Breaking free in Burma


In 2011 the military dictatorship which had ruled Burma for nearly 50 years officially ended, a long running tourism boycott was lifted, and the country opened its doors to the outside world. While human rights violations are still reported, inter ethnic strife widespread and the conversion to liberal democracy questionable, the country’s long isolation has left a world little changed since British colonial rule where men still wear longyi and thanakha is favoured over modern makeup. It encompasses landscapes where 4000 stupas rise spectacularly across the plains of Bagan, traditional handicrafts are created on islands in the middle of Lake Inle, and Palaung, Pa-O, Tangthu and Danu minority communities and their rice paddies are dispersed across the Shan plateau.
But perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Burmese culture. With flights from Bangkok exceedingly cheap and visas readily available on arrival, the influx of tourists plying the south-east asian loop to the east will no doubt bring their vices with them. How will this kaleidoscope of ethnicities, so long guided by religion and community, while oppressed by the authorities, respond to this new freedom and the lure of the tourist dollar?

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