Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Wed June 29 2016

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  • Art Kramer | June 29, 2016 7:00 AM ET

    Is It Burma Or Myanmar?

    Is It Burma Or Myanmar?

    PHOTO: Despite its turbulent past, Myanmar today is a peaceful corner of Asia untouched by Western influence. (Courtesy Insider Journeys)

    Is it Burma or Myanmar? How did the country come to have two names? Will using the ‘wrong’ name cause offense?

    To help you navigate this complex situation, we at Insider Journeys have created a helpful guide.

    Why are there two names?

    In 1989, the ruling military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar. A junta is a military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force. This bitter uprising had cost thousands of lives, and as a result many countries, including the UK and the USA, do not respect the legitimacy of the regime that changed the name.

    To complicate matters further, Burma was ruled by the British between 1824 and 1948, and this colonial tie means the UK is more familiar with the name ‘Burma’ because of its historical significance.

    Officially, the United Nations refers to the country as Myanmar, but many still use ‘Burma’ due to the political controversy surrounding the name change in 1989.

    READ MORE: 5 Things To Know About Modern-Day Vietnam

    Generally, local people people will say ‘Myanmar’ when referring to the country formally, such as in documents or media, but ‘Burma’ in everyday speech.

    Why is this important?

    Some people believe that the name you use reveals your political sympathies and whether or not you support the junta that instigated the name change in the first place. However, nowadays even the pro-democracy movement does not strongly object to the name ‘Myanmar’; there is a feeling that there are bigger and more important issues facing the country than debating its name. What matters is building the future, not its past.

    Burma is by no means the first country to change its name. Many of the other countries we operate in have experienced a similar name change, like Cambodia (Kampuchea) and Thailand (Siam).

    Will I cause offence by using the ‘wrong’ name?

    Absolutely not.

    Both names are recognized, and neither is incorrect or will cause offence. Interestingly, the two words actually mean exactly the same thing! In the 19th century, the country was called ‘Burmah’, which is a corruption of the word ‘Myanmar’ in the local language.

    Generally, local people people will say ‘Myanmar’ when referring to the country formally, such as in documents or media, but ‘Burma’ in everyday speech.

    Whatever name you pick, it’s time to go!

    Rich in cultural treasures, natural beauty and welcoming locals, whatever name you select to use, make sure you add Myanmar to your Asia travel list.

    Why not explore Myanmar for yourself? Check out our Myanmar small group tours, where you will travel alongside just 15 fellow passengers, or check out our private travel options.

    This blog originally appeared on Insider Journeys’ website.


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Art Kramer More Than a Vacation

Art is a veteran travel writer.
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