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Myanmar’s Past is Shaping its Future

As Myanmar emerges from fifty years of political isolation, concerted efforts are being made to ease the multi-cultural South Asian nation back into the international community.  These efforts are bolstered by a surge of interest from tourists all over the world, who are eager to experience the culture, history, topography, and cuisine of this unique country, as well as her diverse historical monuments.  

Myanmar’s shimmering golden temples and shrines such as “The old Moulmein Pagoda, looking eastward to the sea,” immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, have long lured travelers “back to Mandalay,” but it is her Colonial-era landmarks that are now attracting considerable attention from both preservationists and investors.  Myanmar boasts the highest number of Colonial-era buildings in South East Asia, a legacy of British Rule from 1824-1948 of what was then called Burma.  Iconic buildings such as the Secretariat, the Merchant Road complex, the Strand Hotel, and the former Police Commissioners’ Building are currently being renovated and repurposed to respond to the growing demand for retail establishments and upscale hotel rooms.  

Another important aspect of Myanmar’s focus in historical preservation is a renewed emphasis on protecting the particular traditions and languages of the people who make up Myanmar’s numerous ethnic groups: though the Bamar are the overwhelming majority at 68% of the population, the remainder of Myanmar’s citizens represent a staggering 135 distinct ethnic groups, including the Shan, Karen, Rahkine, Chines, Mon, Kachin, Chin, Indian, Kayah and others. 

Perhaps the most controversial of Myanmar’s historical restorations have been linguistic.  Myanmar’s largest city, commercial capital, and former political capital is Yangon, better known to Westerners by its Colonial-era name, “Rangoon.”  Many Burmese cities, streets and parks were renamed after the country declared its independence in 1948.  In 1989, the military junta in power changed the capital’s name from Rangoon to its pre-Colonial name of “Yangon,” meaning “end of strife,” which the city acquired in 1755 after King Alaungpaya conquered the settlement of Dagon - then a mere fishing village, significant only because of its proximity to the Shwedagon Pagoda.  Experts differ on the etymology of Rangoon, but it is generally thought to be simply a typical linguistic butchering by the British of “Yangon.”  The United States and United Kingdom pointedly continued to use both “Burma” and “Rangoon” until comparatively recently as a protest of the military junta.  But as new political winds blow through the palm trees (and the temple bells), we can only wish the people of this exquisite country the very best as they make peace with their turbulent history and the most of their bright future.

Explore Myanmar’s past and present at your own pace on Alexander+Robert’s carefully-crafted itinerary, A Private Tour of Myanmar: an independent journey into the heart of the country that takes in the ancient royal capitals of Inwa, Amarapura, the beauty of Bagan, Inle Lake, and Yangon, with plenty of interaction with Myanmar’s local people.

Posted: 6/7/2016 2:10:30 PM by Alexander + Roberts