The first-known human settlements in Burma were that of the Pyu people, who entered the Irrawaddy valley around 13,000 years ago. By the 4th century, the Pyu had founded several city states and adopted Buddhism. In the south, the Mon people had established city states of their own along the Burmese coastline by the early 9th century. Another group, the Mranma (Burmans), entered the upper Irrawaddy valley in the early 9th century. They went on to establish the Pagan Empire (1044–1287), the first ever unification of Irrawaddy valley, and built the thousands of stupas that still dominate the landscape today. Burmese language and culture slowly came to replace that of the Pyu and Mon during this period. After Pagan's fall in 1287, several small kingdoms took their place, and it was not until the second half of the 16th century that the Toungoo Dynasty reunified the country, and founded the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia for a brief period. Later Toungoo kings gave rise to a smaller, peaceful and prosperous kingdom in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In the second half of the 18th century, the Konbaung Dynasty restored the kingdom, increased central rule and produced one of the most literate states in Asia. The dynasty also went to war with all its neighbours. In 1885, Burma fell to the British, and colonial rule began.
British rule brought several enduring social, economic, cultural and administrative changes that completely transformed the once-agrarian society of Burma. Though the country prospered under colonialism, the Burmese people largely failed to reap the rewards, and most wealth and power remained in the hands of a few Anglo-Burmese. A Burmese nationalist movement began to gain strength at the beginning of the 20th century, and by 1938 the country erupted into mass protests. WWII brought a complicated situation of shifting alliances, but by the end of the war, Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi's father) had emerged as a unifying popular figure. His assasination by U Saw in 1947 capitulated the country toward a takeover by the repressive military junta that effectively ruled until 2011.
Tea, Mohinga and Curry
Burmese cuisine is diverse, influenced by local foodstuffs and ethnic groups, as well as neighbouring countries and even the British palate. A hearty bowl of mohinga noodles is a common breakfast, while a fermented tea-leaf mixture is a popular finish to a meal. Teahouses are the centre of restaurant culture, and people gather to drink sweet tea, eat snacks and socialise. Indian, Chinese and Thai food have all been incorporated, while elegant, crumbling Colonial hotels still serve a stiff gin and tonic and cucumber sandwiches!
Buddhism, introduced into Burma in the 11th century, has had a lasting and continuous impact on Burmese culture. Theravada Buddhism is entrenched, although Tantric, Mahayana, Brahmanic, and animist practices still all remain. Buddhism influences all aspects of society, from education to personal outlook and Buddhist monks have also been quite active in political protests against the military junta (the "saffron revolution"). Buddhism can also been seen in the gorgeous monuments scattered across the country, from the 4000 sacred stupas scattered across the plains of Bagan, to the Golden Rock (said to balance on one of the hairs of Buddha) teetering impossibly on the edge of a chasm. Burma is insepearable in many ways from it's Buddhist beliefs and the visit the country is to truly experience a Buddhist culture.
Burma is the largest country in Southeast Asia. In the north, Burma meets China, in the east it borders Thailand and Laos, in the south to the Indian Ocean and in the west to India and Bangladesh. Inaccessible mountain ranges of the Himalayas in the extreme north of the country and an ocean with miles of beaches enclose the land. The highest mountain in Myanmar, Hkakabo Razi, sits on the border of Tibet and Burma and reaches a height of nearly 6000m. From north to south are running rivers and in the east is the Shan plateau with large lakes and river carved canyons. The climate reflects this diversity, ranging from tropical to almost arctic at very high elevations. .
Plants and Animals
Around half of Burma remains covered in forest, ranging from temperate oak and pine forest on the northern mountains, to bamboo forests in the south. The Irrawaddy basin is covered in tidal mangrove forests, and large dry grassland plains are a feature of the Bagan area. The jungles are home to a profusion of birdlife, including pheasants, parrots, peafowl and grouse. The Asian two-horned rhinoceros, wild water buffalo, the gaur (a species of wild cattle) can be found in Burma. Elephants are still numerous, many of them domesticated and a vital aid to work such as forestry or even anti-poaching patrols. Tigers, leopards, and wildcats can still be found in the wild, as well as bears, gibbons and monkeys.
Since independence in 1948, Burma has been in one of the longest running unresolved civil wars. The country has been under military rule in various guises from 1962 to 2010, and in the process has become one of the least developed nations in the world. In 2011, following the previous year’s election, a quasi-civilian government was sworn in and Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. Things in Burma are still far from perfect, but the kind, gentle, engaging people of Burma are ready to break decades of oppression and isolation. The tourism boycott that persuaded many to steer clear for over a decade has been lifted and people are being encouraged to visit. Tourism, with ethical considerations in mind, can play a vital role in helping the country to move forward and the people of Burma are waiting to welcome the world to their beautiful country.
Custom Tours to South Africa
3 nights: in beautiful beachside chalets in the iSimangaliso National Park, South Africa's first world heritage listed area. Marvel at the wetlands, forest and adjacent ocean, all teeming with life.
1 night: in Durban, a colourful and friendly coastal city known for its great Indian cuisine, cultural contrasts and amazing beaches.
2 nights: in Cape Town, exploring beautiful Table Mountain, the beaches and vibrant waterfront area.
2 nights: in Franschoek, the beautiful wine area just outside Cape Town. Enjoy the beautiful countryside, french influenced villas and wineries and the world-class food and wine.