Silk and Stones Travel

Myanmar Country Information


Villager near Inle Lake

Myanmar Country Information

Myanmar’s history includes a Golden Age during the 11th century.  King Anawrahta united the country into the First Myanmar Empire with his capital in Bagan. The Bagan Empire extended to the entire Menam valley in Thailand and lasted more than two centuries, before collapsing during the Mongol invasion of Kublai Khan in the 13th century. King Bayinnaung founded the Second Myanmar Empire in the middle 16th century. King Alaungpaya founded the Third Myanmar Empire in 1752.

Britain conquered Burma after years of conquests in 1886, administering it as a province of the Indian Empire until 1937 when it became self-governing. Independence from the British Commonwealth occurred in 1948 with U Nu as the first Prime Minister.  In 1962, democratic rule  was overthrown by a military coup led by General Ne Win who ruled for the next 26 years. 

Free elections were held in 1990, but the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi was abolished by a military junta.  Her father, General Aung San, founded the Burmese army and fought for national independence.  Another figure of note from Burma is U Thant, UN Secretary General for two terms, and a highly respected UN leader.

In November 2005, the military junta announced that the national capital would be moved from Yangon to Pyinmana.

The Union of Myanmar, formerly called Burma when occupied by the British, is the largest country in geographical area in Southeast Asia.  It sits literally at the crossroads between China to the north, India and Bangladesh to the west, and Laos and Thailand to the east.  It is a deeply Buddhist culture, and the diverse tribes and ethnic groups still lead to political tensions and government challenges.  The economy is agraian.  The current government is an authoritarian military junta. 

Myanmar is now encouraging tourism, after years of isolation.  While there are still US economic sanctions that prohibit investing in Myanmar, or exporting goods from Myanmar, the usual aspects of travel and tourism are allowed, and the innate graciousness of local people is very rewarding.  It is not appropriate to photograph military or government facilities, or to encourage citizens of Myanmar to talk about the government.

For additional information, read the US State Department information on Myanmar, the CIA FAct Book web site on Myanmar, and the Wikipedia entries for Myanmar at these web sites:




There is a good article from a recent issue of the Economist, Aug. 21, that speaks to the privatization program in Myanmar and their coming election:  “Myanmar’s Politics and Economy:  A new Day beckons, sort of”, p 34.

Key Dates:

September 22:  Anniversary of large scale protests held by Buddhist monks, nuns and pro-democracy activists throughout Yangon against Military junta.

September 25:  Anniversary of uprising of Buddhist monks against the government and subsequent crackdown.  Numerous people killed, including a Japanese video journalist.

September 26:  Anniversity of uprising of Buddhist monks against the government and subsequent crackdown.  Numerous people killed, including a japanese video journalist.

The Shwedagon Pagoda (Burmese: ; MLCTS: hrwe ti. gum. bhu. ra:; [ʃwèdəɡòun pʰəjá]), officially titled Shwedagon Zedi Daw ([ʃwèdəɡòun zèdìdɔ̀]), also known as the Golden Pagoda, is a 98-metre (approx. 321.5 feet) gilded stupa located in Yangon, Burma. The pagoda lies to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, on Singuttara Hill, thus dominating the skyline of the city. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within, namely the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama, the historical Buddha.

Yangon — See encyclopedia photos

Yangon (Burmese: ရန်ကုန်; MLCTS: rankun mrui, pronounced [jàŋɡòũ mjo̰]; also known as Rangoon, literally: "End of Strife") is a former capital of Burma and the capital of Yangon Division. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of over four million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial center.

Yangon's infrastructure is undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia. Yangon has the largest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia today. While many high-rise residential and commercial buildings have been constructed or renovated throughout downtown and Greater Yangon in the past two decades, most satellite towns that ring the city continue to be deeply impoverished.

Mandalay (Burmese; MLCTS: manta.le: mrui.; pronounced [màndəlé mjo̰] in Burmese, /ˌmændəˈleɪ/ or /ˈmændəleɪ/ in English) is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar. Located 445 miles (716 km) north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of one million, and is the capital of Mandalay Division.

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. Despite Naypyidaw's recent rise, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.

