Insight: Myanmar's the hot new neighborhood

Mon Jan 30, 2012 3:00am EST
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By a Reuters staff reporter

YANGON (Reuters) - Property agent Kyaw Saw leafs through a thick pile of real-estate listings in Myanmar's faded commercial capital, Yangon.

"Our customers used to be all people from the east -- from China, Taiwan and Japan," said the portly businessman.

That's changing fast.

"We had no Westerners a year ago. Get in now before the rush begins," said Kyaw Saw, adding his former boss was now his competitor, having just left to start his own agency.

If you pay two years up front, Kyaw Saw promises to lock in further price rises at only 10 percent a year. He's keen to tap a sudden wave of foreign interest in a crumbling city that until recently was a Southeast Asian backwater.

The capital of a former British colony ruled for five decades by a reclusive junta has faded under economic mismanagement and sanctions imposed by Western governments because of the military regime's human rights record and refusal to embrace democracy.

Now ministers from those same governments are beating a path to the door of President Thein Sein, a retired junta general who, since coming to office as a civilian leader 10 months ago, has embarked on political and economic reform with a speed that has astonished even seasoned observers.

Residents say a groundbreaking visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the end of last year, followed by British Foreign Secretary William Hague this month, gave another nudge-up to property prices.   Continued...

<p>Labourers work at a construction site in Yangon January 24, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun</p>