Myanmar can be described as a picture-postcard land of elaborate pagodas, one-legged fisherman, ever so friendly people and a rich cultural history. But the storied Burma of Kipling, Orwell and the Romanticism of the Colonial period, is transitioning from decades of isolation and is now poised to be on the forefront of tourism.

This “Golden Land” so nick-named after the light reflecting off the myriad number of golden temples caste a warm enveloping glow over the country. There is additional “sparkle’ from the wealth of minerals and rare-earth metals so prized in todays technologies. But the warmest glow comes from smiles of the people.

People and Religion

Across the country, there are over 135 ethnic groups living together. The characteristics of the culture, customs and personalities have blended to create a colourful nation. Multiculturalism is one major aspect of Myanmar’s over-50 million people with the major ethnic group – the Bamar – making up about 70% of the populace. The remaining seven ethnic groups are mainly divided by geographical regions.

Burmese is the official language, while English is commonly taught in schools and widely used socially In major cities, Chinese and Hindu are the other major linguistic influences.

More than 90% of the population in Myanmar are Buddhist. Christianity, Muslim and Hinduism are the other notable minority groups. There is even an old synagogue in Yangon emblematic of the once thriving Hebrew community. Religious freedom is now highly respected in Myanmar.

Trade and Culture

Myanmar is an agricultural country, known as the "Rice Bowl of Asia". Rice is the main food and the most important agricultural export of the country. Teakwood and other wood products were also strong economic operators in Myanmar, thanks to a large forest area. The mining industry for diamonds and precious gems along with rare-earth metals, oil and gas have developed very strongly and contributed significantly to the economic development of the nation.

In the Colonial period, the cultures of China and India had a large impact on Myanmar's traditional cuisine. It has blended creatively but still kept very innovative features of this country’s peculiarities. That is the reason why Burmese cuisine still has many unique aspects of the traditional dishes.

Myanmar's culture, like its food, was also heavily influenced from India, especially reflected in local traditions. This can be seen in the architecture of most stupas and various temples which are very similar to those in northern India.

Myanmar has a long and intriguing history. The Mon migrated west from what is now Thailand and Cambodia. They are credited with bringing Buddhism to the region about 4,000 years ago. The 1st century BC saw the arrival of the Pyu people in the northern Ayeyarwady delta region. About a millennium later, the Bamar migrated to the Pagan area and established trade links between China and India. It was here, that the first empire was established under King Anawrahta – and this is where our story begins.

Burmese language and culture replaced Pyu and Mons during this period. After the fall of the Pagan dynasty in 1287 at the hands of Mongol invaders, the country was splitted into various kingdoms which subsequently existed in a constant state of friction and tenuous alliances.

The Portuguese made the first European incursion into Burma in the early 16th century. For the next 300 years, various European powers gained traction in the country leading to the eventual annexation of the country by the British in the mid 1800’s. The early years of WW2, saw the Japanese occupy the country but were eventually over-run by allied forces in 1945.

Following the declaration of independence in 1948, the succeeding decades were plagued by a series of coups and Socialism isolated Burma from the modern world. With the lifting of international sanctions in 2012 and successful democratic elections, Myanmar (traditionally renamed) is moving toward a viable future.

Now would be a propitious time to explore the country along its’ main river, the majestic Ayeyarwady River.

Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, bordering Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. With a total area of 677,000 m2, it is as large as the total area of the UK and France. Myanmar stretches 2,051 km from north to south and about 936 km from east to west, with 2243 km of coastline bordering the Indian Ocean. More than 50% of Myanmar is covered by forests and it boasts the tallest mountain in SE Asia (Hkakabo Razi topping over 5,800 meter/19,200 ft).

Myanmar's geographical features can be divided into four categories: the highlands in the east, the high mountain ranges in the west, central plains and coastal Rakhine. Four major rivers here include the Ayeyarwady River, Salween River, Chindwin and Sittaung River. Known as the main flow circuit through this land, Ayeyarwady River - the longest river in Myanmar - plays a very important role in the lives of Burmese.

Myanmar has a tropical climate zone with three distinct seasons: the dryer, less humid and thus more touristically desirable is from November to March. From this date on, the humidity increases with periodic, tropical rains from May through October.

