Photographer Geoffrey Hiller made his first foray into Myanmar — also known as Burma — when he was traveling around Southeast Asia in 1987. At the time, he could only get a seven-day tourist visa, and the best method for changing currency was to arrive with two cartons of cigarettes and two bottles of Johnnie Walker, then trade them for cash outside the airport.

"I’ll never forget flying in from Bangkok — there were no lights at all, and all you could see was the Shwedagon Pagoda," he says of his initial arrival.

"It was very, very isolated. The people would see pens in your pocket, and they would stare at them because they didn’t even have ballpoint pens. They were hungry for very basic things."

A Long-Standing Love Affair With Myanmar

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Geoffrey Hiller

Members of a Muslim family react to the loss of a relative who died in the recent spate of violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state in Thapyuchai village. Portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi and her father Aung San are seen in a National League for Democracy branch office that was thrown into disarray during violence. A Muslim girl watches from the doorway of her home as soldiers walk by in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state. Muslims sit in a temporary refugee camp after losing their homes during recent violence in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state. Cho Mar, an 11-year-old who hid in the jungle with her mother during an attack by Buddhist gangs, inspects the Thanaka she had just put on her face at Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe.

Myanmar | October 2, 2013

Terrified Muslim families hid in forests in western Myanmar on Wednesday, one day after fleeing a new round of deadly sectarian violence that erupted even as the president toured the divided region. The discovery of four bodies brought the death toll from the latest clashes up to at least five.

Tuesday’s unrest near the coastal town of Thandwe, which saw Buddhist mobs kill a 94-year-old woman and four other Muslims and burn dozens of homes, underscored the government’s persistent failure to stop the sectarian violence from spreading.

"Like in Korean movies, they have swords and sticks," said Muslim resident Tin Win. "There’s no law and order in this town. We’re in a serious situation, we’re really worried."

Another resident of Thandwe, Myo Min, said a small mosque in Kyikanyet, about 43 kilometers from Thandwe, was burned by attackers Tuesday night. Police said they were trying to confirm that report. 

Myo Min said he was concerned about the safety of families who fled Tuesday’s violence. Many families in Thabyuchaing, he said, fled into forests when their village was attacked.

"Many of them, including women and children, are still hiding, and they are cornered and unable to come out," Myo Min said. "They need food and water, and Muslim elders are discussing with authorities to evacuate them or send food."

Most of those targeted in Rakhine state have been ethnic Rohingya Muslims, considered by many in the country to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago. But in the latest flare-up this week, the victims were Kamans, another Muslim minority group, whose citizenship is recognized.

Muslims, who account for about 4 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people, have been the main victims of the violence, but they have been prosecuted for crimes related to the clashes far more often than members of the Buddhist majority.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims since June last year have killed at least 237 people in Myanmar and 192 of those deaths were in Rakhine state, where Rohingya Muslims, most of whom are stateless, bore the brunt of the attacks.

(Photos by Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)