In the era in which someone (or something) as overly sweetened as Mr. Wonderful triumphs, the slogans of the national tourism agencies of some countries cannot surprise us. One very popular is that of "The Country of Smiles", groped excessively by Thailand, a country that I have visited in 2003, 2011, 2018 and 2019, and that, although it is beautiful, I do not have among the top positions of my list of favorite destinations. The Thai smile was disappearing from the face of the locals who inhabit the tourist areas at the same speed that the western backpackers took the country to the assault. This is undoubtedly one of the harmful effects of tourist success.
However, to the west of Thailand there is a country that is still stretching in the tourism field. Is about Myanmar, land that I know well for 5 years working on it as a travel guide.
As it happens in all places of the world: in Myanmar There are also all kinds of people. However, if you walk the streets of Yangon or the imperial Mandalay, you navigate that incredible glass mirror brimming with life that is the Inle Lake, explore the immaculate trails that clear the fields of cultivation of the mountains of Shan State, or get lost among the more than 3,600 pagodas of the extraordinary Bagan, the most normal thing is that you come across a good number of selfless smiles.
Despite the gradual opening that the country has experienced, especially after the 2015 elections, Myanmar remains partially anchored in a past in which the Military Junta drained - and continues to drain - most of the many natural wealth of one of the most graceful countries, in that aspect, of Southeast Asia. Consequently, Myanmar is still a very rural country (more than 70% of the population still lives in the countryside) in which people continue to lead a simple life, away from the frantic pace, dirt and chaos of the big cities in this part of the world.
For all this, when you travel around Myanmar, the championship and hospitality become emblems of the Burmese population. Children and adults smile with the same naivety when you stare at them. In the most sacred pagodas of Mandalay, Yangon, Mount Popa or Bagan, it is the Burmese who ask you, with extreme shyness, if they can take a picture with you. For people who, like you, have come to visit a sacred place - perhaps for the first time in their life - you are the exotic, and not vice versa.
With my friend Aung Myo in Bagan
The smiles of all those people Burmese, Shan, Pa-O, Danu, Akha, or any of the 137 ethnic groups that make up the ungovernable tribal mosaic that is Myanmar, They are sincere, curious, kind and clean. They do not seek a monetary or any other kind of reward, but reflect their bonhomies and infinite curiosity for anything that comes from abroad.
After 5 years visiting the country for 2 or 3 months a year, however, I appreciate certain changes that lead me to wonder if all that sincere goodness will get lost in Myanmar. At least in its most tourist areas, as has happened in Thailand, Indonesia or other similar places.
Host of the house where we ate