Land of Stories: A Myanmar Reading (and Watching) List

Myanmar is a land of stories, from the beautiful, to the heartbreaking, to the bizarre. Before even setting foot on Burmese soil, a traveler can go deep into the stories of Myanmar’s colonial past, harrowing military rule, and tentative movements toward stability and a modern rebirth. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most fascinating story-tellers on Myanmar for your pre-travel inspiration.

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What to Read

The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U

Thant Myint-U gives both personal and historical insight into Myanmar’s past. He begins with the ancient dynastic empires, moves through the battles lost to the British East India Company, and on into modern history with a focus on his own family’s experiences. It is a multi-layered, highly readable approach to history telling.

Also by Thant Myint-U: The Making of Modern Burma and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia

Burmese Days by George Orwell

This was Orwell’s very first novel, based on the five years that he spent as a police officer in Burma in the 1920’s. The plot follows characters in the fictional Kyauktada district, and with corruption and racism running rampant neither the Burmese or British come out looking very good. It is an entertaining, yet critical commentary on both human nature and the waning British Empire.

Orwell also wrote two short stories on Burma which you can read online: “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant“. 

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe

Because of a chance meeting with a British professor and their mutual love of James Joyce, Khoo Thwe managed to escape Myanmar’s military dictatorship and attend Cambridge University. This is the story of his life, an exquisite personal chronicle of life and death under the Burmese military and the drastic changes his people have undergone in less than a single lifetime.

Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis

Norman Lewis, a lifelong travel writer managed to journey through Myanmar during a key transition point in its history, when few foreigners had access to the country. His insightful observation and skilled storytelling is on full display in this rich travelogue.

For a modern-day traveler’s look at Myanmar, pick up Burma Chronicles, a graphic novel based on Guy Delisle’s year spent living in Myanmar with his wife and young son.

Burmese Monk’s Tales edited by Maung Htin Aung

These stories were the oral packaging of the values and ways of life that the monastic clergy saw would soon begin to fade as the British began to take power at the end of the 19th century. The tales are at once wise, humorous, and historically important.

 

What to Watch

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Myanmar

The popular series that’s now in its sixth season chose Myanmar for its very first culinary travel expedition. Watch the full episode on CNN.com or Netflix. This documentary was such an inspiration that after watching, our senior marketing manager headed straight for the visa office and booked her Myanmar travel plans the very next morning.

Youth of Yangon directed by James Holman

This documentary follows a small group of young people who are bringing something to Myanmar that has never existed there before – skating. It is small story with great strength, and is a fascinating alternative lens on Myanmar. Watch the full film online, here.

 

More Stories Online

The biggest story currently unfolding in Myanmar is the upcoming Nov 8 election. It is a tale still in the making, the ending of which some are not optimistic about. Follow the election on the Irrawady Newspaper subsite.

This interactive map paints the visual backdrop for the story Myanmar’s ethnic minorities in relation to major infrastructure projects the government is undertaking.

Part travelogue, part sports writing, this longform piece takes a look at the traditional Burmese sport, chinlone and chronicles many other encounters with Burmese culture along the way.

Get ready for your own Myanmar story. View our private tour itinerary or join our Myanmar small group tour.

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