Official name: Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Population: 55 000 000
Area: 676 578 km²
Previous flag of Burma which was in place when I was traveling around this country in 2004. When I went there in 2011 the was already a new flag.
Tourist attractions of Burma, Burma – the present times, history of Burma.
Tourist attractions of Burma
Despite a catastrophic situation of Burma, it has a lot to offer and it is safe. Because of many years of isolation Burma has preserved its old culture based on Buddhism and its magnificent golden pagodas are the highlights of this beautiful country. Burma is often called “the country of golden pagodas”, although nice people and beautiful nature are also an advantage. The starting point is Burma`s main city of Yangon, where there is a religious and cultural symbol of Burma – a great temple of Shwedagon Pagoda. I also strongly recommended Inle lake, with its fields on water and factories of cigars and silver. Inle is one of the many precious places in Burma, which you must see. Another place worth recommending is a city of Mandalay and its attractive temples. Also trekking in the mountains are very popular, and you can spend a night in a bamboo hut in a jungle, and see farmers plowing rice fields with buffaloes. I think the main highlight to not to be missed is famous Bagan, however, which is one of the world cultural treasures. There are many thousands of ancient Buddhist temples and stupas there, which are a part of a beautiful landscape. I’ve seen most of ancient temples of Asia, and I admit that I personally classify Bagan as the finest and the best preserved ones, right next to the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. Another interesting place was a town of Bago, which to me is “the world of Buddha”. In addition to many attractive temples, there is for example the world’s largest reclining Buddha, and a very interesting four sitting Buddha statues, called Kyaik Pun. Another beautiful place is also the Golden Rock pagoda called Kyaitikiyo.
Other attractions that make up the culture of Burma are traditional clothes and makeup. Men wear lungi which is a material around the hips and which works better in hot climates than trousers. Lungi is worn in many countries of south and south-east Asia although in other countries it is also known as sarong (Sri Lanka). In contrast, women in Burma paint faces with chalk called tanaka, which has been a Burmese tradition for about 2,000 years and is designed to whiten skin and protect from the sun. It is made from several trees and has a scent similar to sandalwood.
Anyone who visits Burma will be delighted, because it has a lot of cultural and natural beauties. Burma is a country of great views, a thousand different faces of Buddha and adventure more beautiful than you can expect.
Burma – the present times
The true reality of the Burmese regime:
Burma is located in the furthest north-western part of South-East Asia, and during British time, for this reason it was called India beyond the Ganges.
British time, for this reason it was called India beyond the Ganges.
Burma is one of the poorest countries of the region, enslaved by brutal military regime, and well-known because of cruelty against its citizens. Many organizations and countries imposed economic sanctions on Burma because of: forced labour camps, slavery, rape, lack of freedom of speech and human smuggling. In recent years, situation with foreign countries improved slightly and Burma began to open up to tourism, to let in some hard currency in to the country. Tourists can feel safe, although many areas are closed, because the military regime deliberately restricts its citizens from contact with foreigners. In many areas contact with tourists is considered “unnecessary” and is even punishable. Out of all the countries of south-east Asia, and in spite of the cultural wealth that Burma certainly has, it is still one of the least visited countries in the region. One of the reasons is that tourists do not want to pay the brutal regime, because their money doesn’t go to poor people but to the military junta. The best way to get to know the reality of Burma is to travel around by local transport. People will then open themselves to talk, although it is important that police or the army does not see that we talk to them, because it could mean trouble for the Burmese. However the most tragic of all is the fact that soldiers regularly rape women, and they use rape as a way to control their slaves in concentration camps!I also find the map of Burma very interesting. I don`t now if anyone ever wondered why the whole north of the country is empty, as if nobody lived there and as if there were no villages there at all. Exactly the same situation is close to the border. These are the areas which the Burmese regime wants us to forget about, because this is where their hell is located. The whole world knows about it and many rich countries profit from it. Satelite photos can go even through the dense Burmese jungle, but diamonds and other courses close eyes very effectively.
In addition, the government changed the name of the country from “Burma” to “Myanmar” but many people do not even recognize the new name and therefore still a lot of people in Burma and around the world use the old name.