Country name:
Conventional long form: Union of Burma
Conventional short form: Burma
Local long form: Pyidaungzu Thammada Myanma Naingngandaw (translated as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar)
Local short form: Myanma Naingngandaw
Former: Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma, Union of Myanmar

Capital:
Name: Naypyidaw
Latitude: 19°44′42″ N
Longitude: 96°07′46″ E
Elevation above sea level: 122 m = 400 ft
Time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Location:
Southeastern Asia, bordering the India, China, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

Geographic coordinates:
09 32’ N and 28 31’N, 92 10’E and 101 11’ E

Climate:
The climate of Myanmar is roughly divided into three seasons: Summer, Rainy Season, and Winter Season. From the end of February to the beginning of May are Summer months. Rainy Season, from mid May to the end of October. Winter which starts from November and lasts to the end of February with temperature in hilly areas of over 3000 feet drops below 32F (0C).

Terrain:
Central lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.

Languages:
Myanmar (Burmese)

Religions:
Buddhism (80%), Burmese folk religion (6%), Protestantism (5%), Islam (4%), Catholicism (2%), Hinduism (2%), Other (1%).

Population:
54,106,691 (2016 est.)

KALEIDOSCOPE OF MOMENTS

Minhla

Minhla is a town in The Ayeyarwady District, Magway Region, of Central Myanmar, on the right (west) bank of the Ayeyarwady. It is the administrative seat of Minhla Township. Minhla Township is a township in Tharrawaddy District in the Bago Region of Myanmar. The principal town is Minhla. The township is hilly, and is inhabited by the Arakan Yoma. Situated on the Ayeyarwady south of Bagan, Minhla is the fort town which was the site of a great battle during the second Anglo-Burmese War.

Katha

Katha is a town in Sagaing Region, Myanmar, on the west side of the Ayeyarwady River with an average elevation of 124 m. Famous for being the town where George Orwell was stationed as an imperial policeman in the 1920s, the author’s experiences in Katha provided the inspiration for his novel Burmese Days. Katha hosts a large number of wooden colonial-era buildings, the most fascinating of which is perhaps the British Club house that features heavily in Orwell’s tragic novel. The building is well preserved and still in use (though no longer as a club), and if you are lucky you may find a local administrator to unlock it for you; the richly atmospheric interior is well worth seeing and there is a visitors’ book to sign.

Monywa

Monywa is a city in Sagaing Region, Myanmar, located 136 km northwest of Mandalay on the eastern bank of the River Chindwin. Temperatures are very warm throughout the year, although the winter months (December–February) are milder. The major tourist attraction in Monywa is the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya, a Buddhist temple with a huge stupa resembling Indonesia's Borobudur. It is said to contain over 500,000 images of Buddha. Close by is the Bodhi Tataung Laykyun Setkyar Standing Buddha statue, the second-tallest statue in the world. This is the focal point of a sprawling site filled with Buddha state, bodhi trees, and pagodas, established by the Bodhi Tataung sayadaw in the 1960s. It includes also a 95-metre long reclining Buddha statue.

Yangon

Yangon also known as "Rangoon" is a former capital of Myanmar and the commercial capital of Myanmar. Yangon was built by many beautiful colonial buildings, wide tree-lined streets and tranquil lanes with the colonial style. The places of interest are Sule pagoda "The heart of city", Bogyoke Aung San Market also called Scott Market and China Town. The most famous landmark of Myanmar is The Shwedagon Pagoda (dated over 2,000 years old) which is visible from miles around and it is the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in the country for Buddhist people.

Bagan

Bagan is an ancient city located in the Mandalay region of Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.

Mandalay

Mandalay is the second largest city and the capital of the last Myanmar Kingdom. Mandalay is located in the central dry zone of Myanmar by the Ayeyarwady River and 688 km north of Yangon, 64 meters (210 feet) above sea level. Mandalay is the economic hub of Upper Burma and considered the center of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan Province, in the past twenty years, has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup and increased its economic dynamism. Mandalay is famous for its Buddhist monasteries and pagodas with conservative tradition, local lifestyle and rich culture. Also well known for its traditional arts and crafts, ivory, wood, marble, and stone carvings, gold and silver ware, hand woven silk and tapestry called (shwe chi htoe).