Inside Man

In a rare example of top-down change, Burma's leader, Thein Sein, is opening up his once pariah state and leading it toward democracy. But will the new freedoms last?

Adam Ferguson / VII for TIME

Deep in Burma's irrawaddy delta, the rhythms of Kyonku village echo from another century. Oxen and buffalo plow the paddies; women in sarongs smoke pipes and swat mosquitoes, which can carry malaria or dengue. Decades ago, ethnic Karen insurgents, one of many tribal militias that battled Burma's long-ruling military regime, prowled the hills. Today the Karen rebels have laid down their arms. Instead, wild elephants roam after sunset, occasionally charging villagers in a fury of tusks.

The wooden house in Kyonku where Burma's 67-year-old President, Thein Sein, grew up still stands, a creaky time capsule in a country largely preserved in...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!