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Myanmar History

Known as Burma while under British colonial rule, and still referred to as such by the UK and US governments as well as many pro-democracy campaigners, the area now known as Myanmar was populated through three waves of migration: by the Hmon people from what is now Cambodia; by Mongol people from the eastern Himalayas; and, finally, by Thais from northern Thailand.
Known as Burma while under British colonial rule, and still referred to as such by the UK and US governments as well as many pro-democracy campaigners, the area now known as Myanmar was populated through three waves of migration: by the Hmon people from what is now Cambodia; by Mongol people from the eastern Himalayas; and, finally, by Thais from northern Thailand.
Starting in 1824, the British, driven by imperial ambitions and goaded by repeated border clashes, began the process of annexing Burma as part of British India. During WWII, the Japanese expelled the British from Burma and attempted to co-opt Burmese political support by offering nominal independence. General Aung San, who had originally sided with the Japanese, led an uprising against them and went on to guide the country to independence in 1948. He was assassinated the same year by men believed to have been working for a political rival.
A military coup in 1962 brought to power Ne Win, who renamed the country the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and imposed a totalitarian dictatorship. In 1988, after years of bizarre policies, isolationism and chronic economic mismanagement, a popular uprising began with students and Buddhist monks to the fore. It reached its peak with a general strike starting on 8 August, but the military stepped in and brutally suppressed the demonstrations. Although Ne Win relinquished his official title as leader of the nation, he continued to exercise considerable influence. Ex-army General Tin Oo and the Western-educated liberal Aung Sang Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, led the principal internal opposition.
After crushing domestic political opposition, the Ne Win junta – which had turned away from socialism – announced in 1989 that elections would be held. The main opposition movements campaigned under the banner of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi who had been placed under house arrest, and won the 1990 election. The regime held onto power, however, and Suu Kyi remained under house arrest until 1995.
During the early 1990s, the regime had become an international pariah. In 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi was once again put under house arrest and would remain that way for almost all of the next decade. The country’s turmoils continued with the 2007 Saffron Revolution, which began in response to massive increases in fuel prices. Monks and civilians were beaten, killed or arrested during the anti-government protests.
After general elections which were boycotted by the NLD, March 2011 saw Thein Sein of the Union Solidarity and Development Party elected as President of Myanmar. Although nominally civilian, the government remained under the sway of the military (which is guaranteed a quarter of parliamentary seats) and cronyism remained endemic. And although it reached peace deals with some ethnic minority militias, in parts of the country the government continued what has been described as the world’s longest-running civil war. The military continues to be implicated in atrocities against civilians.
Nevertheless, the UN and governments including those of the US and UK praised Thein Sein for his reforms which included releasing some political prisoners, amongst them Aung San Suu Kyi who was released in 2010. In 2012 many of the international sanctions against Myanmar were dropped, but the same year Myanmar also made headlines as violence broke out in Rakhine State – directed against a Muslim minority (the Rohingya) by the Buddhist majority. In 2013 similar religiously-motivated riots occurred in the town of Meiktila. The NLD has been criticised internationally for failing to condemn the violence, and also for starting to work more closely with the government and the military.
The next major political milestone for the country will come with the general elections in 2015. As things stand, Aung San Suu Kyi is ineligible to run for president because she married a foreigner, although there are hopes that the constitution will be changed.

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