I love Myanmar. Some moments I had there were rougher than others, which just made them that much more memorable. I have never been so welcomed and accepted in my life. No joke, I was a celebrity. The Burmese are genuinely welcoming and curious of foreigners. It was nice to speak with people that were actually interested in my story than those just looking to push a sale or beg for money, which occurred often throughout parts of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The country had been slammed by a technological sweep as infrastructure quickly improved to accommodate foreigner’s needs, such as mobile phones becoming more reliable and affordable, compared to previous years. Rumors were that a sim card cost hundreds of dollars and it rarely worked because of limited cell sites. Now that tourism has boomed, cell phone usage has skyrocketed with some employees handling at least two or three phones to address business and personal affairs. Wifi and ATM’s are becoming more widespread, yet many are still rarely functional.
With borders only open to tourists within the last two years, Myanmar was different from anywhere I have ever travelled. It appeared the country was at an awkward phase in its growth. The Burmese Government has held a firm grip over its people for decades, persecuting those speaking against the government and restricting foreigner entry. Figures of freedom, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, are the inspiration that has influenced the Burmese people to stand up for their rights. Many natives do not believe in addressing the country as Burma any longer because it only represents past hardships. With a progression towards freedom, Burma is lost and now Myanmar resides. Though life has been improving in recent years, it is far from perfect.
The surge of tourism has now suddenly thrown Myanmar into the rat race of the 21st century with technology and corporate interest oozing out of every orifice possible. I witnessed a reoccurring theme while I bounced around Southeast Asia of foreign government and corporate interests scooping up every profitable resource and market for maximum capitalization. This was well established throughout many regions of Cambodia and Laos, with entire mountains (literally) bulldozed to accommodate palm oil and rubber tree plantations. The fascinating, though tragic, part about visiting Myanmar at such an early stage of expansion was watching how quickly investors are capitalizing on the new travel hotspot. I do not remember numbers or specifics, but I recollect a news broadcast while I was in Bagan detailing the amount of money tourism has brought the thriving nation in the past two years. It was an exceptionally large amount that only leads me to predict a wave of new development; good and bad. As I witnessed in Vietnam, lavish and absurd structures (hotels, and pointless skyscrapers included) were constructed in every other city to establish another “must-see” temple, monument, or pagoda in hopes of persuading tourists to pay a visit. With McDonalds and KFC infecting the land of Myanmar as of spring 2015, I am interested to see how the nation develops in coming years.
Of all the hearsay, research, and photography that I encounter prior to visiting anywhere, whether it is a foreign land across the world or the grocery store down the street; its true essence can never be captured. I have to go there myself. I must be present, physically and mentality, which is not always the case. I am sure we have all had those times when we are physically where we are suppose to be, but mentally a universe away. I know I do often, which is why I allow myself enough time to daze off into nothingness and appreciate the moment for what it is worth. Myanmar, a place not yet engulfed by tourism and corporate interests, holds an innocent beauty that will unfortunately only dwindle away day by day as growth settles in like a child becoming a teenager.
To those who have supported my travels and writing all these years; thank you for your support. I appreciate the patient followers that wait for my next entertaining story. To every friend, enemy, relative, peer, lover, stranger, host, guest, and guide I have encountered throughout my journey on this earth; thanks for joining me. Everyone’s encouragement has inspired me to apply to Grad School next fall. Applying does not mean accepted, so I will see what happens. As far as joejoeonthego, next time I will entertain with the extremes of what is just another day in Myanmar.