LAND AND GEOGRAPHY OF MYANMAR
Myanmar (formally known as Burma) is second largest country behind Indonesia. Bordered by India, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal to west, China to the northeast, Laos and Thailand to east, and the Andaman Sea to the south, Myanmar covers 676,578 square kilometers (261,228 square miles), which is roughly the same size of Texas or Britain and France combined. About 15 percent of the country is good for agriculture (compared to 21 percent in the U.S.) and most of this arable land is in the central lowlands. The central lowlands are ringed by steep, rugged highlands. Nearly half the country is covered by dense tropical forests.
Myanmar is the 40th largest country in the world. Strategically located near major Indian Ocean shipping lanes and sandwiched between two of the world's great superpowers, India and China, Myanmar it embraces 653,508 square kilometers of land and 23,070 square kilometers of water. It has a total of 5,876 kilometers of land boundaries: 193 kilometers with Bangladesh: 2,185 kilometers with China; 1,463 kilometers with India; 235 kilometers with Laos; and 1,800 kilometers with Thailand. It has 1,930 kilometers of coastline on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nautical miles; contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles; exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles; continental shelf: 200 nautical miles or to the edge of the continental margin.[Source: CIA World Factbook]
Myanmar is an oddly shaped country: it looks like a diamond-shaped kite with a tail hanging off the southeast corner. From the peak of the kite in the north to the southern end of its tail, the country extends 1,275 miles. At its broadest extent from east to west, it measures approximately 580 miles. Mountains, dense forests and Myanmar's 60 or so ethnic minorities occupy the northern, eastern and western parts of the country. Most of the mountains are less than a 2,000 meters. Many of these are covered by forests. The highest mountains, including Myanmar's highest peak, 5,861-meter Hkakabo Razi, are found in northern Myanmar, which lies in the eastern Himalayas. There are some nice beach along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea coasts.
Major Rivers of Myanmar: The Irrawaddy River is navigable for 900 miles. Other major rivers include the Chindwinn, the Sittong and the Salween (Thaanlwin) Two major rivers—the Irrawaddy and the Salween—originate in Tibet and the Himalayas and flow southward across the central plains. The Irrawaddy is Burma’s longest and most important river and a succession of Burma’s capitals were built within a short distance of its banks. To the east of the Irrawaddy, the much shorter Salween River drains the Shan Plateau and empties into the Gulf of Martaban between the ancient cities of Pegu and Thaton. [Source: Wikipedia]
Major Regions of Myanmar
Myanmar is a naturally formed geographical unit consisting of a vast central plain surrounded by three mountainous areas to the north and by the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to the South. There are four major land divisions: the large central plains area is encircled by mountains and plateaus; along the west and northwest by the Arakan Yoma (mountains) and Chin Hills; along the northern border by the Kumon mountains; and along the northeast and eastern borders by the Shan Plateau and attendant mountains.
The Irrawaddy divides Myanmar in two.The western region is more densely populated and his better transporation links to Yangon. The western region is less densely populated and more rugged. Sometimes the only transportation links are by river. The Dry Zone is a semi-desert area, roughly in the center of the country dominated by thorny trees and shrubs. It is 600 kilometers long and 110 kilometers wide. Pagan and Mandalay are located here. The Burmese refer to the dry zone as Upper Burma, even though it is geographically in the middle of the country. Lower Burma refers to Irrawaddy Delta Area, which embraces Yangon and Myanmar’s main rice-growing region.
The middle portion of Myanmar is centered around the Irrawaddy River, with a large delta area at its mouth and the area above the delta featuring floodplains. Most of the population and agricultural lands are found along the Irrawaddy, which is navigable for about 1,450 kilometers (900 miles). The western, northern, and eastern regions have mountains and high valleys and plateaus. The western region has the Arakan, Chin, and Naga hills. The most important geographic feature to the east is the Shan Plateau.
The majority of the population lives in the central lowlands and the valleys along the north-south-running Irrawaddy, Salween (Thaanlwin), Chindwinn and Sittong rivers. The Burmese live primarily in the central lowlands, while the other ethnic groups live mainly in the highlands. The Burmese have traditionally occupied the central plain formed by the Irrawaddy and Salween Rivers. The vast, wet, alluvial plains in Central Myanmar along the Irrawaddy are perfect for growing rice.
The eastern part of Myanmar lies in the Golden Triangle, along with northern Thailand and Laos. This is where much of the world's illegal opium used be—and to to some degree still is— grown. Much of this region is controlled by warlords not the Myanmar government and smugglers transport opium, heroin, gems and other contraband though the porous Thai, Laotian and Chinese borders.
