Facts


Population: 53.26 million (2013)
Capital: Naypyidaw
Area: 261,228 mi²


About Myanmar
Myanmar officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and also known as Burma, is a sovereign state in South East Asia bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. About one-third of Myanmar’s total perimeter of 5,876 km (3,651 miles), forms an uninterrupted coastline of 1,930 km (1,200 miles) along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
Early civilisations in Myanmar included the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu city-states in Upper Burma and the Mon kingdoms in Lower Burma. In the 9th century, the Bamar people entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and, following the establishment of the Pagan Kingdom in the 1050s, the Burmese language, culture and Theravada Buddhism slowly became dominant in the country. The Pagan Kingdom fell due to the Mongol invasions and several warring states emerged. In the 16th century, reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty, the country was for a brief period the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. The early 19th century Konbaung Dynasty ruled over an area that included modern Myanmar and briefly controlled Manipur and Assam as well. The British conquered Myanmar after three Anglo-Burmese Wars in the 19th century and the country became a British colony. Myanmar became an independent nation in 1948, initially as a democratic nation and then, following a coup d’état in 1962, a military dictatorship.
Myanmar is a country rich in jade and gems, oil, natural gas and other mineral resources. In 2013, its GDP (nominal) stood at US$56.7 billion and its GDP (PPP) at US$221.5 billion. The income gap in Myanmar is among the widest in the world, as a large proportion of the economy is controlled by supporters of the former military government. As of 2014, according to the Human Development Index (HDI), Myanmar had a low level of human development, ranking 148 out of 188 countries.


Currency

The monetary unit of Myanmar is the kyat (MMR): 1 kyat (which is pronounced as ‘chaat’) comprises 100 pyas. The government’s official exchange rate is typically around MMR6 to US$1. Banknotes are issued in denominations of MMK5,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Coins are available in denominations of MMK100, 50, 10, 5, 1; and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 pyas.
Currency exchange options are limited to the exchange desk at your hotel and the riskier black market. Traveller’s cheques are not always accepted, and their acceptance tends to depend on the current political situation.


Climate
Myanmar Climate is a tropical monsoon type. The wet period stretches from May to late October. During this time, strong winds blow into Myanmar from the southwest, bringing thunderstorms with heavy rain almost every day. Western Rakhine State, southern Bago, Ayeyarwady, and the Tanintharyi coast recieve about 120-200 inches of rainfall a year. The central plain, however, surrounded by mountains, receives only about 20-40 inches annually. During the cool, dry season, which lasts from November to February, temperatures average about 70-80° Fahrenheit (21-27° Celsius). The hottest and driest months are March and April, when humidity is high and temperatures may exceed 110°F (43° C). Myanmar’s climate also varies with altitude. Highland areas experience cooler temperatures – the northern mountain peaks even see snow between November and January.


Language
Myanmar is home to four major language families: Sino-Tibetan, Tai–Kadai, Austro-Asiatic, and Indo-European. Sino-Tibetan languages are most widely spoken. They include Burmese, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Chinese (mainly Hokkien). The primary Tai–Kadai language is Shan. Mon, Palaung, and Wa are the major Austroasiatic languages spoken in Myanmar. The two major Indo-European languages are Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, and English. More than a hundred languages are spoken in total. Since many of them are known only within small tribes around the country, they may have been lost (many if not all) after a few generations.
Burmese, the mother tongue of the Bamar and official language of Myanmar, is related to Tibetan and Chinese. It is written in a script consisting of circular and semi-circular letters, which were adapted from the Mon script, which in turn was developed from a southern Indian script in the 5th century. The earliest known inscriptions in the Burmese script date from the 11th century. It is also used to write Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism, as well as several ethnic minority languages, including Shan, several Karen dialects, and Kayah (Karenni), with the addition of specialised characters and diacritics for each language.


Economy
Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation. The lack of an educated workforce skilled in modern technology hinders Myanmar’s economy, although recent reforms and developments carried out by the new government, in collaboration with foreign countries and organisations aim to make this a thing of the past.
Myanmar lacks adequate infrastructure. Goods travel primarily across the Thai border (where most illegal drugs are exported) and along the Irrawaddy River. Railways are old and rudimentary, with few repairs since their construction in the late 19th century. Highways are normally unpaved, except in the major cities. Energy shortages are common throughout the country including in Yangon and only 25% of the country’s population has electricity.
The military government has the majority stakeholder position in all of the major industrial corporations of the country (from oil production and consumer goods to transportation and tourism).
In 2010–2011, Bangladesh exported products worth $9.65 million to Myanmar against its import of $179 million. The annual import of medicine and medical equipment to Myanmar during the 2000s was 160 million USD.
In recent years, both China and India have attempted to strengthen ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Myanmar. The United States and European Union eased most of their sanctions in 2012.[241] Foreign investment comes primarily from China, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, India, and Thailand.


