Category Archives: Tradition

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Myanmar

The Hidden Gems of Myanmar

One visit to Myanmar is enough to dazzle travellers. The eclectic fusion of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new entices visitors to partake of and enjoy the way Myanmar thrives, despite the many challenges it faces. The discerning traveller would not miss observing the energy, hope and potential lurking in the air of Myanmar.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has opened its doors to the world in the last couple of years and has become one of the go-to holiday destinations for people across the globe. Myanmar provides something to please everyone and ensures that nobody leaves its shores disappointed. The most popular tourist destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Bagan to name a few. However, there are a number of places in Myanmar that have remained off the beaten track. This article uncovers such gems.


Loikaw, the smallest state of Myanmar, has largely remained untouched by tourists and is one of the least visited places in Myanmar, which adds to the charm and lure of the place. Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip. Loikaw, along with Demoso, in the Kayah State, have been opened to independent tourists only since 2013.

For a place so remote and unaffected by tourism, the large ethnic diversity one finds in Loikaw is fascinating to observe- Palaung, Shan, Kayah, Kayan are some of the groups found here, each adding their bit in making the state of Loikaw an eclectic melting pot. A stroll through the villages of Loikaw will open up interesting vistas for the tourists in the form of stunning pagodas, temples, stupas, lakes and caves. Tourists are likely to come across ‘long neck women’ wearing golden rings coiled around their necks. A curious traveller will certainly be intrigued by this unusual sight. While it is difficult to trace a reason for this, it is believed that these rings protect the Palaung women from being killed by tigers and the long neck makes them look beautiful.

Loikaw offers a quiet and serene environment to tourists, ideal for indulging their spiritual side and to introspect. One of the most popular sights in Loikaw is the famous pagoda called, ‘Taung Kwe’, towering above the town, on the top of a lime stone hill on the Mingalar Thiri Mountain. The spectacular view of the town especially during sunset makes the journey to Loikaw worthwhile. A cluster of other pagodas such as Myaka Lup pagoda, Shwe Let War pagoda and Nagayon pagoda stand behind Taung Kwe pagoda. Other places that offer a visual treat to tourists include:

i. Seven Stages Lake- a series of seven interconnected lakes, known for the scenic beauty and tranquillity they offer to the tourists.

ii. Christ the King Cathedral- built in 1939, it is Kayah’s oldest surviving church and is a fusion of traditional European architecture and local Buddhist styles.

iii. Kayah State Cultural Museumbuilt in 1996, it is a treasure trove for all the art and cultural aficionados, interested in discovering the life of the Kayah inhabitants. The museum holds a rich collection of books, traditional dresses, household utensils, weapons, paintings and musical instruments.

The sleepy city of Loikaw provides a pleasant introduction to the Kayah way of life and is a base for venturing out into the neighbouring villages.


The Hidden Gems of MyanmarSitting on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin river, the capital of Kayin (also known as Karen) State, Hpa-an is a place where time seems to stand still. The laidback atmosphere and breath-taking caves and mountains make Hpa-an a backpacker’s paradise. Thanks to the new highway linking Hpa-an to the Thai border at Mae Sot and Yangon, and improved border crossing facilities at Myawaddy, this remote place is witnessing a steady flow of visitors, especially from the neighbouring Thailand.

The population of Hpa-an, about 421,575 (2014 census), predominantly comprises people of the Karen ethnic group, which make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. The place offers a unique opportunity to the curious traveller to know more about the local Karen culture, as majority of people have held on to their traditional ways and language.While Hpa-an is safe and peaceful for visitors, November is a good time to head there, for the visitor can experience the Karen Don festival and get a true insight into its culture.

Besides lazing around at the delightful riverside, soaking in the picturesque landscape, lush green fields, tourists have plenty to enthral them on their visit.

i. Mt. Zwegabin- Dominating the landscape of Hpa-an is Mt. Zwegabin, about 7 miles south of the town, and 2372 ft. in height. The hike to the summit is demanding, but duly compensated by the stunning 3600 views of the town on offer.

ii. Saddan Cave- Gigantic cavern filled with dozens of Buddha statues, pagodas, wall cravings and a lake, transports the traveller to a different world away from the hustle bustle.

iii. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda- Perched atop a limestone pinnacle, this unique and surreal pagoda almost seems to defy gravity.

iv. Kaw Gun Cave- Located near Kawgun village, this is a natural limestone cave and is covered with several Buddha statues, many dating back to the seventh century.

While Hpa-an may not be the preferred place to visit on the trip to Myanmar, it certainly is worth a visit and offers spectacular vistas for the tourists.


The Hidden Gems of MyanmarBeing closed for tourism until early 2013, Dawei is largely undeveloped and unexplored. But, therein lies an opportunity for an adventurous traveller, looking for an authentic and novel experience. Dawei offers jaded travellers everything that a metropolitan city does not- peace, fresh air, pristine beaches, solitude, few people et al.

Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Region and got its independence from the British rule in 1948. It has enormous potential for tourism, as it has something for everyoneuntouched coastline, jungle interior, sprinkling of islands, beautiful pagodas and white sand beaches. With imminent development threatening to disturb the idyllic and untouched environment of Dawei, a trip to Dawei makes for a great treat. Some of the places that could be explored besides lazing around in the town are:

i. Maungmagan Beach- The most popular beach with the locals, around 12 km west of Dawei, Maungmagan has seen a semblance of development; some tea shops, beer stations and restaurants.

ii. Nabule Beach- Tourists can head to Nabule Beach around 15 km north if they want to experience stunning white sands of the Nabule Beach, away from humanity.

iii. Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda- The main religious site in Dawei, the Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda is a sprawling complex of shrines and statues.

Dawei is one of those places where one could just relax and do nothing.

Rudyard Kipling described Burma (now Myanmar) as, “This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It is calling out loud to travellers, time to answer the call.

Courtesy- Arun Arora is a writer, trekker and a traveler who shares his experiences on various digital portals.

Bagan: A Jewel of Southeast Asia


Lying on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy river – 150 kilometers south-west of Mandalay, the vast plain of Bagan is a home to thousands of Buddhist temples that combine to form one of the richest archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and an extraordinary testament to the religious devotion of Myanmar’s people and rulers over the centuries.

Along with offering views quite unlike anywhere else on the earth, one of the beauties of spending time in what is now officially called the Bagan Archaeological Zone is that, once you have paid your K25,000 entry fee, you have the freedom to explore this fascinating area at your own leisure. Bagan is in general more-touristy and possibly less of the ‘real Myanmar’ than other parts of the country, but despite obvious sales ploys such as a multitude of children selling hand-drawn postcards, you will rarely suffer the hard sell – and the locals remain warm and friendly.

An Ancient Kingdom

BaganBagan (formerly known as Pagan) was the capital of a large influential kingdom from the ninth to the thirteenth century. This kingdom was the first to unify the area that is now Myanmar, establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity as well as Theravada Buddhism in the region. Over this period of rule, as the city and kingdom grew in stature, over ten thousand temples were built on the surrounding plains.

Mongol invasions eventually led to the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city was reduced to a small settlement, never to recover its past glory. The area did, however, remain a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. A few hundred temples were added between the thirteenth and twentieth century, but the extensive earthquake damage over the years meant only 2,200 temples remained, in differing states of repair.

Indeed, over the last five hundred years, many of the existing temples have been renovated – a process continuing till date, has yielded mixed results. Many say that Bagan has not attained the UNESCO World Heritage site status due to the Myanmar government’s insensitive updates in the 1990s, although it is once again being considered. However, the area is large enough and there remains so much of what is original still to see, that none of this stops the area from being a unique wonder to behold.


A Vast and Diverse Area

Each of the 2,200 plus temples, stupas and pagodas has its own unique story to tell, and many can be freely explored inside and out. Some are locked, but even if you are traveling around without a guide, you can sometimes find a friendly local nearby to open them for you. The most spectacular time to see the temples is when the sun dramatically rises and falls over the plain at dawn or dusk.

A large earthquake hit Bagan in 2016 and caused significant damage to some of the temples, but ironically, much of it was to the more modern additions to the then ancient structures. Many believe that the quake may actually end up encouraging more sensitive development in the area, and the vast majority of temples are now once again free to be explored.

Exploring the Temples and Plain

There are a number of ways to explore the area:

  • By Bicycle

This is the cheapest way to get around, and allows the most freedom to do as you choose; the plain is too large to explore by foot, but getting around by bike allows you to get to most of the temples. Almost all hotels and guesthouses offer them for hire, as do various restaurants and shops on the popular ‘Restaurant Row’ in the town of Nyaung U.

You can also cheaply hire an electric bike – through on the flat plains of Bagan, the advantages over a bicycle are minimal (tourists are not allowed to use motorbikes in the area).

You can pick up a free tourist map showing you the main points of interest; although you are unlikely to get seriously lost, it is worth planning your trip in advance to make the most of your time. Bear in mind that it can get hot and dusty when cycling, particularly during hotter times of the year, so carrying water is essential and helps you beat the heat. You can pick up refreshments at the many restaurants and tea shops in the area.

  • Horse and Cart Guided Tour

This is the most romantic way to tour the temples. Most drivers can speak minimum English and have the profound knowledge of better routes around the temples along with few hidden gems. However, horses have to follow more well-trodden tracks than bicycles, as there are areas they cannot reach. Prices range from K15,000 to K25,000 for a day, depending on the season.

  • By Car

If you want to avoid the heat and dust completely, take an air-conditioned taxi or minibus. This is naturally the most comfortable way to get around, and most drivers speak some English. Cars will usually cost between $20 and $50 per day, depending on the season and how far you travel.

  • By Hot Air Balloon

The most exotic and spectacular way to see the temples is to head to the sky. Trips cost USD285 per person and offer a unique view of the plain and temples. You should always book well in advance, particularly at popular times of the year such as Christmas and the New Year (the ballooning season runs from October to April).

Taking two or more days and using different forms of transport can be the best way to explore the plains. If you see the highlights by horse and cart or hot air balloon, then following it up with a bike ride can be the ideal way to find the specific temples that have taken your fancy.


