From the very moment you step foot on the ground in Myanmar you are in for a truly unique experience. Now more so than ever people from around the world are beginning to see Myanmar for what it is – a truly fascinating and unique destination filled with the spirituality of Buddhism beliefs and arguably some of the friendliest and most charming people on this planet.
All who have visited Myanmar rejoice their every expectation was exceeded as they experienced a land, culture and race more beautiful, warm and friendly than one could have ever hoped for.
The true feeling one gets from visiting Myanmar was immortalized in the words or Rudyard Kipling and his famous quote:
This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about. Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)
Being cut off from the rest of the world for so many decades, Myanmar has achieved a unique preservation of culture bounded by a rich, unspoilt landscape. Abundant in natural resources, the landscape of Myanmar ranks amongst the most breathtaking sights anywhere in the world. Each of the destinations within Myanmar; whether it be Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay or Inle Lake have striking features differentiating Myanmar from any other destination within South East Asia.
Myanmar is referred to Amarapura, the Land of Immortality, and Yadanarbon, the Land of the Gems. Today it is known as Suvanabhomi, the Golden Land. Once you have experienced the rich heritage and natural resources of this country, you will see just why these titles are such a true reflection of the land.
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Location and Geography
Myanmar shares borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh. Southern Myanmar borders the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, with a coastline of over 2000 kilometres. Wide rivers and expansive plains characterize the central part of the country.
The major river, the Ayeyarwaddy (formerly spelt Irrawaddy) is navigable for 1600km (900mi) of its length and its flood plains form the country’s main agricultural centre.
Mountains rise to the east along the Thai border and to the north to meet the eastern end of the Himalayan range. The highest peak, Hkakabo Razi (5881m/19,290ft), is on the Myanmar-Tibet border and is the highest peak in South-East Asia.
With an area of 680,000 square kilometres, Myanmar is roughly equal in size to France and United Kingdom together and is inhabited by a population of over 57 million people belonging to 135 national races.
History of Myanmar
Myanmar has a long and complex history. Many people have lived in the region and the history began. The first identifiable civilization is that of the Mon. The Mon probably began migrating into the area in about 300 BC, and their first kingdom Suwarnabhumi, was founded around the port of Thaton in about 300 BC. The Pyu arrived in Myanmar in the 7th century and established city kingdoms. The reign of Anawrahta (1044 - 77) who successfully unified all of Myanmar by defeating the Mon city of Thaton in 1057.
After the collapsed of several dynasties between Anawratha and a popular Burmese leader named Alaungpaya 1753, Alaungpaya established his capital at Rangoon, now known as Yangon. During the reign of King Bagyidaw (1819-37), a Burmese general Maha Bandula succeeded in conquering Assam, bringing Burma face to face with British interests in India.
In response to the continued expansion and even direct attacks by Burma, the British and the Siamese joined forces against it in 1824. The First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) ended in a British victory, and by the Treaty of Yandabo, Burma lost territory previously conquered in Assam, Manipur and Arakan. In 1852, started the Second Anglo-Burmese War and British annexation of Pegu province, renamed Lower Burma. The British declared war once again in 1885, conquering the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulting in total annexation of Burma. King Thibaw, Queen Supaya Latt and the royal family were taken to Ratanagiri, India and Myanmar fell under the British Rule. Myanmar became a British Colony from 1885 until 1948.
During World War II, Myanmar was a key battleground in South East Asia. The Japanese attached the country in 1941 and had occupied most of it. Allied forces liberated most of Burma prior to the Japanese surrender in Aug 1945 and Myanmar became an independent country on Jan 4, 1948.
Art and Culture from Myanmar
The culture of Myanmar has been heavily influenced by Buddhism. Its neighbors, particularly India, China, and Thailand, have made major contributions to Myanmar culture. In more recent times, British colonial rule and westernisation have influenced aspects of Burmese culture, including language and education. Historically, Burmese art and literature was based on Buddhist or Hindu cosmology and myths.
There are 10 traditional arts, called pan sè myo, listed as follows:
1. Blacksmith (ba-bè)
2. Woodcarving (ba-bu)
3. Goldsmith (ba-dein)
4. Stucco relief (pan-daw)
5. Masonry (pa-yan)
6. Stone carving (pan-ta-maw)
7. Turnery (pan but)
8. Painting (ba-gyi)
9. Lacquerware (pan-yun)
10. Bronze casting (ba-din)
In addition to the traditional arts are silk weaving, pottery, tapestry making, gemstone engraving, and gold leaf making. Temple architecture is typically of brick and stucco, and pagodas are often covered with layers of gold leaf while monasteries tend to be built of wood.
Although court culture has been extinguished, popular street-level culture is vibrant and thriving. Drama is the mainstay of this culture, and just about any celebration is a good excuse for a pwe (show). Performances may recount Buddhist legends, or be more light-hearted entertainments involving slapstick comedy, dance, ensemble singing or giant puppets.
Myanmar music is an integral part of a pwe; it originates from Thai and emphasizes rhythm and melody. Instruments are predominantly percussive and include drums, boat-shaped harps, gongs and bamboo flutes.
The toys of Myanmar are not only for the children but also famous in the world, known as the Marionettes (or) Puppets of Myanmar. It’s a combination of Myanmar Art and Culture, together to show the inner expressions of the Myanmar people.
Religion and Beliefs in Myanmar
Burma is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country. An appreciation of Buddhism and its history in Myanmar is a prerequisite for outsiders wishing to better understand the Burmese mind. There are no totally reliable demographic statistics from Burma, but the following is an estimate of the religious composition of the country:
Most Myanmar are Buddhist of the Theravada stream. Central to their religious beliefs is karma, the concept that good begets good and evil begets evils. The ultimate aim in life according to Buddhist belief is to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. Meritorious deeds that will help a person to achieve Nirvana include giving donations (especially to monks) and abiding by the Five Precepts and practicing Bavana (meditation).
Some Myanmar people, especially those from the rural areas, have many superstitions. Astrology, palmistry and clairvoyance are sometimes relied upon to make important decisions. These may include marriage, going into a business partnership, naming a baby, and others. To offset bad luck, certain meritorious deeds or yadaya may be performed such as setting free some live birds or animals, building a footbridge, or mending a road.