Myanmar, (formerly known as “Burma”), underwent significant political reforms in 2011. Its current president is Thein Sein, who was elected the first non-interim civilian president of Myanmar in 49 years. The country’s legislature, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, has two houses: the upper 224-seat Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) and the lower 440-seat Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives). Although the military no longer runs Myanmar outright, it does still appoint a significant number of legislators – 56 of the upper house members, and 110 of lower house members are military appointees. The remaining 168 and 330 members, respectively, are elected by the people. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won an abortive democratic presidential election in December of 1990 and then was kept under house arrest for most of the following two decades, is now a member of the Pyithu Hluttaw representing Kawhmu.
Naypyidaw (founded in November of 2005).
- Former capital, Yangon (Rangoon), population 6 million.
- Mandalay, population 925,000.
The official language of Myanmar is Burmese, a Sino-Tibetan language that is the native tongue of slightly more than half of the country’s people.The government also officially recognizes several minority languages that predominate in Myanmar’s Autonomous States: Jingpho, Mon, Karen, and Shan.
Myanmar probably has about 55.5 million people, although census figures are considered unreliable. Myanmar is an exporter of both migrant workers (with several million in Thailand alone), and of refugees. Burmese refugees total more than 300,000 people in neighboring Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.
The government of Myanmar officially recognizes 135 ethnic groups. By far the largest is the Bamar, at about 68%. Significant minorities include the Shan (10%), Kayin (7%), Rakhine (4%), ethnic Chinese (3%), Mon (2%), and ethnic Indians (2%). There are also small numbers of Kachin, Anglo-Indians, and Chin.
Myanmar is primarily a Theravada Buddhist society, with about 89% of the population. Most Burmese are very devout and treat monks with great respect.
The government does not control religious practice in Myanmar. Thus, minority religions exist openly, including Christianity (4% of the population), Islam (4%), Animism (1%), and tiny groups of Hindus, Taoists, and Mahayana Buddhists.
Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, with an area of 261,970 square miles (678,500 square kilometers).The country is bordered on the northwest by India and Bangladesh, on the northeast by Tibet and China, by Laos and Thailand to the southeast, and by the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the south. Myanmar’s coastline is about 1,200 miles long (1,930 kilometers).The highest point in Myanmar is Hkakabo Razi, with an elevation of 19,295 feet (5,881 meters). Myanmar’s major rivers are the Irrawaddy, Thanlwin, and Sittang.
The climate of Myanmar is dictated by the monsoons, which bring up to 200 inches (5,000 mm) of rain to coastal regions each summer. The “dry zone” of interior Burma still receives up to 40 inches (1,000 mm) of precipitation per year.Temperatures in the highlands average about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), while the coast and delta areas average a steamy 90 degrees (32 Celsius).
Under British colonial rule, Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia, awash in rubies, oil, and valuable timber. Sadly, after decades of mismanagement by post-independence dictators, Myanmar has become one of the poorest nations in the world.Myanmar’s economy depends on agriculture for 56% of GDP, services for 35%, and industry for a minuscule 8%. Export products include rice, oil, Burmese teak, rubies, jade, and also 8% of the world’s total illegal drugs, mostly opium and methamphetamines.Estimates of the per capita income are unreliable, but it is probably about $230 US.
Myanmar’s currency is the kyat. As of June 2018, $1 US = 1,250 Burmese kyat.
History of Myanmar
Humans have lived in what is now Myanmar for at least 15,000 years. Bronze Age artifacts have been discovered at Nyaunggan, and the Samon Valley was settled by rice agriculturalists as early as 500 BCE.
In the 1st century BCE, the Pyu people moved into northern Burma and established 18 city-states, including Sri Ksetra, Binnaka, and Halingyi. The principal city, Sri Ksetra, was the power-center of the region from 90 to 656 CE. After the seventh century, it was replaced by a rival city, possibly Halingyi. This new capital was destroyed by the Nanzhao kingdom in the mid-800s, bringing the Pyu period to a close.
When the Khmer Empire based at Angkor extended its power, the Mon people from Thailand were forced west into Myanmar. They established kingdoms in southern Myanmar including Thaton and Pegu in the 6th to 8th centuries.
By 850, the Pyu people had been absorbed by another group, the Bamar, who ruled a powerful kingdom with its capital at Bagan. The Bagan Kingdom slowly developed in strength until it was able to defeat the Mon at Thaton in 1057 and unite all of Myanmar under one king for the first time in history. The Bagan ruled until 1289 when their capital was captured by the Mongols.
fter the fall of Bagan, Myanmar was divided into several rival states, including Ava and Bago.
Myanmar unified once more in 1527 under the Toungoo Dynasty, which ruled central Myanmar from 1486 to 1599. Toungoo over-reached, however, trying to conquer more territory than its revenues could sustain, and it soon lost its grip on several neighboring areas. The state collapsed entirely in 1752, partly at the instigation of French colonial officials.
The period between 1759 and 1824 saw Myanmar at the apex of its power under the Konbaung Dynasty. From its new capital at Yangon (Rangoon), the Konbaung kingdom conquered Thailand, bits of southern China, as well as Manipur, Arakan, and Assam, India. This incursion into India brought unwelcome British attention, however.
The First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) saw Britain and Siam band together to defeat Myanmar. Myanmar lost some of its recent conquests but was basically unscathed. However, the British soon began to covet Myanmar’s rich resources and initiated the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852. The British took control of southern Burma at that time and added the rest of the country to its Indian sphere after the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885.