A Guide to the Top Temples

The best approach to explore temples with a guide, but you can also get some advice from a friendly local and start exploring on your own. There are some sites that should not be missed, which include:

  • The large and the beautifully maintained Ananda Pagoda – A huge festival takes place here in late December, which celebrates the traditional lives of farmers in the area; locals come from surrounding villages in their decorated bullock carts and camp on the plain. Theatrical troupes provide entertainment, and on the final daybreak, there are formal alms given to monks who live in the nearby monastery.
  • The Gawdaw Palin Pagoda which sits on the banks of the Irrawaddy River
  • The Myoe Daung Monastery – a beautiful teak-built structure and the imposing Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan.
  • The distinctive red brick Dhammayangyi temple, covering the largest area of all the temples in the area.
  • The tallest structure on the plain, The That Byin Nyu temple.
  • Amazing sunrise and sunset views from the Shwesandaw Pagoda and Pyathada pagodas. As of the new season starting in October 2017, there will also be a number of new hilltop viewpoints to stop overcrowding on the temples, and hopefully climbing on the temples will be restricted.
    Of all the pagodas in Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U is a traditional Myanmar temple complex.

Away from the towns and most famous temples, exploring off beaten tracks can be a lot of fun; the pagodas that can be found east of Nyaung U, along with the banks of the Irrawaddy, are a good example. Here you will find open temples with beautifully preserved interiors, from the top of which you will see fantastic views over the river – and hardly other tourists.

For more background, history and more impressive collection of artifacts from the region, head to the Bagan Archaeological Museum, located off the main road near the river bank in Old Bagan (entry$5).

Content and Photo Courtesy – Marcus Allender, Founder,

From the Land of Shan State

Shan State

Shan State is one of the most popular States in Myanmar for tourists, not only because of its cuisine, but also because of the different attraction it offers. It is located in the Middle Eastern part of Myanmar, and its capital Taunggyi is famous for the Hot-air Balloon Festival.

It is also famous for the beautiful Inle Lake, where the floating gardens, the fishermen village and the unique way of one-leg paddling will fascinate you.

For adventurers, Hsipaw and Kalaw are two great cities to be in touch with nature and do trekking while Kakku Pagodas are a must visit the religious site.

If Asian food is one of the best and most varied in the world, imagine a country with its own delicious cuisine plus a healthy dose of Asian ingredients and cooking styles. Burmese cuisine is also very healthy, favoring fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish products like fish sauce and fish paste and fermented seafood.

Here are three of the most popular and authentic Shan State dishes:

1. Shan Noodles

Shan Noodles

Shan noodles are one of the most popular dishes in Myanmar. You will find them in every teahouse and restaurant. You can have them either as a soup or as a salad, and in both cases, the sauce is the same. The noodles are different. The ones used for the soup are sticky and flat rice noodles, whereas the ones used for the salad are thick and round rice noodles.

To prepare the sauce, they blend tomatoes and then add salt, sugar, oil, sugar cane sauce and paprika. Then everything goes in a pot to boil.

2. Shan Yellow Rice Cake with Tomato Sauce

Shan Yellow RiceShan Yellow RiceThis is one of the dishes, when tasted, gets glued to your memory and taste buds forever.

For cooking the rice, there is no trick, just wash it, add water, turmeric powder for the yellow color, salt and a little bit of chicken powder.

There are two different tomato sauces, one to mix with the rice and the other to put on top of the rice cake.

For the first one, cut tomatoes in half, add salt and cook them in a pot until you have a sauce. Leave to cool. Remove the tomato skin. Then, you stir the yellow rice to make it a little bit sticky and mix it with this tomato sauce. Before pouring all the tomato sauce, separate some in a bowl and add turmeric oil. Use this mix to wet your hands and season the rice cake while you shape it.

The second tomato sauce to add on top of the cake is the key. To prepare it, heat oil and add onions, garlic, fermented soya bean powder, dried chili powder and turmeric powder. Then, add grained tomatoes, salt and chicken powder. At this point, you can also add coriander or spring onion and chicken or pork.

There is always another side sauce to add on top of the cake, turmeric and garlic sauce. Just heat oil, fry garlic and then add turmeric powder. Its crunchy-garlic touch is amazing. And any cracker like pork skin, bean or rice goes perfectly well with this dish.

3. Black Sesame Seed and Sticky Rice Cake (KhorPoat)

Shan KhorPoat

This is a very traditional snack in Shan State made with purple rice, black and round sesame seeds and salt.

It is really interesting to see how they prepare it. They, place the cooked rice into a stone “bowl” situated on the ground and add black round sesame seeds (already mashed) and salt. Then there is a “wooden machine” that smashes and mixes it to form the dough.

To sell it, they separate the dough into small portions of the same size and wrap it in the banana leaf so that it doesn’t dry.

The most popular and tasty way of having it is fried or barbequed, although you can also eat it raw. It is usually eaten in winters and served with brown sugar or jaggery on the side. It only costs between 100-200 kyats ($0.1 – 0.2).

Content and Picture Courtesy – Mr. Juan Gallardo, Writer at Myanmar Travel Essentials

Juan has traveled extensively to discover everything about Burmese cuisine, tasting traditional dishes cooked for him by the locals. It is these amazing dishes, the warmth of the people and the beauty of the land that is captured in his book “Delicious Myanmar”.

