Luxury Travel Magazine story: ‘Myanmar – Cuba of the East’, July 2015

A feature story for the Winter 2015 issue of Luxury Travel Magazine. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt below.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. It’s okay to call it Myanmar. “Most people here don’t care,” our guide, Ye Thiwa, says. “They just want stability. They want prosperity.”

The military junta in control of what was then known as Burma made the decision in 1989 to change the country’s name. Why? Because, Ye tells us, the Burmese people are actually just one tribe out of 135 distinct ethnic groups — but also the largest, accounting for 68 percent of the population. The generals wanted a name that better represented the overall population. And a popular vote wouldn’t have changed a thing.

That’s the official logic, at least.

And — yes — you should visit. Aung San Suu Kyi — Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a living oracle for Myanmar not long released after two decades of house arrest — now welcomes visitors to the country, as long as it’s through private companies interested in developing responsible tourism.

Right now, Myanmar is something of a Cuba of the East. The two countries have vastly different political backgrounds but both have suddenly sprung open to the world after decades of isolation. It means you should visit Myanmar now, before the tourism economy — official numbers of which have visitors trebling since 2012 to 3.1 million — and any associated exhaustion begins to take hold.

You can still see the curiosity of a foreign encounter in the faces of the people. Quite literally, in one sense: the thanaka, a yellow cosmetic paste applied to the cheeks of women and children to help moisturise and protect from sunburn, is a distinctive cultural trait. But more-so in the way they deal with you: with warmth rather than the weariness of a people worn down by a succession of big foot westerners.

We mainline a dose of untouched Myanmar on our first day in Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, taking a dusty train trip south from the airport into the centre of town. The carriages are packed with locals, many making their way to the iconic Bogyoke Market to sell fabrics or gemstones or perhaps yoghurt flavoured with jaggery (concentrated toddy palm sap).

For the full story, visit Luxury Travel Magazine.

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