Burma (also known as Myanmar) – a country I fell in love with during my first visit there in 2010, is currently holding its elections for the country’s next leader. This is the country’s first elections since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011. Burma is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand, and has a history of dictatorship rule by the military Junta for almost 50 years from 1962-2011,with the Chairwoman of the National League for Democracy, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, put on house arrest for 15 of the 21 years since the last election in 1990.
Often times I am asked what my favorite country to travel to is, and I reply without hesitation, “Burma/Myanmar.”
Burma is ranked third in terms of the most isolated countries in the world, according to the World Policy Journal.
So, in a country that is so overcome with oppression and so isolated from the outside world, why is this my favorite place to visit to? My answer is simply two words: The people.
With a country overcome by oppression is where I met some of the most gentle, humble, and hospitable people in the world. When I first visited the country in 2010, we visited the usual tourist circuit (although there were not many tourists visiting back then) – Schwedagon Paya in Yangon, Irawaddy River, Bagan and Inle Lake. Locals were as happy to see us and as curious about us as we were about them; when we stopped by a restaurant to have a meal, the store owner came out with presents for us – his customers – to thank us for stopping by! Seeing cows used as methods of transport and huts without running water or electricity made me feel like I stepped out of a time machine and stepped back in the 1900’s. When we took out the iPhone to show the locals there, they were astonished by our fancy piece of technology that could talk on the phone, view videos, and go on the internet!
I have since visited the country after Aung Sang Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2014, and the change in the country has been immense during my 4 years of absence. Electricity is no longer rationed as it used to be (prior to 2011, electricity was only allowed by the government after 6 PM daily,) the tourist industry has boomed wherein tourists are everywhere now and local children can speak simple phrases for selling souvenirs in several different foreign languages, and technology is prevalent. It goes without saying that locals are now unamused by the iPhone – monks are now so up-to-date with technology that a monk approached us asking to add us on his WeChat account, hoping to connect with us when we returned back to our home countries and be able to keep in touch to practice his English!
With a country going through so many transformations in the past several years, change is not only expected, but advancement is encouraged. However, with all the advances occurring, I do hope that one thing remains unchanged in this beautiful country: the people.