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Unknown territory of a gold coast

Standing on top of the mountain, next to the Golden Rock, the ‘gold coast’ of Myanmar was lying in front of us. Where Myanmar curls around the most northern tip of the Gulf of Martaban was visible from here, further south the view was hampered by the fog. Myanmar has a weird shape. Next to its large ‘main land’ it has a narrow coastal strip of around 1000 kilometer on the Malay peninsula along the Andaman Sea. Some people compare the shape of Myanmar with a cat sitting in a tree. The mainland it’s body, the coastal strip it’s dangling tail. Anyway, this ‘tail’ is a high potential coastal strip of a country which has just opened its doors to the outside world.

Map Southern Myanmar

In the West we have regarded Myanmar until very recent as a pariah state. Run by a evil military regime that opposed our western ideologies of democracy, we didn’t want anything to do with them. Broad sanctions were imposed by Europe and the United States on Myanmar. Whenever Myanmar was mentioned in a Western newspaper it was often a house arrest extensions for activist and leader of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar: Aung San Suu kyi. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other steps towards more democracy have ensured that many sanctions were lifted and cooled down relations.

A less idealistic approach by Asian powers has caused that the ties between Myanmar and its neighboring countries have been much warmer than its relations with the West. Myanmar has a central location in the fastest growing economic region in the world. It lies at the crossroads between neighboring China, India and South-East Asia. India is looking for opportunities to connect its isolated north eastern states to the sea via Myanmar. From the other side, China and South-East Asia are seeking new routes toward the indian Ocean via Myanmar. A route through Myanmar would reduce their dependence on the strait of Malacca as the sole sea connection with Europa, Africa, Middle East and India. Southern Myanmar is at the core of Myanmar’s unique geographical position and large industrial projects are planned and under construction.

Next to its location, Southern Myanmar is home to the Myeik archipelago: a group of uncountable islands stretching out before its coast. The pristine white beaches and the clear bleu waters of the archipelago are said to be equal or better than the overcrowded tourist ‘paradises’ found in Thailand. Until recently though it was not possible to visit the archipelago, except for a few islands close to Thailand. It was until two years ago not even possible as a foreigner to continue traveling from the north past Mawlamyine and from the south past Kawthoung. Everything in between the two cities was forbidden area. With no tourist development what so ever, tourism is another huge economic potential for the south.

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You can’t go with your own car or motorbike to the Golden Rock. Crammed trucks drive up and down with people. An attraction in itself.
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View from the Golden Rock

At the Golden Rock this ‘gold coast’ of Myanmar was lying in front of us. The rock itself is an important buddhist attraction. The myth goes that a few hairs of the Buddha himself protect the rock from not falling in to the Gulf of Martaban. Myanmar is home to many more important attractions of which most located in the north (well known are Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake). These attractions were whispering in our ear, but the call from the south was louder, at least for now. The region had just opened itself to the outside world. Regulations on where to travel were changing by the day. The south was said to host some of the finest and still untouched natural beauties to be found anywhere. It is also a region with enormous trade and industrial perspective. With so much potential in different areas we were curious how this southern potential ‘gold coast’ looked like now. How would the region be while on the verge of immens change? Or had the change already taken of under the umbrella of Asians growth miracle? Not much is known and that was al the reason to go.

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The Golden Rock. Only men can touch the rock. Women can only watch from a distance.
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The Golden Rock is an important sacred place for Bhuddists.