I toured Myanamar(Burma) in the summer of 1996. It's, of course, a controversial tourist destination due to the (I'm quoting a citizen here) "*^%in government."
Aside from that I found the people of Myanamar, the Burmese, Shans, and others, surprisingly happy with their lives. This Westerns may find hard to believe in a country in which most have may only two sets of clothes to wear day and little else. Travel, though, always challenges your expectations.
When I arrived in Myanmar, the military had just freed Aung Su Ki. Freeing her they would make something of a tradition. As of today (2013), she is free again.
When the Thais and their relatives the Shans swept down from the north from China, they encountered the Burmese and Mons already living in Southeast Asia with their Indianized cultures. The Thais subdued the Shans, but in Burma, the Burmese generally prevailed over the Shans, who lived in states, not state. The Burma that emerged is an agglomeration of cultures with only Burmese as the dominant. About the only thing one can say for the "Burmese Way to Socialism" is that the name "Myanmar" acknowledged that multiple groups live in the country.
The British conquered Burma from India. At first, they only conquered the north, allowing Mandalay to live in song as a fabled far away place, but only for awhile, and then they took the rest of the country. As a result, Burma was a "colony of a colony" wiht Indian technicians performing many of the technical jobs. When the British left and many Indians were "encouraged to leave," they left a country behind unprepared to do even the simplest things like fix their own railroads.
Myanmar's slip into military rule certainly did not help things. When I went there, not only was it repressed and depressed, and with a rampant currency black market, but it was in the 19th century technically. You'll see women washing their clothes in the stream, handweaving their clothes. A common currency for foreign travelers was ballpoint pens!
At the Sule Pavillion in downtown Rangoon I checked my shoes...and couldn't find them. It turned out there were five or six shoe check places. The Pavillion shows where the Burmese spend their money on their Buddhism.
The Rangoon River connects to the sea and would make a reasonable port for export. Of course, now only a few governments will even admit to trading with Myanmar, due to its famously pathetic human rights record.
The Burmese Golden Age lasted from 800-1250 when they built the city of Pagan and dominated today's Myanmar. This impressive guard looked outwards from the city but apparently didn't warn them about Ghengiz Khan who burned, looted, and sacked the city abruptly (but temporarily) ending Burmese hegemony within Myanmar.
After the sacking of Pagan by the Mongols, The Burmese built Ava and several later capitals on the banks of the Irawaddy while they rebuilt their society.
From this hill above Mandalay the Buddha proclaimed that some day a "great city" would arise below (if you believe the Burmese legends).
I took this picture from atop one of Pagan's temples. Note the truckload of young Burmese. With crops in the ground, they hired a truck to visit all of the temples around the Pagan area. Young boys and girls often use this type of trip to mix and meet one another.
This Burmese "Rosetta Stone" shows the earliest known example of written Burmese. Okay, I admit it resembles a phallic symbol.
These potted plants show the general driness of the climate of Pagan. Only advanced irrigation made a (very) large population possible.
Early Burmese worshipped nature gods called "Nats" (no, I'm not making this up), subsequently incorporated into Burmese Buddhism. Supposedly, the Nats resided here atop Mt. Popa.
This monkey seemed harmless. A moment later he jumped on my back and attacked my backpack in a search for food. My appearance apparently "Shocked the Monkey to Life." "Eep. Eep."
The uplands belong to other peoples. This Moslem temple in Kalaw perched halfway up to the Shan Plateau, shows that not all those in Mynamar adhere to Buddhism. Only some 60% speak Burmese.
The market works this way: If you see something you want, you float over and trade for it. Note the various costumes. The Shans here trade with non-Shans hill tribes many of whom speak unrelated languages more closely related to Aboriginal Australian or Chinese.
The Shans grow crops with soil anchored to the lake bottom. As far as I know, only the ancient Aztecs used a similar system.
The military dictatorship makes life grim, but sometimes provides moments of purely unintentional humor. The sign here states: "Love your mother and respect the law."