Amarapura (Burmese) is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa (Ava) in the south. Amarapura (आमरपुर), Pali for City of Immortality, was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries before finally supplanted by Mandalay 11km north in 1857. Though historically referred to as Taungmyo (Southern City) in relation to Mandalay, Amarapura today is part of Mandalay, as a result of the urban sprawl.

The Taung-Tha-Man Bridge is better known as U Bein Bridge. The construction of the Bridge started in 1849, and it was completed two years later in 1851. It has 1086 posts or pillars and 1.2 Km long. There are nine passageways for large boats. There is something remarkable about the structure, no iron nail was used in fixing the parts in place; the Myanmar builders must have foreseen the eventual corrosive action of the rain and the lake's water on any pieces of metal. The tops of the posts were shaped in such a way as to stream down the rainwater easily. The horizontal curvature of the Bridge suggests that the builders had got the idea of cushioning the impact of stormy waves and winds.

Inle Lake is a freshwater lake located in the Shan Hills in Myanmar (Burma). It is the second largest lake in Myanmar with an estimated surface area of 44.9 square miles (116 km2), and one of the highest at an altitude of 2,900 feet (880 m). During the dry season, the average water depth is 7 feet (2.1 m), with the deepest point being 12 feet (3.7 m), but during the rainy season this can increase by 5 feet (1.5 m).

The watershed area for the lake lies to a large extent to the north and west of the lake. The lake drains through the Nam Pilu or Balu Chaung on its southern end. There is a hot spring on its northwestern shore.

Although not a large lake, there is a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found nowhere else in the world. Some of these, like the silver-blue scaleless Sawbwa barb (Sawbwa resplendens), the Crossbanded dwarf danio (Microrasbora erythromicron), and Inle danio (Inlecypris auropurpurea), are of minor commercial importance for the aquarium trade

Rakhine State (Burmese; formerly Arakan) is a state of Burma. Situated on the western coast, it is bordered by Chin State in the north, Magway Division, Bago Division and Ayeyarwady Division in the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. It is located approximately between latitudes 17°30' north and 21°30' north and east longitudes 92°10' east and 94°50' east. The Arakan Yoma mountain range, which rises to 3,063 m at Victoria Peak, separates Rakhine State from Burma Proper. Its area is 36,762 km² and its capital is Sittwe.

The estimated population in 2000 was 2.7 million of which the ethnic Arakanese or Rakhine make up the slight majority. The Rohingya make up approximately 25% of the state's population (about 723,000 in 2009) but are not counted as citizens by the military government.

The Dynasties of Myanmar:

The Mon

Humans lived in the region that is now Myanmar as early as 11,000 years ago. The first identifiable civilization is that of the Mon. The Mon probably began migrating into the area in about 3000 BC, and their first kingdom Suwarnabhumi, was founded around the port of Thaton in about 300 BC. Spoken tradition suggests that they had contact with Buddhism via seafaring as early as the 3rd century BC, though definitely by the 2nd century BC when they received an envoy of monks from Ashoka. Much of the Mon's written records have been destroyed through wars. The Mons blended Indian and Mon culture together in a hybird of the two civilizations. By the mid-9th century, they had come to dominate all of southern Myanmar.

The Pyu

The Pyu arrived in Myanmar in the 7th century and established city kingdoms at Binnaka, Mongamo, Sri Ksetra, and Halingyi. During this period, Myanmar was part of an overland trade route from China to India. Chinese sources state that the Pyu controlled 18 kingdoms and describe them as a humane and peaceful people. The Pyu capital of Halingyi fell to the kingdom of Nanchao in the mid-9th century, ending their period of dominance.

The Bagan Kingdom

To the north another group of people, the Burmans began infiltrating the area as well. By 849, they had founded a powerful kingdom centered on the city of Pagan and filled the void left by the Pyu. The kingdom grew in relative isolation until the reign of Anawrahta (1044 - 77) who successfully unified all of Myanmar by defeating the Mon city of Thaton in 1057. Consolidation was accomplised under his successors Kyanzittha (1084-1112) and Alaungsithu (1112-1167), so that by the mid-12th century, most of Southeast Asia was under the control of either the Bagan Kingdom or the Khmer empire. The Bagan kingdom went into decline as more land and resources fell into the hands of the powerful sangha (monkhood) and the Mongols threatened from the north. The last true ruler of Bagan, Narathihapate (reigned 1254-87) felt confident in his ability to resist the Mongols and advanced into Yunnan in 1277 to make war upon them. He was thouroughly crushed at the Battle of Ngasaunggyan, and Bagan resistance virtually collapsed. The king was assassinated by his own son, but the dynasty was soon brought to an end in 1289, when the mongols installed a puppet ruler in Myanmar.

