Facts and History of Myanmar (Burma)

Country Description:

Myanmar (Burma) is a developing agrarian country emerging from decades of rule by an authoritarian military regime. Elections in November 2010 led to a peaceful transition to a civilian government headed by President Thein Sein. Under President Thein Sein, the Government of Burma has initiated a series of political and economic reforms that have resulted in a substantial opening up of this long-isolated country. These reforms have included the release of many political prisoners, preliminary peace agreements with some armed ethnic groups, greater freedom of the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party won a landslide victory and seats in parliament. There is, however, continuing criticism of the government's treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority and its poor response to the religious clashes.In the landmark 2015 election, Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a majority in both houses.

After a long period of isolation, Burma has started to encourage tourism. As a foreigner, you can expect to pay more than locals do for accommodation, domestic airfares and entry to tourist sites. Tourist facilities in Rangoon, Bagan, Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake, and Mandalay are superior to tourist facilities in other parts of the country, where they are limited or non-existent.


Under the name “Myanmar” the people of over 135 different ethnic groups and eight major national races are represented – many of whom have their own dress, cultures and traditions. More than 60 million people are estimated to live in the country’s seven states and seven divisions.

The crime rate in Myanmar is extremely low and very little is directed at foreigners, which makes Myanmar one of the safest countries in the world to travel.


Naypyidaw (founded in November 2005).

Major Cities:

Former capital Yangon (Rangoon) population 6 million.

Mandalay, population 925,000.

Official Language:

The official language of Myanmar is Burmese, a Sino-Tibetan language that is the native tongue of slightly more than half of the country's people.

The government also officially recognises several minority languages that predominate in Myanmar's autonomous States: Jingpho, Mon, Karen, and Shan.


Myanmar probably has about 55.5 million people. Myanmar is an exporter of both migrant workers (with several million in Thailand alone), and of refugees. Burmese refugees total more than 300,000 people in neighboring Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

The government of Myanmar officially recognises 135 ethnic groups. By far the largest is the Bamar, at about 68%. Significant minorities include the Shan (10%), Kayin (7%), Rakhine (4%), ethnic Chinese (3%), Mon (2%), and ethnic Indians (2%). There are also small numbers of Kachin, Anglo-Indians, and Chin.


Myanmar is primarily a Theravada Buddhist society – at about 89% of the population. Most Burmese are very devoted, and treat monks with great respect.

The government does not control religious practice in Myanmar. Thus, minority religions exist openly, including Christianity (4% of the population), Islam (4%), Animism (1%), and tiny groups of Hindus, Taoists, and Mahayana Buddhists.


Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, with an area of 678,500 square kilometres (261,970 square miles).

The country is bordered on the northwest by India and Bangladesh, on the northeast by Tibet and China, by Laos and Thailand to the southeast, and by the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the south. Myanmar's coastline is about 1,930 kilometres (1,200 miles long).

The highest point in Myanmar is Hkakabo Razi, with an elevation of 5,881 metres (19,295 feet). Myanmar's major rivers are the Irrawaddy, Thanlwin and Sittang.


Under British colonial rule, Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia, awash in rubies, oil and valuable timber. Sadly, after decades of mismanagement by post-independence dictators, Myanmar has become one of the poorest nations in the world.

Myanmar's economy depends on agriculture for 56% of GDP, services for 35%, and industry for a minuscule 8%. Export products include rice, oil, Burmese teak, rubies, jade, and also 8% of the world's total illegal drugs, mostly opium and methamphetamines.

Estimates of the per capita income are unreliable, but it is probably about $500 US.

Myanmar's currency is the kyat.