Health
Hygiene in Myanmar may seem terrible to the average Western traveler but it is possible to stay healthy with some basic precautions such as prophylactic medication, care choosing food and water, and antibacterial ointment. Never drink tap water. Restaurants are legally required to use ice made and sold by bottled water companies, so ordering ice is usually safe in major places. Always drink bottled water and check that the cap is sealed on, not simply screwed on. Diseases such as dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and malaria are endemic. Drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis are common in many areas. Hepatitis vaccinations are highly recommended and cholera oral vaccine is worthwhile. At the dinner table, Burmese use a spoon and fork, or their fingers when this is more convenient. You might feel better rinsing all of them before meals. Antibacterial wipes or alcohol hand-rub is a good idea at regular intervals.
Local pharmacies and supermarkets are plentiful, stocking all sorts of Western medicines, and there is no concept of a prescription. Simply walk in and ask for the medicine that you want. Pharmacy clerks are familiar with chemical names and it will be helpful if you can say the name of the medicine you want, such as Paracetamol or Lomotil instead of just “painkiller” or “diarrhea pill”. As a foreigner, your bowels may not be used to the hygiene conditions of the food, so always keep diarrhea remedies such as Lomotil on hand.


Education
The educational system of Myanmar is operated by the government agency, the Ministry of Education. The education system is based on the United Kingdom’s system due to nearly a century of British and Christian presences in Myanmar. Nearly all schools are government-operated, but there has been a recent increase in privately funded English language schools. Schooling is compulsory until the end of elementary school, approximately about 9 years old, while the compulsory schooling age is 15 or 16 at international level.
There are 101 universities, 12 institutes, 9 degree colleges and 24 colleges in Myanmar, a total of 146 higher education institutions. There are 10 Technical Training Schools, 23 nursing training schools, 1 sport academy and 20 midwifery schools. There are 2047 Basic Education High Schools, 2605 Basic Education Middle Schools, 29944 Basic Education Primary Schools and 5952 Post Primary Schools. 1692 multimedia classrooms exist within this system.
There are four international schools acknowledged by WASC and College Board—The International School Yangon (ISY), Myanmar International School (MIS), Yangon International School (YIS) and International School of Myanmar (ISM) in Yangon.


Safety
Myanmar is one of the safest countries in the developing world for tourists to visit, mainly because of the strict Buddhist culture but in part because of the government’s Draconian punishments for those who trouble foreigners. Though pickpockets have been known to happen and are increasing in frequency, there is virtually no chance of you being targeted, even in the lesser-visited areas.
Should you be the victim of a crime, there are police stations all over the country which fly Myanmar’s flag and have signs, oftentimes in both English and Burmese, that read: “Can I help you?” The police officers in Myanmar are not always up to Western standards, but they are very helpful, and can generally be counted on to get the job done. Most police stations will have at least one employee present who can translate English, and possibly Mandarin or Thai.


Culture and Religion
A diverse range of indigenous cultures exist in Myanmar, the majority culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighbouring countries. This is manifested in its language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre. The arts, particularly literature, have historically been influenced by the local form of Theravada Buddhism. Considered the national epic of Myanmar, the Yama Zatdaw, an adaptation of India’s Ramayana, has been influenced greatly by Thai, Mon, and Indian versions of the play. Buddhism is practised along with nat worship, which involves elaborate rituals to propitiate one from a pantheon of 37 nats.


In a traditional village, the monastery is the centre of cultural life. Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. A novitiation ceremony called shinbyu is the most important coming of age events for a boy, during which he enters the monastery for a short time. All male children in Buddhist families are encouraged to be a novice (beginner for Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty. Girls have ear-piercing ceremonies at the same time. Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival. Many villages have a guardian nat, and superstition and taboos are commonplace.
British colonial rule introduced Western elements of culture to Burma. Burma’s education system is modelled after that of the United Kingdom. Colonial architectural influences are most evident in major cities such as Yangon. Many ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in the southeast and the Kachin and Chin who populate the north and northeast, practice Christianity. According to The World Factbook, the Burman population is 68% and the ethnic groups constitute 32%. However, the exiled leaders and organisations claims that ethnic population is 40%, which is implicitly contrasted with CIA report (official US report).


Getting Around
For most people, the main ways to get around Myanmar are by air and bus; you can of course mix different modes of transport during your travels according to the individual journey you are taking. Which you choose will very much depend on your budget and itinerary; buses are the cheapest form of transport and some destinations can only be reached by air.
Taxis come in a variety of different forms and are inexpensive and plentiful in most towns and cities. Hire cars (with driver) can be the most convenient way to get between certain destinations, although of course they come at a price.

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