Inwa and Bago

After the collapse of Bagan authority, Myanmar was divided once again. The Burmans had restablished themselves at the city of Inwa by 1364, where Bagan culture was revived and a great age of Burmese literature ensued. The kingdom lacked easily defendable borders, however, and was overrun by the Shan in 1527. To the south, the Mons reestablished themselves at Bago, and under their king, Dhammazedi (reigned 1472-92), entered a golden age as well, becoming a great center of commerce and Therinwada Buddhism.

The Taungoo Dynasty

Surviors of the destruction of Inwa eventually established a new kingdom centered on Taungoo in 1531 led by Tabinshwehti (reigned 1531-50), who once again unified most of Myanmar. By this time, the geopolitical situation in Southeast Asia had changed drastically. The Shan gained power in a new kingdom in the North, Ayutthaya (Siam), while the Portugese had arrived in the south and conquered Malacca. With the coming of European traders, Myanmar was once again an important trading center, and Tabinshwehti moved his capital to Bago due to its commercial value. Tabinshwehti's brother-in-law, Bayinnaung (ruled 1551-81) succeeded to the throne and proceeded on a campaign of conquest conquering several states, including Manipur (1560) and even Ayutthaya (1569). His wars stretched Myanmar to the limits of its resources, however, and both Manipur and Ayutthaya were soon independant once again. Faced with rebellion by several cities and renewed Portugese incursions, the Tourngoo rulers withdrew from southern Myanmmar and founded a second dynasty at Inwa. Bayinnaung's grandson, Anaukpetlun, once again reunited Myanmar in 1613 and decisively defeated Portuguese attempts to take over Myanmar. His successor Thalun reestablished the priciples of the old Bagan kingdom, but spent too heavily on religious expenditure and paid to little attention to the southern part of his kingdom. Encouraged by the French in India, Bago finally rebelled against Inwa, further weakening the state, which fell in 1752.

The Konbaung Dynasty

It did not take long for a new dynasty to arise and bring Myanmar to its greates power yet. A popular Burmese leader named Alaungpaya drove the Bago forces out of northern Myanmar by 1753, and by 1759 he had once again conquered Bago and southern Myanmar while also regaining control of Manipur. He established his capital at Rangoon. In 1760, he briefly conquered Tenasserim and marched on Ayutthaya, but his invasion failed and he was killed. His son Hsinbyushin (ruled 1763-76) returned to Ayutthaya in 1766 and had conquered it before the end of the next year. Even China took notice of Myanmar now, but Hsinbyushin sucessfully repulsed four Chinese invasions between 1766 and 1769. Another of Alaungpaya's sons, Bodawpaya (ruled 1781-1819), lost Ayutthaya, but added Arakan (1784) and Tenasserim (1793) to the kingdom as well. In Jaunary 1824, during the reign of King Bagyidaw (ruled 1819-37), a general named Maha Bandula succeeded in conquering Assam, bringing Myanmar face to face with British interests in India.

War with Britain

In response to the continued conquests of Myanmar, the British and the Siamese joined forces against Myanmar in 1824. The First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) ended in a British victory, and by the Treaty of Yandaboo, Myanmar lost Assam, Manipur, Arakan, and Tenasserim. As the century wore on, the British began to covet the natural resources of Myanmar and wanted to secure their supply route to Singapore. As a result, they provoked the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, annexing Bago province and renaming it Lower Burma. The war resulted in a revolution in Myanmar, with King Pagin Min (ruled 1846-52) being replaced by his half brother, Mindon Min (ruled 1853-78)). King Mindon tried to modernise the Burmese state and economy to resist British encroachments, and he established a new capital at Mandalay, which he proceeded to fortify. This was not enough to stop the Birtish, however, who claimed that Mindon's son Thibaw Min (ruled 1878-85) was a tyrant intending to side with the French and declared war once again in 1885, conquering the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