I was in Burma 3 times. Once in 2004 and 2 times in 2011. A few things have changed, but nothing for the people. In some places there is more concrete which I don`t want to see anyway, but the people are as poor, as they were before. Since 2004, the military junta has changed a few things, but in my opinion it was completely pointless. They changed the national flag, and they switched the capital from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw, and the reason was an absurd as always. In 2008 Burma was hit by cyclone Nargis, which devastated a large area of ??the country, and later the military regime slaughtered monks who fought for freedom of Burma. 15,000 people were killed and 30,000 went missing. In the 1990’s Burma gradually began to open up to global tourism, because it was a very good way to bring hard currency into the country. Some areas however are still closed to tourists, and that`s why Burma can be reached only by plane. In the Myanmar consulate in London they told me that it was purely for my safety, but the truth is that at the border with Thailand (around the golden triangle) they fight, there are slave labour camps for political enemies of the military regime, and next to rice fields they also cultivate opium. Myanmar is well known for its drug industry. This situation could of course change quickly and all borders could soon be crossed overland, because in such an unstable country like Myanmar anything is possible. The most famous person of Burma is the freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, who after more than seven years was finally released from house arrest, although in my opinion it does not matter anymore, because in spite of winning 80% of the votes in the national elections, she was still not allowed to take power. I think that Burma is not able to get on a better path, because of proximity to China and mines of diamonds, sapphires and rubies, which also go to Europe and the U.S. This means that “saving” Burma is too risky and not beneficial. Maybe situation in Burma is not as tragic as in Tibet, but I still can`t see any chance for improvement, unless Burma will be seen as a strategically important country used for competition with China, which is trying to take control over the whole of Asia.
Burma is an emerging economy of Asia but it is a dirty economy which doesn’t profit its poor people. Years of stagnation and incompetence led to a lack of infrastructure and a general misery. Roads are asphalted only on certain sections and rail tracks are dangerous to use, that’s why in Burma trains run very slowly. I was told that the average salary is $50 – $100 a month, but I think that most people earn about $20 per month. In 2004, when I was in Burma for the first time a hotel boy earned only $4 a month. I believe that this situation has not improved a lot, and many people live only off what they grow. Industry in Burma is virtually non-existent and I think that Burmese are still quite lucky because they have tropical climate which is perfect for growing exotic fruit. In Tibet for example they don’t have this luck. Burmese live mainly from agriculture and they mostly grow rice which accounts for 97% of all grain production. Burma still relies on outside help and all foreign investments come mainly from Asian countries.
Burmese economy has been killed by the regime and if Burma didn’t deal drugs on a mass scale, it would be even worse. Myanmar is located on the infamous Golden Triangle, which is currently the world’s second largest opium producer after Afghanistan. It has been calculated that the drug business in Burma is worth $2 billion a year and just the opium exports is worth about $407 million per year. This means that as much as 40% of the Burmese export comes from drug trafficking and 95% of the world’s opium production comes from the Shan state. 79% of farmers in Burma admit that they prefer to plant cannabis rather than rice because they earn a lot more money.
Another very important branch of the Burmese economy is mining of precious stones, such as sapphires, rubies and pearls. Burma is home to 90% of all rubies in the world and it is a huge gain for the regime, especially that people who work in those mines are prisoners from the local concentration camps, and who are additionally drugged to speed up their work. This obviously brings up the financial gains but also causes HIV infections of its employees. It has been calculated that out of sale of precious stones Burma earns about $1 billion a year and it is important to remember that Burma would never be able to earn such money if it didn’t have slave labour.
The “democratic and civilized” governments are well aware that the Burmese rubies are red with blood and that people die in the streets and live in poverty, and that a narrow group of leaders enjoy all luxuries thanks to drug trafficking. Money opens all doors and cities such as London, Paris or New York earn a living on blood-stained rubies and drug importation – “as a pain-killer in hospitals.”
Literacy level stands at 89.9%. Almost all schools are governed centrally, although there are schools of English language which are private. Education is compulsory on an elementary level (to 9 years old). I have discussed more on this subject in the culture section.
Health care in Burma is very poor. The government spends only symbolic amounts on health, while the general’s daughter got married with precious stones hanging from her neck, and temples are covered with golden flakes. Theoretically health care in Burma is free, but in practice they have to pay for everything because hospitals do not even have basic things. Prostitution and drug addiction are another big problem of Burma, what contributes to a large number of HIV infections. It has been calculated that more than 30% of all prostitutes and 40% of all drug addicts in Burma have HIV. While the infant mortality rate is 240 deaths per 1,000 births, mortality of children under 5 is 73 per 1000. When I was doing my research last time I counted in Burma only 703 tragically supplied hospitals and more than 12,000 doctors, what is definitely not enough considering the 55 million population. In addition, malaria and children malnutrition are rampant in Burma because it amounts to 2.5 million. This situation is further deepening due to bad economics, social conflicts and the regular purges of unwanted ethnic groups. Average life expectancy is only 62 years.
For these reasons an important part of health care is natural medicine, practiced especially by ethnic minorities. Unfortunately this is a form of treatment that goes down in history as older and more experienced people pass away and the young have little knowledge. Natural medicine in Burma has so far reached a state of crisis and that’s why I personally believe that the Burmese government should fund Burmese people training trips to Thailand and China.
