The government still rules with an iron hand, and human-rights groups report repression and violence, but travelers are flocking to the country.



AS DAWN breaks over the pagoda-studded city of Bagan, hot-air balloons drift gently over what was once the ancient capital of Burma.

Much has changed in the Southeast Asian nation, now called Myanmar. After decades of military dictatorship, political oppression and tight restrictions on foreigners entering the country, Myanmar has made some reforms, freeing some political prisoners (including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest) and opening itself to tourism.

The government still rules with an iron hand, and human-rights groups report repression and violence, but even so, travelers are flocking to the country.

In and around Bagan, multinational clots of tourists roam through hundreds of Buddhist temples that glow golden in the humid, hot-sun haze. They head to the hills on treks, walking past electric-green rice paddies and into drowsy villages. Others hit the white-sand beaches, some lounging in luxury hotels, others taking shelter in no-frills backpacker guesthouses.

For something completely different, visitors take to the air, floating dreamily in the early light over Bagan’s new day.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.