Tribes of Myanmar Part 2


Karenni also known as kayahli (meaning red humans) is a Sino-Tibetan tribe of Myanmar living mostly in the Kayah state of Burma. The states of Karenni were independent, with feudal ties to Burma. It was a group of states located south of the Federated Shan States and east of British Burma. Most of the Kayah people traditionally follow animism or spiritualism. The name “Red Karen” is derived from the main color in their traditional costumes and bearing some resemblance to the costumes of ethnic Kayin (Karen). Less than 1% of Kayahs occupy Myanmar and majority of them live by farming and other agricultural activities. A larger part of the population is settled in Mae Hong Son Province of Northern Thailand. They live in military occupied towns and villages and along rebel borderlands near Thailand as IDPs (Internally Displaced People). Large numbers of Kayah people started fleeing Myanmar in the early 1990s, escaping abuse and atrocities in the war between the Burmese military and the Karenni National Progressive Party.


The Mon people are highly cultured Buddhist ethnic group from Burma (Myanmar) living mostly in Mon State, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta and along the southern border of Thailand and Burma. They are one of the first people to have arrived in Burma and are responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in the country. They speak the Mon language and share origin with the Nyah Kur people of Thailand. The Eatsern Mon people associate themselves to the royal family of Thailand and keep their Mon heritage alive. The western Mom people have be absorbed by the Barmar society but continue to fight to preserve their roots and ancestry.  The Mon were heavily influenced by Indian Hindu culture and Asoka Buddhist kingdom in India. They speak a Mon-Khmer language called Mon. Their houses are similar to Thai homes, except that they are always situated east and west. Mon families are not particularly patrilineal (male-dominated), except when dealing with the “house spirit.”


The Rakhine people formerly known as the Arakanese people live in southeastern   parts  of  Bangladesh , especially in Chittagong and Divisions. Arakanese descendants spread as far north as  state in India, where their presence dates back to the ascent of the Arakanese kingdom when Tripura was ruled by Arakanese kings. In northeast India, these Arakanese people are referred to as the Mog, while in Bengali, the Marma (the ethnic Arakanese descendants in Bangladesh) and other Arakanese people are referred to as the Magh people. They practice Theravada Buddhism and there culture while more Burmese dominant have traces of Indian influence. Their language is also closely related to Burmese. In Arakan antiquities Buddhism seems to have last settled down, at the last Kingdom of independent Arakan. Most Arakanese speak an unusual variety of the Burmese language that includes significant differences from Burmese pronunciation and vocabulary.


The Shan are a Tai ethnic tribe of Myanmar. They live in the Shan state of Burma but also inhabit parts of Mandalay, Kayin and Kachin State. Some of these groups in fact speak Tibeto-Burman and Mon-Khmer languages, although they are assimilated into Shan society. The majority of the Shan people are Theravada Buddhists and are believed to have migrated from Yunnan in China. They have the most fascinating history of any of the indigenous tribes in Myanmar. They have lived in the Shan state of Burma for over a thousand years. They have come a long way from being dominant rulers of the “Shan States” in now Laos, China and Thailand to losing being an Independent Shan State and being under the rule of Burma. They make their living out of farming cash crops such as rice and tropical and sub-tropical fruits. Tea is also an important cash crop for them and they are often reported to make their living from growing opium poppy. There has been emergence of the area as a major opium growing and trafficking base, thwarted the emergence of a truly independent Shan State.



PC:Mr. V. C. Scott O'Connor

The Bamar people are the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar. Bamar people live primarily in the Irrawaddy River basin and speak the Burmese language.  Bamar customs and identity are closely intertwined with the broader Burmese culture. The Bamar people are often imprecisely called “Burmese”, though this term in contemporary usage can refer to any citizen of Myanmar, regardless of ethnicity. Their cuisine consists of stir frying technique and curries and the diet consists of fish, rice, salads and noodles. They traditionally wear sarongs, known as longyi and women wear a sarong named htamain. Their arts, literature, music, dance and theatre is manifested in Theravada Buddhism. Barmar people practice the basic Five Precepts of Buddhism and charity, morality and meditation.


The Chin people are the other ethnic minority in Burma. The Chin people are believed to have come to Burma via the Chindwin Valley. The major group of Chin people are Zomi; however, there are six other groups and several tribes and clans among the Chin people. The seven major groups are: Asho, K’cho, Kuki, Lai, Lushai, and Mro/Khumi. 

The Chin people practice oral traditions, and do not have written historical records. The Chin language has approximately 40 to 45 dialects. Of these, the most widely spoken are: Tedim among Northern Chin; Hakha and Falam among Central Chin; and Mindat Cho among Southern Chin. Chin State is located in the southern part of northwestern Burma (Myanmar), bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, Rakhine State to the south, and Magwe and Sagaing Divisions to the east. Alcohol & tobacco abuse is common among male Chin. In the Chin Hills, the traditional alcohol, zu, is seen as a status symbol and is not as easily accessible. Chins practice christiantiny and traditional Chins practice animism.