The name Burma comes from the largest ethnic group in the country, the “Burmese”. The Burmese population in Burma is about 68% of the population, although the government divides Burma’s population into 135 ethnic groups. Other ethnic groups include Shan (over 4m), Karen (3m) and Hindus, Bengalis and Chinese (over 1m). It is also important that each ethnic group occupies a specific part of Burma and that’s why each one of them has a chance to continue its culture.
English is understood by a large proportion of the population in major cities and therefore English can be considered as a second language. However, the dominant language is Burmese (another name: Myanma), even though the government of Burma recognizes as many as 110 ethno-linguistic groups, meaning that the language of Myanmar varies a little depending on the ethnic group. The Burmese language is of Tibetan origin and its alphabet comes from the scripts of southern India.
Nearly 90% of the Burmese population adheres Theravada Buddhism (Hinayana Buddhism), which was introduced to Burma around the 3rd century by the Indian ruler Ashoka. Depending on the ethnic group there are some differences in certain rites but one can safely say that the Burmese culture is based on Buddhism. Another 1% are animists, but they live mainly in areas cut off from the rest of the country, Christians (4%), Muslims (4%) and Hindus (1%). Christian missionaries have been operating in Burma since the 19th century but have made little progress due to strong Buddhism. Buddhism is also closely related to the education of children because in primary schools Buddhism is taught by local monks and from 10 to 16 years of age boys and some young women live in monasteries. But in order to become a monk there are certain requirements. Potential monk can not have debts or certain illnesses, he must have permission from his parents and must agree to live in accordance with the discipline of the monastery. Buddhist monks in Burma also have important jobs as often, in addition to maintaining the country’s culture and etiquette they work as public figures. By the way, Christians have slim chances to join the Burma’s army.
As for other things, children in Burma are taught to care for younger siblings and to help in the farm and sell their products on the market. The role of women is extremely important but has been diminished by the military junta. In any case, women play a great role in family and economic life but also in politics because women are those who work in opposition. Women also make baskets, pots, hats, carpets and cigars and they are very active in agriculture, what means that women have completely taken over certain branches of economy. Burmese women are also teachers, monks and they are even active in the military. In case of divorce the property is divided equally. On the other hand, politics and the biggest companies are in the hands of men.
Burmese art, theater and literature refer mainly to Buddhism and to the attachment of people to their land but also to a family life according to the Burmese culture. However, due to colonial history and the Internet and the popularity of the English language, European art and literature are also popular to a certain extent.
Media in Burma are controlled, although the government assured it will no longer censor newspapers prior to their release. This is of course another lie, which means that if a newspaper prints something they don`t like, the government will then send those journalists to concentration camps, and soldiers will then rape their wives. The military junta has an absolute power and many western portals are blocked in Burma. Most companies are owned fully by the army.
On the press freedom index Burma is on 169 place out of 179 countries and territories. Nobody is free in Burma.
All environmental problems of Burma are directly related to the military regime. Since Burma opened to foreign investments, for its own benefit foreign companies regularly cut acres of forests, including very valuable teak trees. This of course leads to shrinking of wildlife areas and killing animals such as: rhinos, tigers and elephants. Due to endless greed of the regime National Parks are also at risk of cutting out. There is also a huge problem with the lack of fish, because fish are confiscated by the army, which contributes to starvation of people who depend on them. There is also a Yadana gas pipe led to Thailand through the jungle. It is almost unbelievable that Burma was once called the “rice bowl of Asia”.
History of Burma
Around the III century BC there was a rich tribe in south Burma. At that time Burma was already known to India and China, and it was known as the Golden Land. With time other nations began settling in Burma, and about the IX century it was reached by Bamar tribe from the border of China and Tibet. Later in the year 849 they established the city of Pagan. Then the ruler of Burma combined all tribes and conquered the Mon kingdom and in 1057 created the First Burmese Empire. XII century was the time when Burma flourished but in the XIII century the Burmese Empire begun to get weak. Then in 1287 Mongols invaded Burma and seriously weakened it but they finally retreated. Tribe Shan (now Thailand) benefited from it and took a piece of Burma.
In the XV century the first European reached Burma. It was an Italian man Di Nicolo Conti, who arrived in Bago. Then, in the XVI century people Bamar rose to power, attacked Shan tribe and created the Second Burmese Empire. Then, in the XVII century the British, French and Dutch began to trade with Burma. In 1752 the Mon tribe grew in strength and with the help from the French attacked Shan’s capital – Inwa, and led the Second Burmese Empire to an end. Mon tribe victory did not last long, because soon after Bamar people conducted a counterattack, and then regained Inwa in 1753, conquered the capital of the Shan in 1755 and changed its name to Yangon.