Although Burma produced a lot of wealth under British colonial rule, almost all of the benefit went to British officials and their imported Indian underlings. The Burmese people got little benefit. This resulted in the growth of banditry, protests, and rebellion.
The British responded to Burmese discontent with a heavy-handed style later echoed by indigenous military dictators. In 1938, British police wielding batons killed a Rangoon University student during a protest. Soldiers also fired into a monk-led protest in Mandalay, killing 17 people.
Burmese nationalists allied themselves with Japan during World War II, and Burma gained its independence from Britain in 1948.
Myanmar At a Glance
Being a country full of interesting history and tradition, Myanmar is gradually becoming an extremely popular destination to visit. With ancient temples and pagodas in Bagan, untouched landscapes, friendly and smiling people , vanishing tribal peoples , untold stories and an intact culture that is slowly opening up to the modern world, there is much to learn and discover about this place. In 2015, this country which was formerly known as Burma voted in their first democratically elected government in over half a century and has opened up its doors to tourists.
Myanmar Quick Information
Currency: Burmese Kyat (MMK)
Electricity Socket: Myanmar uses 230V/50Hz and has two different types of plug sockets that are commonly used. One is the European socket with two round prongs and some with socket D type which has three round prongs. The other two are types but the other two are not as common. To avoid the hassle of having to buy new adapters for everywhere you go, we recommend picking up a Universal Travel Adaptor before you leave.
Visa: As long as you have a valid passport, you shouldn’t have any problems entering Myanmar by land or by air. Citizens of 100 countries can apply online for tourist visas through the government website. An e-visa is valid for 28 and roughly costs $50. They advice for you to start applying for an e-visa – https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/ at least a month in advance as often it can take anything from 1 day to 1 week for you to receive your visa confirmation. If you’re already on the road, it is also possible to get a tourist visa from the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok (same day processing or for pick up the next day).
Most ASEAN nations can get a visa exemption valid for 14 days, with the exception of Singapore which is valid for 30 days.
Safety: Generally speaking, traveling around Myanmar is pretty safe, with little to no violence or petty crime towards foreigners. Currently, there is a lot of political turmoil and unrest in a few states regarding the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims. General travel advisories from government advises against all but essential travel to parts of Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states. While the touristy areas of Myanmar remain unaffected by this turmoil, there are still mixed opinions regarding the ethics behind planning a trip to Myanmar given the unrest.
Language: While the main language in Myanmar is Burmese, there are still about 100 or so other dialects that are commonly spoken. Given the fact that the country just opened its doors to other nations in the last few years, the level of English amongst the locals isn’t the same as when traveling other Southeast Asian countries. However, those that do work in the tourism industry have adapted fast and are usually able to communicate things with ease.
Festivals and Celebrations: As with most Asian countries, the festivals and celebrations are largely connected to religious events and dates. With festivals often celebrated with dancing, parades, and religious, chancing upon these festive days is a real treat, allowing you a real glimpse into their culture. The most popular festival is this country is the Thingyan festival which is the Buddhist festival which is usually celebrated from the 13-16 of April. During this festival, everyone joins in for one big water fight symbolizing the cleansing of sins. For further tips on traveling Myanmar, check out our complete guide.
Myanmar Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
In a nutshell, although you can visit Myanmar all year round, due to its tropical climate. However, as a general rule, try to avoid visiting Myanmar from June to September. During this time (especially from July to September), the wet season is in full swing. Places like Ngapali Beach during this time closes down due to inaccessible roads.
The best time to visit most of Myanmar is from November to February as it is neither too hot to walk around due to the cool breeze that blows in. March to May, on the other hand, are boiling hot, especially in the plains near Bagan and Mandalay. If you want a more detailed guide, we listed out the best times to visit Myanmar according to location.
Similar to most places in Southeast Asia, due to the monsoon season, timing your trip to Myanmar is essential unless you want to spend most of your time battling against torrential rains and flooding or intense heat. Myanmar is one of our favorite places Asia given the fact that it still isn’t as touristy in contrast to its neighboring countries. To help you make the most out of your time in Myanmar, here’s some information on the best time to visit as well as the top things to see and do in each place.
In a nutshell, although you can visit Myanmar all year round, due to its tropical climate. However, as a general rule, try to avoid visiting Myanmar from June to September. During this time (especially from July to September), the wet season is in full swing. Places like Ngapali Beach during this time even closes due to inaccessible roads.
The best time to visit most of Myanmar is from November to February as it is neither too hot to walk around due to the cool breeze that blows in. March to May, on the other hand, are boiling hot, especially in the plains near Bagan and Mandalay. If you want a more specific guide, here’s some information on specific regions in Myanmar and when to best visit them.
Generally speaking, Myanmar is an affordable country to travel in…although not the cheapest compared to countries like Cambodia and Thailand. A $30-35 a day budget is pretty decent and will cover everything from basic accommodations, food, and transport. A few years ago, finding an ATM was fairly difficult but nowadays, you can find them in major cities however the ATM fees are pretty steep ranging from $3.50-9 per transaction. Your best bet would be to bring USD to Euros and have it exchanged.
What to Pack for Traveling Myanmar
Myanmar is a country that is typically warm so bringing a few pairs of light, quick-dry clothing is advisable. Another thing to keep in mind is that foreign influence and culture is very new and that traditionally, the Burmese are very conservative in nature so make sure you do not offend anyone by wearing skimpy clothing, especially in places of worship. When visiting temples and pagodas, covering your shoulders and knees is definitely recommended. During the rainy season, bringing a good quality rain jacket is a must!
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