Dubbed as the Golden Land, Myanmar is an amazing country replete with natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and incredible tourist destinations that are yet to be explored by the rest of the world. Nestled in between the great civilizations of India and China, it exudes with history and culture with influences from both.
The country was formerly known as Burma (Union of Burma). In 1989, the government officially changed its name. At present, it is known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, or Myanmar for short. The word Burma is still widely used since many countries recognize Myanmar government as illegitimate. Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is one of those who still call the country by its original name.
Located in Southeast Asia, it is bordered by China on the north and northeast, by Thailand and Laos on the east and southeast, Bengal Bay and Andaman Sea on the south, and India and Bangladesh on the west. It can be found between the 09 32’N and 28 31’N latitudes and 92 10’E and 101 11’E longitudes.
Myanmar is an expansive country covering 676,578 square kilometers (261,228 square miles). It extends 936 kilometers (581 miles) from east to west and 2,051 kilometers (1,275 miles) from north to south.
Composed primarily of hills and valleys in the north, and mountain ranges from east to west, it also has flat lands within the Sittaung River, Chindwin and Ayeyarwady valleys where most of the country’s population can be found.
Myanmar is divided into seven regions: Bago, Mandalay, Sagaing, Ayeyarwady, Taninthayi, Magway, and Yangon; and seven states: Mon, Chin, Kayah, Kayin, Rakhine, Shan and Kachin.
The country’s population is estimated at 60 million (around 25 million males and 35 million females) with a population growth rate of 1.84 percent. Median age of the population was around 29.9 years old in 2011. It has 135 ethnic groups, which come from the following main races:
- Burman – 68 percent
- Shan – 9 percent
- Rakhine – 4 percent
- Chinese – 3 percent
- Karen – 7 percent
- Indian – 2 percent
- Mon – 2 percent
Burmese is the mother tongue and official language. It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and inspired from old Mon script and Brahmi script. The Burmese script is also still used to write Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. However, each ethnic group has its own language as well. In fact, there are at least one hundred dialects spoken in the country. Some of the popular dialects include Karen, Shan, Chin, and Kachin. In some areas, English is spoken too.
Its form of government is parliamentary. Current president is Thein Sein. Most tourists believe that Yangon is still the administrative capital but it has been Naypyidaw (which means “royal city of the sun” in Burmese) since November 7, 2005. Yangon, however, is still considered the economic capital.
Myanmar’s local currency is Kyat (MMK). It can only be exchanged for US Dollars and Euros in official banks. In the black market, it can be exchanged for Thai Baht. Exchange rate constantly fluctuates but generally, it’s around 850 to 950 per 1 USD (1 MMK is 0.00104822 USD)
Myanmar is a country full of natural resources such as gems, natural gas, oil, precious woods, and fertile soil ideal for growing crops. Unfortunately, about 32 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. With the recent economic reforms initiated by President Thein Sein, there’s hope for improvement in the population’s standard of living in the coming years. Its economic growth was 5.5 percent in 2011.
The major religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest surviving Buddhist branch, practiced by 89 percent of the population. Other religions include Christianity (5 percent), Islam (3.8 percent), Hinduism (0.5 percent), Spiritualism (1.2 percent), and others (0.2 percent).
Myanmar enjoys three seasons: cool and dry (November to March), hot and dry (March to May), and rainy season (May to October). The best time to visit the country is anytime from November to March, as the heat is milder and it is unlikely to rain.
Take note, however, that weather can vary depending on your specific location within the country. The coastal region is very humid. It rains here five times more in a year than in the dry region in Central Myanmar. The northern part is the coldest part, averaging 21 degrees Celsius while delta and coastal parts record an average of 32 degrees Celsius.
Flora and Fauna
Gifted with an abundance of biodiversity, Myanmar is home to almost 300 species of mammals, over 300 species of reptiles, about 100 species of birds, and more than 7,000 species of plants. Since Myanmar’s natural resources is a crucial national asset, the government has undergone specific measures to protect these valuable biological treasures. Wildlife forests, which cover nearly 50 percent of the area, are well preserved.