Journey to Myanmar
Decades of military rule kept Myanmar off most travelers’ lists until a few years ago, when the regime began to loosen its grip. But many problems remain. In the past few weeks, thousands of Rohingya — a Muslim minority — have fled persecution in western Myanmar. The situation has escalated into an international emergency and underscores Myanmar’s poor record in dealing with ethnic minorities. Tourists are kept away from areas of conflict, so most visitors to Myanmar will not see the full picture. But after years of isolation, the country is now more accessible than ever, and travelers can experience for themselves what life looks and sounds like in this complex nation.
Downtown Yangon is messy, congested, noisy, and bursting with street life. As Rangoon, it was the former capital of Burma province in British India. Today, the slowly rotting skeletons of neglected colonial buildings preside over bustling Indian and Chinese markets, Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Buddhist pagodas.
Gold and diamond-encrusted Shwedagon Paya is one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism. Its 325-foot spire is covered with several tons of gold leaf and is surrounded by dozens of lesser shrines and temples, all apparently competing to be the most ornate.
After the sun sets, some streets of downtown Yangon remain just as packed and vibrant as during the day. Hundreds come out to partake of the city’s varied food culture, including one street of open-air barbecue and beer joints.
By Scott LaPierre, Elaina Natario, Russell Goldenberg, Gabriel Florit