But with a reformist government now promoting peace and economic development in impoverished border areas, the region is now looking to its future -- and its lost youth.
The rural Mon community of Ywarthit is a place for the old and the very young. Locals say around 70 percent of households are missing the generation in between.
Many teenagers leave once they have finished school, crossing the border into Thailand to seek work in factories or as domestic helpers.
"There are not many people left in the village now. Only mothers and grandparents taking care of the grandchildren," Nyein Tin, whose five children all went to Thailand to look for jobs, told AFP.
She said she relies on their remittances, having given up work to look after five grandchildren.
"How would I live if they didn't send money?" the 60-year-old said.
A recent study by HelpAge International found about a quarter of households in Mon state