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Home Travel Guide Myanmar Travel Guide Basic Facts about Myanmar

Basic Facts about Myanmar

The biggest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is a culture-rich country yet lesser-known to many tourists around the world. It is a fascinating and diverse country populated by more than 135 ethnic groups, it is home to countless ancient temples and archaeological ruins, and is a country blessed with otherworldly untouched beaches… Here are some basic and interesting facts about Myanmar to help you feel a little bit wiser when planning a trip to the “Land of the Golden Pagodas”.

Key Facts about Myanmar

Name

  • Officially called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar;
  • Was known as the Union of Burma before 1989;
  • For local people, Myanmar is the official version that is usually used in writing forms, while Burma is more used in speaking.

Language

  • Burmese is the official language of Myanmar;
  • The ethnic groups in hill areas have their own languages, with Burmese used as their second language.

Ethnic Groups

Diverse Myanmar is home to over 135 ethnic groups, the Burmese have a larger amount, making up about 68% of the total population. Other major ethnic groups in Myanmar include Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, and Shan. Each of them has its unique culture, tradition, and language.

Location

  • Myanmar is located in the west of Southeast Asia;
  • It borders China in the north and northeast, Laos and Thailand in the east and southeast, and Bangladesh and India in the west.

Currency

  • The official currency in Myanmar is Myanmar Kyat, pronounced ‘Chat’, symbolized by MMK. US dollars are also widely accepted in Myanmar.
  • The cost of 1 USD in Myanmar Kyat is roughly 2,100 MMK this year.
  • The most commonly used denominations in Myanmar are: K1, K5, K10, K20, K50, K100, K200, K500, K1,000, and K5,000.

Geography

  • Myanmar covers an area of 676,578 sq km (260,000 sq mi);
  • The geography of Myanmar is diverse, with its landscape dominated by plateaus and mountain ranges. It slopes down from Mount Hkakabo (19,296 feet) in the north to Irrawaddy and Sittang River deltas in the south.  
  • Its landform ranges from mountain ranges to valleys, plateaus, basins, lowlands, and coastal plains.
  • 3 main rivers in Myanmar: Irrawaddy River, Salween River, and Seftaung River.

Climate

  • Myanmar is characterized by a tropical monsoon climate, only a small part of the country is located north of the tropic of cancer, enjoying a subtropical climate.
  • The topography and monsoon together create a diversity of weather patterns, which can be divided into the summer season (March to mid-May), the rainy season (mid-May to October), and the winter season (November to February).
  • October to May is the best time to visit Myanmar when the country is dry and warm. September is the wettest month of the year in Myanmar.
  • Extreme weather and temperature are rare to see in Myanmar, heavy rains are likely in southern coastal areas during the monsoon season but rarely cause flooding or destruction.

History

  • 1824-1948: the colonial period of Myanmar when the country was ruled by the British.
  • In World War II, Myanmar was invaded by Japan, thus becoming a major battleground.
  • In 1948, Myanmar gained independence from Britain and was named the Union of Burma.
  • 1948 -1962: the country underwent frequent strife and civil wars.
  • 1962 – 2010: after a military coup led by General Ne Win in 1962, the country endured the rule of a military government for decades.
  • In 2010, a general election was held, and in the following year, the military government was officially disbanded.

Religion

  • Theravada Buddhism: about 89.2% of the Burmese population
  • Christianity: about 5% of the Burmese population
  • Islam: about 3.8% of the Burmese population
  • Spiritualism: about 1.2% of the Burmese population
  • Hinduism: about 0.5% of the Burmese population
  • Others: about 0.2% of the Burmese population

Important Festivals in Myanmar

  • Thingyan (the Burmese New Year) — it is the most important festival in Myanmar, usually lasting five days when locals celebrate it by throwing water at each other.
  • Taunggyi Balloon Festival — held in the town of Taunggyi (an hour away from Inle Lake). The festival highlights day and night balloon competitions which allow you to see various giant multi-colored balloons in different shapes.
  • Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival — an important festival on Inle Lake, it will last over 18 days when locals use their unique leg-rowing technique to transport four Buddha images to all villages of Inle Lake. Usually, the festival is accompanied by traditional dances, martial arts displays, etc.
  • Elephant Dance Festival — The elephants at the festival are pretended by teams of people who wear the elephant costumes made of bamboo and paper, and perform the well-choreographed dance.

Iconic Structures in Myanmar

Myanmar is a country rich in golden pagodas, forgotten temples, and historical monuments, some of the most iconic structures include:

  • Shwedagon Pagoda — the symbol and the most sacred temple of Myanmar which can date back to the 6th The stupa is coated with gold leaf and decorated with precious gems and diamonds, very glittering under sunlight and night light.
  • U Bein Bridge — a 1,200-meter-long wooden bridge that is known for being the oldest and longest of its kind in the world.
  • Over 2000 religious monuments in Bagan. These temples and pagodas are built in the 12th to 13th  centuries and are scattered in a tiny area.
  • Mingun Pahtodawgyi — the largest unfinished pagoda in the world, its construction was started in 1971. It is said the building is left abandoned because of a prophecy foretold.

Food in Myanmar

The staple food in Myanmar is rice, and most dishes and snacks are dominated by fish products, noodles, seafood, and rice. The main flavors of Myanmar cuisine are acidic, spicy, and non-greasy.

Myanmar Traditional Clothing

The most widely worn traditional clothing in Myanmar is a kind of long skirt called longyi, a simple traditional costume indicating Myanmar people’s unsophisticated living style. Most Myanmar people wear their traditional clothing regularly in daily life.

Men’s and women’s longyi are different in designs and decorations. A women’s longyi is colorful and with beautiful patterns, while the men’s are usually with plain colors and patterns.  

Other Interesting Facts about Myanmar

  • Myanmar’s capital is Naypyidaw, not Yangon. Yangon is the largest city in the country and was once the capital of the country from 1948 to 2006.
  • The System of Units used in Myanmar is an imperial measurement system, leaving the country one of the only three countries in the world that don’t use the metric system.
  • Myanmar people, especially women, like to use their heads to carry things but not hands.
  • Myanmar women and children like to use thanaka (a kind of poultice cosmetic made from the bark of a local tree) to draw swirls on their faces. The thanaka is said a great natural sun-blocking cream.
  • Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar is the habitat of sea gypsies – an ethnic group who spend most time of the year at sea, except for the monsoon seasons.
  • On the street of Myanmar, one can see both the older left-hand-drive vehicles and the newer right-hand-drive cars, making driving in Myanmar a little chaotic.
  • Myanmar is home to over 1,000 species of birds, and many other cool animals, including elephants, turtles, leopards, and rhinos. Bagan and Mt Victoria are great bird-watching destinations in Myanmar.

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