Kachin (also known as Jingpo people)

Kachin (also known as Jingpo people)

The Jingpo people, who in Burma are a subset of the Kachin people, are an ethnic group who largely inhabit the Kachin Hills in northern Burma’s Kachin State and neighbouring areas of China and India. The Jingpo people are an ethnic affinity of several tribal groups, known for their fierce independence, disciplined fighting skills, complex clan inter-relations, embrace Christianity, craftsmanship, herbal healing and jungle survival skills. The Kachins claim that the term Kachin is not from their language. Therefore, many of the Kachins only want to use the term “Jinghpaw Wunpawng” to mean all the Kachins ethnics. The Jigno folk people worship various Gods as well as the spirits of their ancestors. The Jingpo ancestors lived on the Tibetan plateau and migrated gradually towards the south. They wear shields made from buffalo hide, many of them can be as long as four feet. They also have helmets that are made from either buffalo hide or rattan-work, and vanished black and decorated with the boar’s tusks. The tribesmen are known to be addicted to opium.


The Kayin or the Karen people are Sino-Tibetan language speaking ethnic group and primarily reside in Karen State. A large number of Karen people have migrated to Thailand and are commonly known for their ring wearing practice around their neck. Karen people mostly live in the Irrawady delta of Myanmar and Karen legends refer to a ‘river of running sand’ which ancestors reputedly crossed. Karen languages are mostly Tibeto-Burman languages and is influenced by neighboring Mon and Tai. Karens practice Christianity, Buddhism and Animism. Since the Christian Karens have faced persecution in a predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, they have migrated and moved to settle in the northern hills of Thailand. Most Karen people are subsistence farmers, living in small mountain villages, and growing rice and vegetables and raising animals.

History Of Burma

Early Burma

History Of BurmaThe Nation we know as Burma was first formed during the goldenage of Pagan in the 11th century. King Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044, uniting Burma under his monarchy. His belief in Buddhism lead him to begin building the temples and pagodas for which the city of Pagan (above) is renowned. Pagan became the first capital of a Burmese kingdom that included virtually all of modern Burma. The golden age of pagan reached its peak in during the reign of Anawratha’s successor,Kyanzitta (1084-1113), another devout Buddhist, under whom it aquired the name
” City of four million pagodas “.

Under Colonial Rule

Although Burma was at times divided into independent states, a series of monarchs attempted to establish their absolute rule, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, an expansionist British Government took advantage of Burma’s political instability. After three Anglo-Burmese wars over a period of 60 years, the British completed their colonization of the country in 1886, Burma was immediately annexed as a province of British India, and the British began to permeate the ancient Burmese culture with foreign elements. Burmese customs were often weakened by the imposition of British traditions.

The British also further divided the numerous ethnic minorities by favouring some groups, such as the Karen, for positions in the military and in local rural administrations. During the 1920s, the first protests by Burma’s intelligentsia and Buddhist monks were launched against British rule. By 1935, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the forefront of what would evolve into an active and powerful movement for national independence. A young law student Aung San, executive-committee member and magazine editor for the Students Union, emerged as the potential new leader of the national movement. In the years that followed, he successfully organized a series of student strikes at the university, gaining the support of the nation.

Independence and Democracy

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Aung San seized the opportunity to bring about Burmese independence. He and 29 others, known as the Thirty Comrades, left Burma to undergo military training in Japan. In 1941, they fought alongside the Japanese who invaded Burma. The Japanese promised Aung San that if the British were defeated, they would grant Burma her freedom. When it became clear that the Japanese would not follow through with their promise, Aung San quickly negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.

History Of BurmaHailed as the architect of Burma’s new-found independence by the majority of Burmese, Aung San was able to negotiate an agreement in January 1947 with the British, under which Burma would be granted total independence from Britain. Although a controversial figure to some ethnic minorities, he also had regular meetings with ethnic leaders throughout Burma in an effort to create reconciliation and unity for all Burmese.

As the new leader drafted a constitution with his party’s ministers in July 1947, the course of Burmese history was dramatically and tragically altered. Aung San and members of his newly-formed cabinet were assasinated when an opposition group with machine guns burst into the room. A member of Aung San’s cabinet, U Nu, was delegated to fill the position suddenly left vacant by Aung San’s death. A Burma was finally granted independence on January 4, 1948, at 4:20am – a moment selected most auspicious by an astrologer.

For the next ten years, Burma’s fledging democratic government was continuously challenged by communist and ethnic groups who felt under-represented in the 1948 constitution. Periods of intense civil war destabilized the nation. Although the constitution declared that minority states could be granted some level of independence in ten years, their long-awaited day of autonomy never arrived. As the economy floundered, U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by a caretaker government led by General Ne Win, one of Aung San’s fellow thakins. In order to “restore law and order” to Burma, Ne Win took control of the whole country including the minority states, forcing them to remain under the jurisdiction of the central government. Although he allowed U Nu to be re-elected Prime Minister in 1960, two years later he staged a coup and solidified his position as Burma’s military dictator.

Burma Under a Dictatorship

History Of BurmaNe Win’s new Revolutionary Coucil suspended the constitution and instituted authoritarian military rule. Full attention turned to the military defeat of communist

and ethnic-minority rebel groups. The country was closed off from the outside world as the new despot promoted an isolation ideology based on what he called the Burmese Way to Socialism. Superstitious, xenophobic and ruthless, for the next three decades Ne Win set a thriving nation on a disatrious path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were few and restricted to Rangoon, Mandalay and a handful of other tightly controlled towns close to the central plains. Insurgency remained endemic and in many areas of Burma armed struggle became a way of life.

