The Land of Golden Pagodas
Myanmar conjures up dreams of an old and forgotten Asia, one studded with golden pagodas, hill tribe villages and much left undeveloped. Fortunately for the intrigued traveler not much has changed, and with a new democratically elected government in place, the once closed borders are now open. Myanmar is ready to offer an unforgettable experience without the moral dilemma of unknowingly contributing to the morally corrupt government that once had the Burmese people in a stranglehold.
Understanding the political climate
It wasn’t always easy for foreigners to gain entry into Myanmar. From 1961 until 2011 a military junta was holding power, and the borders were effectively sealed to visitors. During this time, the Burmese people and surrounding hill tribe populations were suppressed, heavily exploited and even put into forced labor camps. Money was misappropriated, and a lot of wealth was pocketed by the junta. This created a massive wealth gap and Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.
In 2010, political icon Aung Sun Suu
Kyi was released from a 15 year house arrest. By 2011, the junta finally lost its hold on the nation, and Myanmar elected its first democatic leader. Although there is still a small presence of the previous regime, change is happening quickly. Since the 2015 elections, the National League for Democracy is now holding the majority of power. Dont be fooled, though, as religious conflict and forced labor is still occurring throughout the country.
How to get in and transportation
Flying into Yangon is easy, and the airport offers visa-on-arrival, which eliminates a lot of hassle. However, if you plan on making a land border crossing, make sure you obtain your visa ahead of time! As of today, the only land border crossing available to westerners is between Myawaddy and Maesot, Thailand. Once you are in, you must make the 5 hour trip via bus, or a rideshare, to Mawlamyine. From here you can take the train to Yangon, and then connect onward to the rest of the country. There are many buses available as well, but the rail travel in Myanmar is unforgettable and should not be missed.
The borders may be open, but there is still a lot to think about while navigating the fledgling tourism industry in Myanmar. Make sure to do some research before you visit, as policies change here everyday. That being said, GO TO MYANMAR. Try Betel nut. Wear some Thanaka. Buy a Longyi. See Bagan before its too late.