Don't overlook Myanmar's urban-rural divide

Don't overlook Myanmar's urban-rural divide
The bustle of Yangon presents a stark contrast with the rural lifestyle of most of Myanmar's citizens.

Until recently, much of what we knew -- or thought we knew -- about Myanmar was refracted through the borderlands the country shares with Thailand. The region's prolonged humanitarian crisis, with countless stories of dislocation and despair, shaped the way the world saw Myanmar.

Sadly, in the past half-decade, life along the border has not improved a great deal. Conflicts in some border regions of Myanmar continue to rumble along, to the great frustration of peacemakers.

And yet, international perceptions of the country have been transformed. Myanmar's remote border areas and their tragedies no longer merit the attention they once did in capitals around the world.

Leaving sacred notions behind

It is only since the dramatic events of 2010, when the pro-democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, that international impressions shifted. The old military dictatorship loosened its grip, the media enjoyed new freedoms, and foreign companies tested the waters. Optimism became contagious and everyone flocked to see the reforms for themselves.

Nowadays, it is easier than ever to visit Myanmar and get to know the place. In 2014, an estimated 3 million foreigners entered the country -- tourists, officials and businesspeople -- up from just over 1 million in 2012 and a mere 200,000 in 2008, the year the deadly Cyclone Nargis struck. Accordingly, hotel rooms now cost many times what they once did.

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