The People’s Demands Are Met With Bullets

In July 1988 Ne Win suddenly announced that he was preparing to leave the stage. Seeing at last a possible escape from military rule, economic decline and routine human rights abuses, thousands of people took to the streets of Rangoon.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.Thousands of students and democracy advocates fled to the border regions under ethnic control and forged alliances with ethnic resistance movements. Some of these groups include the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the All Burma Student Democratic Front, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, and the longstanding National Democratic Front situated in Manerplaw (the former headquarters of the Karen National Union which fell to SLORC in January 1995). Together these groups formed the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization representing all the groups.A Leader Emerges

It just so happened that during this time of unrest in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who had been living abroad, returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Her devotion kept her there and brought her into the political foray. Attempting to quell international condemnation for its violence, the military announced it would hold multi-party elections. Under the persuasion of students and others opposed to the regime, Aung San Suu Kyi and like-minded colleagues founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her party quickly gathered country-wide support. Just when democratic changes seemed imminent Ne Win commandeered the army from behind the scenes to take over the country in a staged “coup”.

On September 18, 1988, control of the country was handed to a 19-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and a vicious crackdown followed. Although committed to non-violence, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state” and kept there for the next six years. Desperate to improve their image and generate foreign investment, the SLORC went ahead on May 27, 1990 and held the multi-party elections they had promised. Despite the SLORC’s severe repression against members of opposition parties (Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest) and the complete lack of freedom of expression throughout the country, Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept to victory with 82% of the vote. Surprised and outraged, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results and has retained its repressive grip on power ever since.

Current Situation

Eventhough Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May of 2002 the military has refused to relinquish power. The generals have not engaged in any sort of dialogue. The humanitarian situation in Burma is disasterous and civil war still ravages the border areas. The effect of military rule has been a severly impoverished and underdevelopmed nation, Burma has rated as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index. Peace, democracy and the most basic human rights do not exist. Millions have been forced to flee due to military rule and are scattered all over the world longing for the day when they can return to their homeland and be re-united with the families and live in peace.

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Chakma people of Myanmar, Bangladesh & India

Chakmas peopleChakma People are an ethnic minority group that is spread across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A large concentration of the group resides in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan).  Chakmas are Tibeto- Burman, have their own culture, language and profess Theravada Buddhism – a combination of Hinduism and traditional religions.

Chakmas came to India from Bangladesh and since the tribe practiced Buddhism mainly, they identified themselves with the Hindus of India. They are said to have faced religious persecution in East Pakistan and therefore, due to communal violence and displacement, entered India through Lushai Hills of Assam (Today’s Mizoram). Chakma villages have a large number of Buddhist temples and they look up to Monks, who preside at important events and functions in the lives of the tribe. Foreign and local missionaries have been trying to convert Chakmas into Christians, thereby, creating resentment in them.

The Chakma people of India have been fighting for citizenship since 1960. At the time of migrating to India, they officially crossed the border under the leadership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and so they are legitimate residents in the country. However, due to illiteracy and lack of understanding, many of    them have lost the legal document. Apart from denial of legal citizenship, Chakmas also face other forms of discrimination. They are abused and exploited and denied educational and employment opportunities and are often accused by other regions of being involved in criminal activities. At birth, children are not granted their birth certificate and although offered, in reality they are held back.

In a joint statement issued by Government of India and Bangladesh, in 1972, the Chakmas were to be conferred citizenship but the State of Arunachal Pradesh opposed this and continues to do so. The Supreme Court in September 2015, directed the central and Arunachal Pradesh governments to confer the citizenship rights on the “eligible” Chakmas. Many student groups and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh has opposed this decision and has filed a petition to the Supreme Court to re-examine the ruling objecting to the permanent settlement of Chakma in the state and their exclusion from the provisions of the Inner Line Permit.

chakamas people
The Chakma people of Myanmar are the least known people in the world and live in northern Rakhine State of Burma and adjacent southern areas of Chin State.  They are known in Myanmar as Daingnet people. Chakma Day is celebrated in Myanmar to revive the tribe’s lost culture, history, language and script.  Chakmas speak languages influenced by neighboring Chittagonian, a language close to Assamese. Chakmas are people with their own culture, traditions, folklore and literature. The staple diet of the Chakma people is rice, millets and bamboo shoot, that they call, “Bajchuri” and shrimp paste. Their cooking techniques include slow cooking vegetables and meat wrapped in banana leaves on low fire.

Chakma women wear traditional outfits that are hand woven and colorful with intricate designs. A two piece attire with a skirt at the bottom and a wrapped cloth above. Chakma people are mainly farmers by profession and are extremely protective of their culture and land. Although with time, in order to protect themselves against encroachment and to secure their rights to participate in any governmental decision making processes that affect them, the Chakmas have been coming out, speaking for their rights and actively pursuing their fight for attaining citizenship. Within the Chakma community, the Community has no caste distinction and maintain communal harmony amongst their people. There is no discrimination internally on grounds of behavior, acceptance or living together.

