Myanmar covers 676,577 square kilometers, and is bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, China to the north and Thailand and Laos to the east.
Three parallel chains of mountain ranges – the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma and the Shan Plateau – divide Myanmar into three river basins: the Ayeyarwady, the Sitoung, and the Thanlwin. Myanmar's has a coastline of more than 2,500 kilometres on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
Myanmar is divided into twenty-one administrative subdivisions. They are Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states; and Ayeyarwady, Bago, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing, Tanintharyi and Yangon regions. It has six self-administered zones: Danu, Kokang, Naga, Pa Laung, and Pa-O; and one self-administered division: Wa. Nay Pyi Taw is the capital of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Myanmar has a tropical with a three-season cycle. The hot season from March to May has average temperatures of 34C - 38 C; the rainy season from June to September has average temperatures 24C – 32C; and the cool season from October to February with average temperatures of 20C - 24 C.
Annual rainfall along the coasts of Rakhine state and Tanintharyi region ranges from 300cm – 500 cm. The Ayeyarwady Delta region, the nation’s main rice growing area, has about 150cm-200cm of rain a year, while central Myanmar records about 50cm-100cm a year.
Myanmar is a year-round holiday destination, depending on which part of the country you wish to visit. Upper Myanmar tends to be dry all year, with the period from July to September being pleasant in Bagan and Mandalay. Beach destinations should be avoided from May to the end of September. In the eastern foothills of the Himalayas near Putao, in the Shan hills and at Mrauk U, site of an ancient capital in Rakhine State, temperatures at night during the cool season can fall to 0C. The best time to visit Myanmar is from the end of October to end of March.
Myanmar has a population of about 56 million and is home to more than 135 ethnic groups. The main national races are the Bamar, who comprise 69% of the population. The other main national races are the Shan, Kayin, Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Mon and Rakhine.
Myanmar is the predominant language though each ethnic group has its own language, costumes and traditions.
"Mingalarbar" is the traditional welcome and greeting and is an expression of the warm hospitality and friendliness of the Myanmar people.
Myanmar is a multi-religious country with freedom of religion. The predominant religion, Theravada Buddhism, is embraced by 89% of the people, and there are also Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Animists.
Theravada Buddhists seek to achieve salvation by studying and understanding the teachings of the Buddha and by practicing meditation. Through these endeavours they hope to attain Enlightenment (Nirvana), which will enable them to escape from the endless cycle of existence.
Most of cultural festivals have religious backgrounds and take place on dates fixed according to the lunar calendar and full moon days. Major festivals throughout the year and the importance of Buddhist Lent are explained below.
The Thingyan Water Festival is held throughout the country to celebrate the Myanmar New Year and lasts from four to five days. People pour water on one another as part of a cleansing ritual to welcome the new year. Religious activities conducted in conjunction with the Myanmar New Year include visiting pagodas and monasteries, keeping the Buddhist precepts, paying respect to the elderly and making donations to earn merit. The country shuts down during "Thingyan", and most businesses are closed.
As an integral part of Myanmar culture and Buddhism, devotees walk in grand processions to pagoda grounds on the full moon day of Kason to pour scented water on Bodhi trees and light thousands of oil-lamps or candles in celebration of the Birth, gaining of Enlightment and Passing away of Buddha, all of which occurred on the same date during His life. The Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa) is a focus of this festival because the Buddha gained Enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree.
Commemorating the Buddha's first sermon, this festival also marks the start of Buddhist Lent. Monks are confined to their monasteries during the three months of Buddhist Lent. Offerings of new robes and other requisites are made to monks during Waso.
Marking the end of Buddhist Lent, this Festival of Light, held on the full moon day of Thadingyut, lasts for three days. Pagodas, public buildings, parks, streets and houses are all festively decorated and illuminated. Thadingyut is also when respects are paid to monks, teachers, parents and elders and when forgiveness is sought for any misconduct that may have occurred during the previous year.
Tazaungdaing is another Festival of Light held throughout the country on the full moon day of Tazaungmone. "Matho Thigan” (Yellow Robes) are woven in temple grounds in a single night on the full moon day of Tazaungmone to be offered to Buddha images. Teams of weavers, representing community groups or state, region or administrative zones, compete against each other to be the first to complete the robes. Robes and other requisites are also offered to the monks during this period as part of a ritual known as "Ka Htein".
Once a year in early October, the Phaungdaw Oo pagoda festival takes place on Inle Lake, during which Buddha images travel on resplendent barges to villages on the lake shore. This is the biggest annual celebration in Shan State and it also features leg rowers’ boat races, traditional dances and fairs.
The Dancing Elephant Festival is another of Myanmar’s famous traditional events. It is held at Kyaukse, about 40 kilometres south of Mandalay, and features performances involving pairs of men who dance rythymically inside inside colourful elephant costumes made from paper and bamboo. The elephant dancers circle three times around the foot of a hill crowned by Shwe Tha Lyaung Pagaoda in a gesture of homage and also dance through the town to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
There are also many festivals that are specific to particular pagodas or temples as part of special pilgrimages in the tradition of the propagation and perpetuation of Buddhism and its culture. During such festivals, which last for a week or longer, there are street vendors and shops selling local produce, snacks and delicacies; entertainers and musicians who move rom one fair to the next bringing excitement, colour and a much-earned break to the lives of local people.
Spirit festivals, known as 'Nat Pwes', while having only a tacit connection to Buddhism, have equal significance at some areas. Taung Byone Nat Festival and Mount Popa Nat Spirits festivals are regarded as being among the most significant "Nat Pwes" in Myanmar.
Among the distinctive festivals of the ethnic groups are the Manaw Festival held by the Kachin people to celebrate their New Year, victories in battle and/or reunions of different sub-groups and the Naga New Year Festival in far northern Sagaing region, which brings together Naga people for spectacular mass dancing events.
Neat and respectful dress should be worn in all religious shrines. It is not considered polite to visit religious places in shorts or miniskirts.
Shoes and socks should be removed before entering pagoda precincts and/or chapels containing Buddha images.
A handshake is considered an acceptable form of greeting.
Myanmar have a name of one, two or three syllables, bestowed on them soon after birth at a naming ceremony. Parents consult a monk or an astrologer to select a name . While this practice does not follow Buddhist doctrine, it is customary throughout the country.
Myanmar do not have family names. Women keep their names after they marry and a child can have a name which bears no relation to those of its parents.
The most important moment in the life of a Myanmar Buddhist boy is his initiation as a novice in the order of monks at what is known as the Shinpyu ceremony. It takes place when the boy has reached the age of seven and involves a symbolic procession after which he exchanges princely attire for that of an ascetic, thus following the example of the historical Buddha. The young novice stays at a monastery immersed in the teachings of the Buddha for at least five days or longer. Parents are anxious for their sons to fulfill this tradition as it provides an opportunity for them to earn merit.
Chinlon and traditional boxing are among the most traditional of the sporting activities in Myanmar.
A chinlon is a ball made of woven cane. Players stand in a circle and try to keep the ball in the air, using any part of their body except the hands.
In Myanmar traditional boxing, boxers can use any part of their body to attack their opponent and a match is won by the first to draw blood. The bouts are played according to rules, including the etiquette of the ring, to ensure they do not become too unruly. Boxing contests are accompanied by a Myanmar percussion orchestra, which lends an air of unreality to the event.
A Myanmar feels most comfortable wearing a longyi, the traditional loose sarong. Longyi is a unisex term: a man wears a pasoe and a woman, a htamein.
It is common to see Myanmar women and children wearing on the face a lightly-scented cream known as thanaka. As well as beautifying the skin, it is also an astringent and a sun block.
Thanaka is obtained from the bark of a tree (Limonia acidissima) which grows in the southern and western region of India and in Myanmar’s central dry zone. The bark is ground and mixed with water to make the paste. Various kinds of thanaka differ in quality but those from the Shwebo and Pakokku districts are regarded as the best in Myanmar.
A wide variety of traditional delicacies and snacks is available throughout the country. "Mouk-Hin-Kha" thin rice noodles served with fish gravy and "Ohn-Noh-Khauk- Swe", noodles served with pieces of chicken in a coconut milk gravy are the most popular breakfast, lunch or late afternoon snack dish.
"Laphet Thope" is a famous traditional salad of pickled tea leaves mixed with fried garlic, roasted sesame seeds and peanuts, dried shrimps, a squeeze of lime, and a generous dash of sesame oil. It is usually accompanied with plain tea – boiled water in which dried and roasted tea leaves are brewed.