Myanmar (Burma) covers a land area of 676,552 sq km and stretches for over 1,930 km from the inaccessible N Himalayan region to the S tip of the Tenasserim region, which extends down the Kra of Isthmus and faces the Andaman Sea. Myanmar borders India and Bangladesh to the NW and W, China and Laos to the NE and Thailand to the E and SE. Its borders do not correspond to ethnic boundaries – they are mainly defined by mountain ranges, which surround Myanmar on 3 sides and form a great horseshoe enclosing the Irrawaddy, Chindwin and Sittang river systems.

The huge and rugged Shan Plateau borders Thailand and runs the length of the states of Karen and Tenasserim. The N borders are high in the remote Himalayan region, which is partly a continuation of China’s Yunnan plateau. The Burmese, Chinese and Indian frontiers meet next to Myanmar’s highest peak, the Hkakobo Razi (5,881 m), which overlooks E Tibet. The N border with China runs for 2,185 km and the Kachin Hills has long been a disputed area. The Bangladesh and Indian borders follow the natural barrier formed by the Chin, Patkai, Manipur and Naga hills. These are actually substantial mountains, rather than hills, and the frontier line runs from mountaintop to mountaintop.

Regions facing the prevailing winds – particularly Arakan and Tenasserim, which are both backed by steep mountain ranges – receive some of the heaviest rainfall in the world. The mountain areas – particularly the Shan Plateau – are cool and comparatively dry. Flora and fauna Myanmar’s natural vegetation varies according to regional rainfall patterns. But on the whole Burma is densely forested with conifers, teak, and tropical forest. The Irrawaddy delta area used to be thickly forested but has been cleared over the past century for agriculture. In the Dry Zone of central Burma (around Pagan), cacti and acacia trees are a common sight. Myanmar’s flora has not been as thoroughly studied as other areas of Southeast Asia but is known for its diversity; there are thought to be over a thousand varieties of orchid, for example.

Myanmar still has a large population of wildlife, including elephants, tigers, leopards, wild buffalos, the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, wild boar, monkeys, flying squirrels, porcupines, civet cats, red and black deer, black bears and the Malayan sun bear. There are also 52 varieties of poisonous snake – Myanmar has the highest death rate from snakebites in the world. The most highly infested areas are the Dry Zone (snakes live in many of Pagans ruined temples) and the Irrawaddy delta. The deadliest snakes are Russel’s viper and the Asiatic king cobra.


Myanmar is a vast, beautiful country that still retains a greater part of its traditional values and culture. Myanmar is home to approx. 57 million people, 65% of which are Burmese who came to Myanmar(Burma) from Western Tibet about 13000 years ago and they are the majority group. There are 135 national races in Myanmar by official count. The other main groups are the Shan, Kachin (Jinghpaw), Chin, Kaya (Kerreni), Kayin, Mon and Rakhine with various sub groups that often speak different languages. The best known sub groups are the Danu, Dawei, Eng, Ganan, Inthar, Kadu, Lahu, Lisu, Mro, Myeik (Beik), Naga, Pa O, Palaung, Padaung, Rawang, Salon or Moken, Thet, Wa and Zo. Each national race group has its own culture, and most of the sub groups live in remote mountainous regions. They preserve their traditions and customs and enjoy festivities that can be seen by outsiders both locals and foreigners.


Myanmar is the official language. In the cities English is spoken by large parts of the population. The country itself boasts about 110 different languages and dialects, still in use among the many ethnic groups. Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindustani and Urdu are most common foreign languages spoken among Chinese and Indian immigrants.

Religion & Culture

The majority of the people are Theravada Buddhists at about 85%, with Christians at around 10%, Muslims and Hindus at around 4% each, and others, usually animists who revere deities in their own culture, 1%. The people even of small-numbered races live within their own cultures with deep reverence towards their traditions. The people are deeply rooted in their beliefs and culture which has driven in their daily lives by their religion.

The early history of Myanmar

Myanmar’s early history is practically uncharted but by the 8th century the Mons – who probably originated in Central Asia – occupied the lower portions of the Irrawaddy basin, while the Myanmar had established themselves on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy. Myanmar’s subsequent violent history largely concerns the struggle between these 2 predominant racial groups. Kings fought wars in order to carry off slaves from the kingdoms they conquered; it was important to have a large labor force to build temples and pagodas and to grow rice.

The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma- Myanmar (a 19th century historical mythology) claims that the Burmese kings were descendants of the Buddha’s family but historians have found no evidence of any ruler before the 1th century King Anawrahta of Pagan. From the 10th century on, the Burmans were the largest group; they were also the most important in terms of their historical, cultural and political contribution to Burma’s heritage. Between the I7th and 19th centuries, the Burmans succeeded in uniting the country under one monarch on 3 separate occasions. When each of these empires fragmented, Burma became a muddle of quarrelling races. In the 19th century, the Burmese frequently clashed with the British and were defeated in 1885, resulting in the capture and exile of the last king.

There are traces of some form of settlement in Burma as far back as 2,500-2,000 BC. The Pyus were the first settlers and occupied the upper Irrawaddy River. The early Pyu city of Sri Kshetra, near present day Prome, was enclosed in a massive wall and was possibly even bigger than the later Burmese cities of Pagan and Mandalay. When the Pyu capital was captured and the people enslaved by the neighboring power in Yunnan, the Burmese moved into the power vacuum in the Irrawaddy area. The Burmese came to dominate both the Ryu and the Mon.
The Mons settled in the lower Irrawaddy delta region around Thaton and were the first people to establish Buddhism in Myanmar. Little is known about the earliest phases of Mon art – although their artistic and architectural skills were obviously coveted and their works have been unearthed not just in Myanmar, but also in Thailand and Cambodia. The great King Anawrahta brought Mon craftsmen to Pagan where their temple and stupa designs characterized the first recognizable architectural ‘period’ – the Mon Period. The last group to migrate from China were the Tai, who fled the Mongul invasions from the 9th-11th centuries and settled in the hills on the present Thai-Burma border.