Burma, also known as Myanmar, offers a host of enchanting experiences to foreign travelers–and almost as many frustrations. In an effort to at least partially reduce the latter, this article will use the name “Burma”, with no intentions of political, cultural, or ethnic partisanship.
The fertile, resource-rich lands of Burma attracted numerous peoples throughout history, who founded the tremendously multicultural Burmese society of today. Early settlers included the Mon and Pyu, but modern Burma reckons the Pagan Kingdom, established in 849 by the country’s Bamar ethnic majority, as its earliest direct antecedent. This period saw the adoption of the Burmese script and the spread of Theravada Buddhism, which would become an enormous cultural force in Burma. Pagan dissolved into a number of small states in 1287. The Taungoo and Konbaung Dynasties reconquered much of the country, but were plagued with territorial incursions and gradually absorbed by the British Raj during the 1800s. Several nationalist movements arose during the 19th and early 20th century, who played a complicated role in World War II; the post-war power vacuum allowed Burma to become an independent democratic republic in 1948. This period saw notable progress in Burma, as well as political infighting, which led to General Ne Win’s military coup in 1962. His autocratic regime was noted for its quasi-socialist and quasi-religious motives, as well as widespread human rights abuses and complete economic incompetence. The 8888 Uprising of 1988 prompted the installation of a new junta, widely criticized for its maintenance of the status quo: democratic elections in 1990 were rejected when the opposition National League for Democracy won a vast majority of parliamentary seats. Burma has, in fact, seen little change.
Once the richest country in Southeast Asia, Burma’s economy has remained stagnant for decades, and suffers from inflation, lack of infrastructure and economic freedom, and foreign sanctions, among other problems. It tied with Somalia as the world’s most corrupt country in Transparency International’s 2007 index. Precious stones, for which Burma has long been famous, are a crucial export economy. Other industries include agricultural goods, textiles, and wood products; however, it is estimated that sales of illegal drugs, particularly opium, bring in at least as much revenue as all legitimate exports combined. If there is any bright side to Burma’s poor economic situation, it’s that the environment has been left relatively intact; it is one of the most ecologically pristine countries in the region.
Despite attempts to promote tourism, very few foreigners visit Burma annually. This is due to difficulty of entry, rumors of forced labor being used at major tourist attractions, and even Burmese democracy activists, among them Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, actively discouraging foreign tourism. Expatriates in Burma will face travel restrictions, bureaucratic annoyances, and a small job market, with options limited to work with a few NGOs and English teaching at private schools; but they can also expect a welcoming populace, extremely low crime, magnificent cultural sites, and a unique experience few foreigners ever dream of. Although not an easy vacation spot, a trip to Burma will definitely impress your friends back home.
Burmese is the official language, while English remains widely used as a second language. Burma counts over 100 minority languages, which include Shan, Karen, and Kachin.
Wikipedia: Burmese Language