Agriculture in Myanmar

Agriculture, which includes crop production, hunting, fishing, and forestry, is the mainstay of the Burma economy. This sector is responsible for much of the income and employment in the country. About 60 percent of the GDP comes from agriculture, and as much as 65 percent of the labor force is employed in this sector alone. Burma produces enough food to feed its entire population. In the absence of purchasing power, however, many people go hungry. Further, about a third of the rural households do not have any land or livestock. Only half of the arable 45 million acres is under cultivation.

Rice is the most important agricultural commodity of Burma. Rice production increased from 5,200,000 metric tons in 1950 to 16,760,000 metric tons in 1993. The crop is cultivated along the river valleys, coastal areas, and in the Irrawaddy River delta. A wide variety of crops are cultivated in the northern dry zone. Rubber and other commercially useful products are cultivated in the Irrawaddy and Tenasserim regions. Agricultural products form the bulk of the export trade and include rice, teak, prawns, beans and pulses, and opiates.

Burma’s agriculture is heavily dependent on the monsoon rains. While some areas suffer from too much rain, other regions receive too little. Government efforts in the 1990s increased the amount of irrigated land to 2.2 million acres. Many agricultural products like tobacco, sugar, groundnut, sunflower, maize, jute and wheat, however, have not reached their pre-1985 production levels. This reduction is offset by higher production in rice, pulses and beans. Rice production increased due to supportive government policies as well as favorable market forces. According to Asian Development Bank estimates, however, real annual growth in agriculture declined from 5.0 percent in 1996-97 to 3.7 percent in 1997-98 and to 2.8 in the 1998-99 fiscal years. Further, per-acre yield of the crops has not increased because of inadequate application of fertilizers and pesticides. One factor that helped to improve production was the removal of government controls over the agricultural sector.

Deforestation has been a major concern in Burma. The slash-and-burn method of agriculture is destroying the forests of the country, causing soil erosion and depletion of fertility. Periodic droughts, floods, landslides, and cyclones sometimes have devastating effect on agriculture. For example, flooding in Pegu and Irrawaddy during the 1997-98 growing season did considerable damage to rice production. Consequently, Burma exported only 28.4 thousand metric tons of rice in the 1997-98 season as opposed to 93.1 thousand metric tons in the previous year.

The heavy reliance on monsoons is a major handicap for Burmese agriculture. The authorities have recently renovated dams and reservoirs, built new ones, pumped water from rivers and streams and taken other measures to improve irrigation. More remains to be done in this regard. Another impediment to agricultural improvement is the inability of farmers to secure adequate loans to enhance cultivation. Private lenders charge exorbitant rates, and there are not enough banking institutions to serve people in the rural areas. As a result, farmers are not able to buy fertilizers and pesticides for their crops. Financial services need to be improved to make funds available to the cultivators.

The economic liberalization policies of the military junta have transformed the agricultural sector. Under the new economic system, the government distributed land among the landless, improved irrigation facilities, and increased the floor price of paddy that the government procures from the farmers. Some private activity in the export sector has been allowed since economic liberalization began in 1989. Consequently, the share of the agricultural sector in the GDP has gone up.

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Mother & Children relationship in Myanmar

Much has been said about the institution of family in Myanmar. that it is essentially a relationship based on specific duties and responsibilities on the part of husband. wife. parents and offspring. These rights and duties are taken seriously and adhered to closely (although being human there may be lapses). Love and respect. rights and responsibilities are the foundations of a Myanmar family irrespective of religious creed. This holds true today as it did in ancient times and is a tradition that we hold dear. But there is another basic element that knits a family together although it has not been given much prominence. And that is the love and humour that is very much a part of Myanmar family life. Not much has been said about the fun and laughter that a Myanmar family enjoys. but it is there. The ability of the Myanmar people to look on the lighter. if not funny side of life is carried over into family relationship.

As. I’m sure it has been mentioned often enough. the father of a family is the “Ein Oo Nat” (Lord of the forefront of the house). Which also implies that the mother rules the rest of the household. The term “Lord of the front of the house” will probably conjure up a stern and remote figure to be approached warily with humility and respect. Far be it. There is even a popular song “Hpay Hpay Gyi Ko Chit Tai” meaning “We love big Daddy”. Generally. we think father melts quicker than mother when a child sheds a few crocodile tears. Mother sees through the children’s foibles and fables and when she picks up a cane children are apt to run crying to father.

Myanmar people as parents are usually indulgent with children. No self-respecting mother will let her infant child cry but pick it up at the first whimper. But by school going age they have been taught the basics of discipline and morality. Mother sees to that. But. there is a lot of fun and laughter that help to strengthen the bonds of love. Father on return from work is greeted joyfully by the children. They run to him. clamber over him and ask for goodies. A small daughter is quite capable of running into the bedroom and come out trailing a “pasoe” (men’s nether garment) for father to change into. Another older child might run to fetch a glass of cool drinking water or a fruit juice. All this goes on till mother shoos them away for father to have a bath and relax a bit.

