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OUT OF THE WOODS

How Myanmar looks now—from the deck of a riverboat

@BoyntonTravels

ONE YEAR AGO, and for the first time in his life, Min Min Kyaw voted. He was 38 years old.

Kyaw is a tourist guide in Myanmar, where, last November, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the country’s first openly contested election since 1990. The election finally brought to a close the era of “the generals.” The military junta presided in one form or another over civil war and human rights violations, and prompted the imposition of economic sanctions by both the EU and U.S. Myanmar suffered, Kyaw says, “50 years of military rule and 14 years of chaos before that.”

Now, though, he says he is “cautiously optimistic” about his country’s future. He has good reason. Kyaw is guiding myself and a small group of other European tourists on a luxury cruise up Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River; now that the sanctions have been lifted—by the EU three years ago, with the U.S. following suit this September—he can be confident that where we are going, more will follow. That’s because Western tourists continued to arrive, albeit in small numbers, as they did throughout the junta’s years in power, despite the pro-democracy movement’s call for a tourism boycott. What drew them were the country’s Buddhist temples, its World War II battlegrounds (where the British and Americans fought the Imperial Japanese Army), and the chance to explore the remote villages along the Irrawaddy River.

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