitter or angry. Their calm Buddhist nature seemed to overcome the sadness of the past as well as the day to day struggles they come across. Their easy and happy approach made our travels so far truly remarkable and although English is widely spoken in the bigger cities the words aren’t really needed. It’s all in their smiles!
So stay tuned as more post about beautiful Burma will be coming soon!