Then there is the evening meal with the family around the table. The first choice morsel goes to father. but it somehow gets back to the tiniest tot or others in turn. The parents eat sparingly if they are not affluent and see that the children get the lion’s share. But you should listen to the chatter and banter at the dinner table. Father teases one or the other of the children. Myanmar children can be mischievous and deliberately let cats out of the bag. – about mother scrimping on meat and groceries to buy the latest ‘batik’. Or someone or other will say artlessly that father’s breath smells tangy or sour- if he has had a secret nip or two on the way home much to mother’s annoyance.

There may be some form of corporeal punishment in poorer homes where the parents are ignorant and under some financial stress. but downright physical or mental abuse of children is rare. And if there is. the neighbors will see to it that it doesn’t happen too often. There may be tears but there is also humour and affection.

A pre-teen son will try to support a staggering drunken father and put him to bed and an elder daughter baby sits younger brothers and sister for mother who is out trying to supplement the family’s income. When such a family comes into a windfall. they will all get dressed in their best and get on a crowded bus or mini-bus to go the pagoda or. to the zoo if they should happen to live in Yangon. In smaller towns and villages they will go to a video hall (for want of a better word) or go see an all-night drama (zat pwe) at some pagoda festival. The children will gorge themselves on ice-lollipops and all kinds of roasted things – corn. peanuts. pumpkin and sunflower seeds or a wide variety of Myanmar snacks. Each of them. if lucky. may have a helium balloon or at the very least a Myanmar papiere mache doll to play with.

If a foreign visitor is observant enough. he will probably see on weekends or on holidays. a family dressed in their best. the youngest child in the mother’s arms. the second youngest astride the father’s shoulders and the rest tugging at mother’s skirt or father’s pasoe straggling along the sidewalk on their way to catch a bus home. The parents look hot and exhausted and the children are tired too. But for them all. it has been a day of fun and excitement. a day they will talk about for a long time afterwards. till the next holiday comes around.

Myanmar children are taught to love and respect their parents. But they may like all children. sometimes “talk back” to parents and be cheeky. When the parents are in a good mood they get away with a mild rebuke. if not they’re in for a spanking. But the children do not fear their parents. They are wily enough to know how far they can go.

The close bonds of Myanmar family life become clear when a daughter or son enters the teens and start to show an interest in the opposite sex. A growing daughter makes the father fidgety and he looks on all boys as: “swine among the pearls. they marry little girls”. But when the son shows an interest in girls. the Myanmar father. like all fathers. preens himself and thinks “Oh! chip off the old block.” On the whole. especially in middle class educated families. an offspring is free to choose his or her mate. within reason.

Sometimes. of course. there is a runaway marriage. If it is a daughter. a mother will beat her breast and shed oceans of tears. But then the boy’s parents come along with downcast eyes and apologies and assurances that they will put things right. that is. hold a wedding feast to declare to all and sundry that their son has chosen his bride. If however the son of the house has brought home a wife. then the boot is on the other foot. The boy’s parents have to take the girl back to her parents and give assurances of their good will. Sometimes of course things go sour. but it’s rare. And when a grandchild comes along all is forgiven. All focus is now on the newcomer who will be showered with love from grandparents. parents and uncles and aunts plus a horde of relatives.

To Myanmar people. all children are “Yadana” that is treasure. but there is play on the syllables that admonishes them not to be “Ya – dar – nar” that means “unfortunate to have had you”.

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Fire in the sky – the Taunggyi balloon festival

If your idea of fun involves a blurry riot of colour and explosions, look no further than the Taunngyi Fire Balloon Festival, which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. This celebration is held around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, a Myanmar national holiday that marks the end of rainy season and is also known as the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights.

Although the releasing of balloons is nominally an offering to the heavens to ward away evil spirits, and the national holiday is rooted in Buddhist and Hindu cosomology (it is also celebrated in Thailand, where it is known as Loi Krathong), the tradition of hot air balloon competition in Taunggyi was actually begun by the British in the late 19th century.

Today you will find a spectacle that would no doubt have had its colonial originators reeling in shock. An exceptionally loud and vibrant event, it does in fact bear some similarities to today’s western music festivals: firstly, there is plenty of loud music – but there are also ferris wheels (albeit powered by young men, rather than fuel or electricity); energy drink sponsors (though just local brands – no Red Bull, yet); and plenteous beer and food served in temporary stalls, dance stages and bars until the early hours of the morning (till as late as 6am).


However, the balloons themselves mark the Taunggyi festival out as something distinct. Home made by a number of teams who are entered into the competition, they are of course the focal point for the entire event. The fun begins every day in the early afternoon; during the daylight hours the huge balloons are created in the shapes of animals, including anything from birds to elephants. If you are here with a young family or prefer a more sedate pace, this is the time to come to the festival, for it is in the evening that things get altogether more edgy – and spectacular.

After darkness falls, the balloons are released roughly between every half and hour, and come in two categories – ones that are beautifully lit up and ascend serenely into the sky, and ones laden with thousands of fireworks. The latter balloons reach an altitude of several hundred metres, after which the fireworks burst into an extraordinary, multicoloured shower – which lasts up to 15 minutes.


At least, that is the theory. All too often, there is a malfunction and either the fireworks set off too early, firing into the crowd, or the balloon itself explodes, falling to the ground in a ball of fire. Sadly, over the years this has sometimes led to injuries and even occasional deaths; to be safe, it is essential to maintain a good distance from the balloons.

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