“This is Burma”, wrote Rudyard Kipling. “It is quite unlike any place you know about”.
Over a century later this statement still holds true. This densely-forested country, now called Myanmar, appears to have changed very little since the days of British rule. Many people still use a horse and cart to travel around, cell phones don’t work and the ubiquitous Starbucks is nowhere to be seen.
For many years isolated from the rest of the world, due to its appalling human rights record, Myanmar held its first general election for over twenty years in 2010. This marked the beginning of the transition from military rule to civilian democracy, although the process has not been entirely smooth. Decades of mismanagement and international isolation mean that Myanmar is now one of the world’s least-developed countries.
There is a strong appetite for change, however, and in 2011 the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made a landmark visit to Myanmar – the first by a senior U.S. official in 50 years. This followed the freeing of the country’s pro-democracy Opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest and her eventual election into the Burmese parliament. Since then, a number of state heads, including the U.S. President Barack Obama, have visited Myanmar.
The world’s largest exporter of teak, and a producer of sapphires, pearls, rubies and jade, Myanmar is also an important source of offshore oil and gas deposits. With its beautiful landscape, historic pagodas and charming people, Myanmar has much to offer the outside world. No-one who spends time in this fascinating country will ever forget it.