Myanmar (Burma) is a country located in Southeast Asia. To put it in context, it is at the crossroads between the South Asian continent of India, the Southeast Asian peninsula of Indochina, and the East Asian continent of China.
Myanmar is bordered by 5 countries: India in the north, China in the northeast, Laos and Thailand in the east, and Bangladesh in the northwest.
Quick facts about Myanmar
|Name of the country||The Republic of the Union of Myanmar(since 1989)||Abbreviation||Myanmar|
|Capital||Nay Pyi Taw (since 2005), former Yangon (Rangon)||Continent||Southeastern Asia|
|Population||52.8 million (2016)||Area||676,552 sq km (261,218 sq miles)|
|Major language||Burmese, minority languages||Major religions||Buddhism|
|Major cities||Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Nay Pyi Taw||Currency||Kyat (approx. USD$1=MMK1300, September 2017)|
|President||Htin Kyaw||Famous figures||Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel Peace Prize 1991) ; U Thant (former UN Secretary)|
|Time Zone||UTC+ 6:30||International call code||+95|
Shape and size of Myanmar
Is the map of Myanmar like a kite, with a long tail stretching far into the south? Or does it look more like a north-headed tadpole?
By area, Myanmar is the 40th largest country in the world, just slightly bigger than France. Its total area is 678,500 square kilometers, or 261,970 square miles. It is the largest country on the Indochina peninsula, larger than Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia or Singapore.
Landscape of Myanmar
In keeping with its size, Myanmar enjoys great diversity of geography, landscape, people, flora and fauna. The Irrawaddy River creates a low-lying alluvial delta on the Bay of Bengal. The vast central plains, sheltered by the Rakhine-Yoma Hills, are dry with cracked oil.
The forested Hills region has long been known for its biodiversity. The country's long pristine coastline is still decorated with mangroves and palm trees.
Contrast the 5,870-meter (19,259 ft) snow-peaked Hkakabo Razi in the north (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia), with the 1,200 miles (1,930 km) of coastline in the west, where some of the world's most beautiful beaches remain tucked away in relative obscurity.
Or consider the desert-like central plain of the Bagan area, and compare it to the inaccessible jungles of the Myanmar-Thailand border.
The Irrawaddy River
The Irrawaddy, the main river in Myanmar, flows from north to south through the tadpole. It meanders around 1,373 miles (2,210 km) and is immortalized by its Burmese name Ayeyarwady Myit, or 'Blessings for the People'. In Rudyard Kipling's poem, the river is also referred to as 'The Road to Mandalay'.
The river begins in the tadpole's mouth, on the Himalaya Mountains. It then flows through the body, passing through some of the country's most populous cities; including Myitkyina the throat, Mandalay the stomach, Bagan the intestines, and finally Yangon the asshole, where it flows on into the Bay of Bengal.
Numerous civilizations have sprung up on the banks of the river. The Irrawaddy serves as an essential artery for millions of people who settle in clusters along its banks, and its life-giving waters nourish their crops and provide them with rich stocks of fish.
Cruising the Irrawaddy
For visitors, a journey along the river is a classic way to experience the country's timeless charm. A variety of options is available, from a day trip to Mingun, an hour up-river from Mandalay, to a 7-day cruise from Bhamo to Yangon. Luxury cruises sail the more scenic stretches of the river.
We recommend the 2-day, 1-night journey from royal Mandalay to ancient Bagan. Starting at Sagaing, cruising all day long, visitors are provided with dreamy views over the blue water. In the late afternoon, the cruise stops at Yandabo, a pottery-making village. Visitors are guided to the pottery workshops, a monastery and a school.
On the morning of the second day, we continue cruising downstream to Bagan, stopping to visit a river village and learn more about the lives of locals.
After admiring the sunset, passengers disembark at the Bagan Aye Yar jetty. As the ferries dock, local vendors crowd around, selling fruit, noodles and grilled fish on sticks, delicately arranged in round baskets.
Main cities in Myanmar
The main cities in Myanmar are dotted along the Irrawaddy River: Mandalay at the upper reaches, Bagan in the middle, and Yangon at the lower reaches. Other cities worth a mention include Naypyidaw (the new capital), Mawlamyine (a port city) and Taunggyi in the Inle Lake area.
Mandalay is the historical center of the nation, with a population of over 1.2 million. It was Myanmar's capital before the British started colonial government and moved the capital to Yangon in 1855.
The 413-hectare royal palace compound at the center of the city is still fully protected, and can easily be identified from its four 2-km-long walls and a moat 64 meters wide.
Most people choose to stay in Mandalay for at least 2 days, visiting the many temples like Shwenandaw Kyaung, Kuthodaw Pagoda and Mahamuni. Photographing the amazing U Bein Bridge at sunset or just watching the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill, will offer you a new perspective on this region.
Make your way to the ruins of the nearby ancient capitals like Inwa (which served as the Burmese capital for over six centuries), Sagaing (renowned for hundreds of white, silver and gold pagodas), and Mingun (an unfinished grand stupa). Finally, take a full-day cruise to the next stop - Bagan.
Bagan is a small town by the banks of the Irrawaddy, with a population of around 300,000. It is most renowned for the thousands of Buddhist temples and pagodas scattered around its vast plain. Its archeological zone is probably one of the most interesting areas to visit in Asia, especially for visitors who are interested in Buddism.
There are lots of activities to choose between at Bagan, including the once-in-a-lifetime experience of taking a balloon to fly over the plain.
Climb the Shwesandaw Pagoda to watch sunrise or sunset, see Ananda Temple to learn about the Buddha's life, sit on a horse cart and drive across the plain, visit local villages and Nyaung U market, boat at sunset, or just stay at local resorts.
Yangon was the capital of Myanmar until 2005, when the military government moved the capital to Naypyidaw. Yangon is the largest city in the country with 5.2 million inhabitants. It is the economic, cultural, and financial center of Myanmar, and the main gateway city linking Myanmar with the rest of the world.
The city has retained much of its colonial charm, with many colonial buildings. The group of buildings in downtown Yangon is the largest of its kind. Walking by these colonial-era buildings, such as the Strand Hotel (built in 1896), will help you better understand the country's history.
Yangon's principal attractions are mostly concentrated between the river and the Shwedagon Pagoda, a gleaming golden monument built over 2,500 years ago, plated with gold bars and encrusted with diamonds. Thousands of pilgrims pray at the shrines every day, kneeling in front of the Middle Terrace, or the elaborately decorated subsidiary shrines.
Read more on Top 5 Destinations to Visit in Myanmar.
Millions of visitors have been traveling to Myanmar since the easing of the boycott on tourism in 2010. Aside from Myanmar's unique culture and the fact that the country has been cut off from the outside world for so long, the kind and courteous character of the Burmese people is another reason why visitors find Myanmar charming.
Most visitors to Myanmar start their journey in Yangon, staying two days and observing its vibrant street life, religious monuments and colonial architecture. Then comes a two-day visit to Mandalay, exploring the monuments that still survive from the country's golden era and the nearby ancient capitals, before viewing the sunset from U Bein's teak bridge.
Next, you can take a cruise downstream to Bagan, one of Southeast Asia's most exotic archeological zones, with more than 2,000 monuments spreading over a vast plain. Spend two good days in Bagan, with much to explore there.
Finally, treat yourself to the glassy Inle Lake for another two days, before returning to Yangon and flying out. The whole trip takes 8 to 10 days. See our guide on planning a first-time trip to Myanmar
Getting to Myanmar
The most popular gateway city for Myanmar is Yangon, accessible by flight from Bangkok (Thailand), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Singapore and Kunming (China). There are no direct flights to Myanmar from the US, the UK or Europe.
Singapore and Bangkok operate most flights to Yangon, while there are direct flights from Hong Kong with Dragonair, from Tokyo with All Nippon, and from Doha with Qatar Airways. The air fare varies with the season, the most expensive being from December to January.
Tourist visas for Myanmar can be obtained via the online platform from the official government website, or via Myanmar embassies and consulates worldwide. Read more about applying for a Myanmar visa.
See more on How to Get to Myanmar.
Visit Myanmar with Asia Highlights
We work with local suppliers, who train local staff and help them develop their careers. Our guides are locals who take good care of every customer, trying to ensure an enjoyable experience.
We provide tailor-made tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
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