During the British Ruling

Britain made all of Burma a province of India in 1886 with the capital at Rangoon. Traditional Myanmar society was drastically altered by the ending of the monarchy and the separation of church and state. Though war officially ended after only a couple of weeks, resistance continued in northern Myanmar until 1890, with the British finally resorting to a systematic destruction of villages and appointment of new officials to finally halt the guerilla activity. The economic nature of society also changed drastically. After the opening of the Suez Canal, the demand for Burmese rice grew and vast tracts of land were opened up for cultivation. However, in order to prepare the new land for cultivation, farmers were forced to borrow money from Indian moneylenders at high interest rates and were often eveicted for failure to pay back the loan. Imported Indian labor ended up with most of the jobs, and whole villages became lawless dens full of the unemployed. While the Burmese economy grew, all the power and wealth was in the hands of several British firms and the Burmese people did not reap the rewards.
A new generation of Burmese leaders arose in the early twentieth century from amongst the educated classes that were permitted to go to London to study law. They came away from this experience with the belief that the Burmese situation could be improved through peaceful protest and negotiations. Peaceful strikes in the early 1920s led to a constitutional reform in 1923 that created a partialy elected legislature with limited powers, but some people began to feel that the rate of change was not fast enough and the reforms not expansive enough. Some of these dissatisfied students founded a new group called Thakin (an ironic name as thakin means "master" in the Burmese language, and this was the term that students were required to use when addressing their British professors, whom they were coming to resent). A peasant rebellion led by Saya San that started in 1930 and lasted for two years gave the Thakin their chance. Though they did not actually participate in the rebellion, they did win the trust of the peasants and displaced the older generation of London-educated elites at the head of the Burmese nationalist movement. They staged a strike in 1936, which was notable because it was during this strike that Thakin Nu and Aung San joined the movement. The British seperated Burma from India in 1937 and granted the colony a new constitution calling for a fully elected assembly, but many Burmese felt that this was just a ploy to exclude them from any further Indian reforms. Ba Maw served as the first prime minister of Burma, but he was forced out by U Saw in 1939, who served as prime minister from 1940 to 1942. Burmese nationalists saw the outbreak of World War II as an opportunity to extort concessions from the British in exchange for support in the war effort, but the British would have none of it, issuing an arrest warrant for Aung San, who escaped to China. The Japanese offered him support, and he briefly returned to Burma to enlist the aid of twenty-nine young men who went to Japan with him to receive military training as the so-called "Thirty Comrades." The Japanese quickly declared Burma independant, and when they occupied Bangkok in December 1941, Aung Sang announced the formation of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in anticipation of Japanese liberation. The Japanese duly moved into Burma in 1942 and disbanded the BIA, forming the smaller Burma Defense Army in its place with Aung Sang still at the head. Ba Naw was declared head of state, and his cabinet included both Aung Sang and Thakin Nu. It soon became apparent that Japanese promises of independence were merely a sham and that Ba Maw was just a puppet. As the war turned against the Japanese, they declared Burma a fully sovereign state in 1943, but this was just another facade. Disillusioned, Aung San began negotitations with Lord Mountbatten in October 1943 and officially joined the Allies with his renamed Burma National Army (BNA) in March 1945. During this period, Anung San sucessfully created a broad-based coalition of political parties called the Anti-Fascist Organization, renamed the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), to govern the country. The Japanese were routed from Burma in May 1945. The defeat of the Japanese brought a military administration and demands to try Aung San as a traitor for his early collaboration with the Japanese. Lord Mountbatten realized that this was an impossibility considering San's hold on the BNA and his popular appeal and sent the conciliatory Sir Hubert Rance to head the administration, who was able to win back the trust of both San and the general populace. After the war ended, the former civilian governor returned, and San was duly arrested. This nearly touched off a rebellion, but the British backed off and sent Rance back to restore order and faith. Negotiations began for Burmese independence, which were completed sucessfully in January 1947. The agreement left both the communist and conservative branches of the AFPFL dissatisfied, however, sending the communists underground and the conservatives into opposition. Another who was dissatisfied by the agreement was U Saw, who felt that Aung San had conceded to much in the negotiations. Consequently, he engineered the assassination of Aung San and nearly his entire cabinet in July. Thakin Nu was asked to form a new cabinet, and he presided over Burmese independence on January 4, 1948.