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March 26, 2012


Is the recent political thaw in Myanmar genuine? Democratic elections are coming to the long-reclusive southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, formerly Burma. A long military dictatorship has nominally ended, and the regime has signed peace treaties with several ethnic separatist insurgencies. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's long house arrest is over, and she is campaigning for a seat in Parliament in the upcoming April 1 vote. Western investment is beginning to mass, which may ultimately be the reason the country is finally opening its doors. Other speculation on the thaw points to the incompetent emergency response to Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which left as many as 140,000 dead and sowed deep dissatisfaction with the government. Whatever the reasons for the unprecedented opening, the isolated and impoverished Burmese people are eager to reconnect with and catch their more developed neighbors in ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations. While it's impossible to represent every corner of any nation, collected here are images from the last couple of months in Myanmar, a nation of 55 million. -- Lane Turner (41 photos total)

A child waits for the arrival of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Pyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta region on February 17, 2012. She wears thanaka on her face, a paste made from wood bark popularly used as both a beauty cosmetic and protection from the sun. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic moves through the streets of Yangon on December 21, 2011. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg) #

A man checks text messages on his mobile phone before boarding a Yangon ferry at sunset on February 8, 2012. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images) #

A couple shares a moment in a park near the Shwedagon Pagoda on Valentine's Day in Yangon on February 14, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

The famous U Bein bridge outside Mandalay is the world's longest and oldest teak bridge, stretching close to three quarters of a mile across Taungthaman Lake. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

Hot air balloons carrying tourists rise above the pagodas at dawn in northern Myanmar's ancient town of Bagan on February 26, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

Cashiers are seen behind piles of kyat banknotes as they count them in a private bank in Yangon on July 21, 2011. Myanmar's central bank aims to set the exchange rate of the kyat at around 820 per US dollar, close to its black market rate, as the nation pushes ahead with economic reform. (Soe Zeya Tun/Files/Reuters) #

People shop for meat at a market in Yangon on December 23, 2011. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg) #

Buddhist nuns pray during a farewell ceremony for Ashin Pyinyar Thiha, the head of the Shwenyawar monastery, before he leaves the monastery in Yangon on February 19, 2012. Ashin Pyinyar Thiha was ordered out of his monastery by Buddhist elders who said he had given an inappropriate speech at an office of Aung San Suu Kyi's party. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images) #

An ethnic Kachin child suffering from malaria receives a traditional treatment at a camp for people displaced by fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, outside the city of Myitkyina on February 22, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

A woman and her child play at a public phone shop in Myanmar's new capital Naypyitaw on March 1, 2012. Myanmar has fewer phones per capita than any other country and probably the fewest Internet connections, and that has regional telecoms and IT companies licking their lips. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

A girl rests in a hammock at her home at Shwe Pyi Tar Industrial Zone in Yangon on March 13, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

A boy plays in the mud on the bank of the Bago river in Bago on March 20, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

A fisherman secures his boat after docking before sunrise at the central fish market at the port of Yangon. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Buddhist woman chants early in the morning near the Golden Rock Temple in Myanmar's northeastern city of Kyaikhtiyo on February 20, 2012. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images) #

Pilgrims worship in front of the Golden Rock in Kyaikhtiyo on February 20, 2012. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images) #

Buddhist devotees worship at the Shwedagon Pagoda during the celebrations of its 2600th anniversary in Yangon on March 1, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

Members of Parliament stand up as Myanmar's President Thein Sein (not pictured) arrives to deliver a speech at the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw on March 1, 2012. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images) #

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves at her supporters during an election campaign stop at Mon State on March 10, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

Workers wait their turn to take local passengers in their longtail boats at the pier in Yangon on February 18, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images) #

Fishermen carry their nets on a bamboo pole to dry them out in the sun after fishing at the Bago River on March 20, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

People carry baskets filled with sand at the bank of the Yangon River on March 18, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

People skate at a park in Myitkyina in northern Myanmar on February 22, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand hits out of a bunker during the second day of the Zaykabar Myanmar Open at the Royal Mingalardon Golf and Country Club in Yangon on February 3, 2012. (Khalid Redza/AFP/Getty Images) #

Policemen and villagers use sticks and grass cutters to destroy a poppy field above the village of Tar-Pu in the mountains of Shan State on January 27, 2012. Myanmar has dramatically escalated its poppy eradication efforts, threatening the livelihoods of impoverished farmers who depend upon opium as a cash crop to buy food. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters) #

Burmese workers begin construction on the foundation of a new building on February 5, 2012 in Yangon. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images) #

Men ride white elephants at a camp near Uppatasanti Pagoda in Myanmar's new capital city Naypyitaw on March 1, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

A worker gives the finishing touch to a big silver flower vase inside a shop in the Sagaing region on February 24, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #

A woman makes a clay pot in Bago on March 20, 2012. (Staff/Reuters) #

An ethnic Mon woman washes her children in the village of Ban Bor Yeepun near the Burmese border with Thailand on February 20, 2012. Myanmar's new government signed a ceasefire deal with New Mon State Party and its military wing, the Mon National Liberation Army, on February 1, 2012. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters) #

A boy gets his head shaved by a Buddhist monk after being sent by his family to live the life of a monk for seven days as part of a ritual in Yangon on March 4, 2012. Boys between the ages of seven and 18 in Myanmar are traditionally sent by their family to experience the life of a monk for a short span of time. (Staff/Reuters) #

An ethnic Shan boy novitiate wears a traditional outfit during a ceremony in a village on the outskirts of Lashio. Such ceremonies take place across predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar when children under the age of 18 enter novice-hood for short periods of a few days and get a taste of monastic life. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images) #

A child holds a flag waiting for the arrival of Aung San Suu Kyi at an electoral campaign rally in Naypyidaw on March 5, 2012. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images) #

Buddhist monks listen to Aung San Suu Kyi speak as she campaigns in Mandalay on March 3, 2012. Tens of thousands cheered on the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images) #

People visit the newly opened "Ice Wonderland" near Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon on February 25, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) #

Vegetable vendors wait for customers at the market in Payathonzu, near the border with Thailand on February 20, 2012. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)#

A street vendor sells peanuts in central Yangon on March 12, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)#

Burmese trainees learn in the kitchen of the Shwe Sa Bwe cookery school in Yangon. As Myanmar opens up to the world, one cooking school is giving prospective chefs a chance to shine in the bustling kitchens of Yangon as the city prepares for an influx of foreign visitors. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)#

Buddhist novices recite teachings on January 28, 2012 at their monastery in a village scheduled to be flattened and relocated to make way for a planned $50 billion port and factory development in Dawei. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)#

Children wait for the arrival of Aung San Suu Kyi in Pyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta region on February 17, 2012. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)#

A child holds a snake during a Hindu festival in Yangon on March 25, 2012. (Staff/Reuters)#

The Me N Ma Girls band performs at a hotel in Yangon on March 24, 2012. Myanmar pop is dominated by copies of international tunes, accompanied by sometimes incongruous Burmese lyrics about heartbreak and failed love. Only a few artists are able to struggle into the mainstream in Myanmar, where rampant piracy has suffocated the music industry and strict censorship has controlled everything from lyrics to outfits. One act trying to forge its own sound is the Me N Ma Girls, a five-member band who write their own songs in English and Burmese, including one urging Myanmar's diaspora around the world to return and help development. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)#

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters during a campaign rally on the outskirts of Yangon on March 21, 2012. Myanmar has invited US, European and other observers for by-elections next month, allowing international scrutiny of polls seen as a major test of its reform credentials. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)#