In the XIX century Burma was caught in a conflict with the United Kingdom and fought with it three fierce wars. The result of it was, that over about 30 years Great Britain was taking Burma piece by piece, and January 1 1886 Burma officially became a British colony. At the beginning of the XX century nationalism began to grow in Burma and in 1932 they carried out a revolution which was defeated. It is also worth mentioning that in the beginning colonial Burma was placed together with India as India beyond the Ganges, but in 1937 Burma became a seperate British colony. Then, in 1942 Japanese invaded Burma and quickly defeated the British in the same year, gaining Mandalay. The British wanted to regain control of the former colony and attacked the Japanese in 1942 and 1943 but failed. The Japanese in return attacked India in 1944, but the British were able to defend it. The British even managed to push the Japanese back to Burma, and soon after, they won Yangon and Mandalay in 1945. But the same year the British became so weak that they were not able to control Burma any longer, and therefore decided to give Burma its independence, and in 1947 they wrote a new constitution. Then on the 4 January 1948 Burma became independent.
At the beginning of independent Burma the country was heading towards democracy, and its leader Aung San merged all ethnic minorities living in Burma and formed one country. Unfortunately a year later he was murdered and Burma drowned in chaos for the next several years. In 1962 Burma was taken over by a military junta, which controls the country with an iron hand “in the name of socialism”, what can be best translated to “in the name of poverty and brutal regime.” The military junta imprisons its citizens, kills them, rapes and performs a number of sophisticated methods described above – in “Burma – the present times.” For decades there have been many pro-democracy movements but they were always brutally suppressed and thousands of people were killed. For example in 1988 people began to openly talk about human rights and democracy, and in effect of this 10,000 people were brutally massacred, and the military regime ironically created the Council of Restoring Law and Order. It is worth mentioning that the opposition party (Democratic) won the elections winning 82% of votes, and still was pushed aside by the hard military dictatorship, and the leader of the Democratic party called Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest. This lady is a daughter of the assassinated independence leader and former heart and soul of independent Burma. As if there still had not been enough nonsense, in 1989 the name of Burma was officially renamed into the Union of Myanmar, and the Burmuse citizens` hell is going on. Although Myanmar is rich in natural resources, it is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with its economy, infrastructure and healthcare completely devastated. In 2007 there was another revolution organized by monks, but regime crushed them very violently and once again there was no change. In 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Burma killing tens of thousands, and thousands became homeless. Anyway, the junta held another “election” and as they claim they won 92% of the votes. In 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi was released from the house arrest and in 2012 she won a seat in the parliament.
Some believe that Burma has a chance for a peaceful transition, but I think that Aung San Suu Kyi`s parliament seat was only junta’s theater for the West, and it still feels unpunished. Burma is rich in natural resources and junta will not give it up easily.
Tourist visa: I got mine in London for GBP14, for 4 weeks (28days). Another good place to do it is Bangkok. Burma can be reached only by air and sea, but the best way is by plane from Bangkok to Yangon. Land crossings are closed.
Useful information is that in this beautiful, low-cost country you can stay way beyond the visa expiry date. It costs $3 per day plus and extra $3 “administration fee”. I personally know someone who was 16 days longer and left Burma without any problem, after paying at the airport.
Safety: safe country for tourists but I do not advise to talk about politics. There may be local demonstrations against the regime but it is still safe for tourists. To me the only real danger are the natural disasters.
Getting around the country: by the standards of a developing country transport is organized quite well. There are trains, but I recommend buses because it gives a better opportunity to get to know the country. Listening to the local charts and jumping to the ceiling at a bumpy road give no shortage of attractions.
Prices: (in 2011 when 1 $ = 760-800 kyat) is very cheap but more expensive for tourists. For a room in Yangon I paid $ 4. In other places, prices ranged from $ 3-5 with breakfast. I paid for a meal about $1 -$2 or less. Transportation is also very cheap but the most expensive of all. For example for a bus ride from Bago to Mandalay I paid 12,000 kyat. Other routes are a matter of about $6-$8. For a train from Mandalay to Bagan I paid only $4. There are also entrance to places of interests, and it is a matter of $5 to $10. I think that the magic sum of 20 dollars a day will buy a decent living.
Climate: tropical monsoon and monsoon, depending on the region. The average temperature is 25oC. Approximately 32°C in summer and 22°C-25°C in the winter months.
Internet: Internet in Burma is hopeless and that is why I recommend it only to the very patient. Even in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay I needed 15-20 minutes to get to my mailbox. There are also electricity cut offs, which can occur suddenly. The only place where internet worked well was to my surprise a small town north of Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin.