Myanmar is an enchanting country filled with history and culture. Formally known as Burma, Myanmar is endowed with one of the most diverse countryside in all of Southeast Asia. You can go from beaches to towering mountains, and in-between, find thousands of temples and untouched dense jungles. Myanmar is situated between India, China, Bangladesh, Laos, and Thailand. This nearly 700,000 km square country has one of the most unique and diverse landscapes in the region.
The deep rooted culture is unchanged, and the people of Myanmar are very much in touch with the Buddhist religion. You will quickly realize this as you visit the metropolis of Yangon and see the massive gold stupa of Shwedagon Pagoda piercing the skyline. Every city in the country hosts hundreds if not thousands of religious monuments ranging from temples, monasteries, pagodas, and figures of Buddha. Myanmar is home to over 135 different ethnic groups each with their own traditions, language differences, and lifestyles.
The landscape of Myanmar varies from region to region. In the south you can enjoy pristine beaches and tropical jungles. Along the southwestern coast there is the Myeik Archipelago with thousands of untouched islands, this area is well known for its remarkable diving sites. To the north lie the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. The snow-capped mountains provide an excellent escape from the warm weather in the south. One of the main geographical features of Myanmar is the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River. The river spans most of the country, originating in the north and flowing south all the way to Yangon where it dumps into the Andaman Sea. The river is both a commercial trade route as well as a hydroelectric powerhouse that supplies electricity to Myanmar and surrounding countries.
After a day in the country you will quickly see that the people are some of the most friendly and charming people in all of Asia. Everything from their traditional longyi-wearing to chewing betel nut has not changed for hundreds of years. You will be greeted by smiles and hospitality everywhere you go within the country. It is not just at fancy hotels and restaurants where you will receive this treatment, it is everywhere. You will see smiling children playing football in the street, women balancing trays of snacks on their head, men sitting at street side tea shops discussing the days business, and bamboo scaffolding towering above your head. This is just normal everyday life, expect to see much more interesting things throughout your journey through this magical land.
The official language is Burmese, with some minority groups having their own language. However, many people speak some English, particularly in tourist areas.
Approximately 89% of the population is of Theravada Buddhist faith. Myanmar is known as “Land of Pagodas” or Golden Land, thanks to devout Myanmar Kings and their citizens who built countless religious monuments and shrines throughout the ages. An appreciation of Buddhism is a prerequisite for understanding the culture of the Burmese. Other religions in Myanmar include Christian 4%, Islam 4%, Animist 1%, and other 2%.
The ethnic origins of Myanmar are a mixture of Indo-Aryans, who established themselves in the region around 700 B.C., and the Mongolian invaders under Kublai Khan who penetrated the region in the 13th century. King Anawrahta (1044–1077) was the founder of first Myanmar Empire.
In 1612, the British East India Company sent agents to Burma, but the Burmese resisted all early efforts of the British, Dutch, and Portuguese traders trying to establish posts along the Bay of Bengal. During the Anglo-Burmese War in 1824–1826 and two subsequent wars, the British East India Company expanded to the whole of Burma. By 1886, Burma was first annexed to British India Empire, and then became a separate colony in 1937.
During World War II, Burma was a key battleground in South East Asia. The 800-mile Burma Road was the Allies’ vital supply line to China. The Japanese invaded the country in Dec. 1941, and by May 1942, had occupied most of it, cutting off the Burma Road. After one of the most difficult campaigns of the war, Allied forces liberated most of Burma prior to the Japanese surrender in Aug. 1945. Burma became an independent country on Jan. 4, 1948.
Myanmar food is unique because it has been heavily influenced by its surrounding countries. The flavors tend to be a fusion of Thai, Indian, and Chinese. Although their food is not as hot as Thai or as spicy as Indian, Myanmar food is an excellent combination of traditional Myanmar style and Asian/Indian cuisine. You will find that rice is a staple in the diet of most Myanmar people and rice comprises about 75% of the typical diet. A normal meal is rice with some sort of meat or fish in a curry sauce, with fried, boiled, or fresh vegetables as a side. Soup is very commonly served with every meal. There are a variety of soups that will be offered, some of them are hot, spicy, bland or sour.
The influence of Myanmar food began many years ago during the colonial period when an influx of Chinese and Indian people began to enter Myanmar. The traditional ways of preparation and ingredients were mixed with those of China and India creating a vast amount of different dishes with unique tastes and textures. Another factor in the influence on their food is globalization; this has brought many new ingredients, spices, and vegetables into the culinary mix. While in Myanmar you will have the opportunity to taste this unbelievable fusion of Asian food.
The typical Burmese meal will feature a variety of dishes laid out on the table for everyone to share. Rice is served with every meal and you have the choice to combine the different dishes to meet your desire. Most dishes are seasoned with onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili, and other spices. Throughout you trip through Myanmar you will encounter many different dishes that are sure to please your taste buds.
All the pictures in our gallery have been graciously provided by Barbara White
You can see more of her work at worldartphotographs.com