Impact of Burma-Myanmar’s Geography on Its History and Culture
Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”:“The Burmese refer to the dry zone as Upper Burma, even though it is geographically in the middle of the country. It was here that the Burmese ethnic group first settled and it was here that most of the Burmese capitals were subsequently built, including Pagan, Sagaign, Ava, Amarapura and Mandalay. Rangoon and the delta are referred to as Lower Burma, an area that gained in political and economic importance during the nineteenth century as a response to Britain’s need for a seaport-capital from which to govern its colony. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]
“The dense jungles, long distances, and extended mountain ranges between Burma and its powerful neighbors, India and China, have provided a natural barrier to foreign military invasion. (The Mongol incursions around the year 1287, credited with ending the Pagan Empire, are now thought to have penetrated only into northern Burma and did not succeed in capturing or occupying the capital city of Pagan. The incursion did serve from afar to topple an already weakened government.) Therefore, the Indianizaton of Burma and, particularly the adoption of art forms connected with Buddhism and Hinduism, was a peaceful and internally motivated process. Burma and Thailand have often been at war, having regularly plundered each other’s capitals, and for relatively short periods they colonized portions of the other’s territory. Otherwise, with the exception of the British Colonial period that ended with the close of World War II, Burma was not long dominated by foreign powers and has had a generally continuous development over time. =
“A mere fifteen percent of the soil in Burma is arable. The disparity in soil fertility between the fertile central plains and the relatively infertile mountainous areas has defined not only an economic but also a marked cultural, religious, and language difference between the lowland peoples and hill tribe groups. The lowlanders typically are rice farmers, speak Burmese (or in the past, Pyu or Mon) and are adherents of Theravada Buddhism. Eighty five percent of today’s lowland population practices Buddhism. The hill tribes typically engage in swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture, speak a non-Burmese language, and practice one of the many forms of Animism. Western missionaries have been successful in converting only members of the hill tribe groups, so that today, for example, there are hilltribe Karen who are Christian as well as animist. “ =
Under British rule, the political capital was moved from Mandalay in the center to Rangoon on the eastern edge of the Irrawaddy delta in 1885. That city was built in 1755 and named Dagon. Rangoon remained the capital after independence (its name was changed later to Yangon) and continues to be politically and economically the most important city. Both Rangoon and Mandalay lie within the area occupied primarily by Burmese peoples, although both cities have a significant Indian population as a legacy of British rule. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]
The Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwady River) runs for about 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) from northern Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal, near Yangon, and is constantly changing. In the wet season, in some places, it fills with so much water it resembles a vast chocolate-brown lake. In the dry season, in the same places, the river level drops so low that the river bed resembles a desert of white sand dunes. [Source: Alexander Frater, Smithsonian, May 1984, the Observer]
Keeping navigators on their toes are sandbars that change by the day, and even the hour, and channels that are fifty feet deep in the morning and silt up and disappear by the evening. It is not surprising that many of the steam ships that travel on the river periodically run aground and get stranded for days at a time. Erosion along the river is so common place that each year villages collapse into the river and swallowed by the swirling brown water.
The Irrawaddy divides Myanmar in two. The eastern region is more densely populated and has better transportation links to Yangon. The western region is less densely populated and more rugged. Sometimes the only transportation links are by river. The middle portion of Myanmar is centered around the Irrawaddy River, with a large delta area at its mouth and the area above the delta featuring floodplains. Most of the population and agricultural lands are found along the Irrawaddy, which is navigable for about 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles). The Irrawaddy’s annual flooding during the rainy season makes its rich banks and delta the most fertile in Myanmar and ideal for rice paddy agriculture.
The cast of characters seen in and along the Irrawaddy include women washing clothes, men sawing teak logs, fisherman casting nets and water buffalo pulling the logs out of the water. On some stretches of the river you can see acre-size squares of chained-together teak logs, bamboo rafts with huts on them and rafts built on top of clay cooking jars that sometimes break into pieces when they run aground. On the banks of the river are numerous villages, with women hawkers that sell cheroots, sweetmeats, fruit and roasted sparrows to passengers in passing ships.
Kira Salak wrote in National Geographic, “The Irrawaddy River has stirred the imagination of some of the world's greatest writers, such as Kipling and Orwell. The name "Irrawaddy" is an English corruption of Ayerawaddy Myit, which some scholars translate as "river that brings blessings to the people." But it's less a river than a test of faith, receding during the country's dry season until its banks sit exposed and cracking in the sun, only to return each spring with the monsoon, coming to life, flooding fields, replenishing the country with water, fish, and fertile soil. The Irrawaddy has never disappointed the Burmese. It is where they wash, what they drink, how they travel. Inseparable from their spiritual life, it is their hope. [Source: Kira Salak, National Geographic, May 2006]
“All that arises, passes away. These waters speak of glacial beginnings in the snow-covered peaks of the Himalaya below Tibet. They have surged through jungle-covered highlands to emerge in the sun-scorched plains of central Myanmar, where they will continue to the ocean, releasing finally into the Andaman Sea. Boats carry staw-packed pts bound for Israel, wood for pottery kilns and taek and hardwoods bound for Thailand and India. Around Pyay taxi boats use old monk robes for sails. Black floats indicates where nets have been placed.
“Because the Irrawaddy river is navigable for most of its length, it has served throughout history as the country’s major transportation route for communication, trade, and warfare. Additionally, it has assisted in keeping alive the memory of earlier civilizations so that successive Burmese polities up and down the river have often asserted their legitimacy by demonstrating connections to earlier kingdoms. Interestingly, the depth of these connections is far greater in Myanmar than for other countries of mainland Southeast Asia. The Irrawaddy, including its considerable tributary, the Chindwin, drains approximately three-fifths of the country's surface terminating in a broad delta below the modern capital, Yangon (Yangon). Fertile silt from the Irrawaddy has continually expanded this delta area that gained in economic importance over the last two centuries as it was cleared for the production of irrigated rice. Yangon’s riverine location near the Bay of Bengal provided the British with a seaport through which to govern their colony. Until today, Yangon has remained the capital and center for political and economic activity, whereas Mandalay, built in the nineteenth century and the last royal capital, has continued to be a major center for fine arts and education.”
Along the Course of the Irrawaddy River
Feed by water from Tibetan springs and Himalayan glaciers, which locals say make the river too cold to swim in even where it empties into the sea, the Irrawaddy River officially begins at a point called the Confluence, where a group of mountain streams gather beside a great rock. It then runs south through dense jungle passing through Myitkyina and Bhamo. [Source: Alexander Frater, Smithsonian, May 1984, the Observer]
Between Bhamo and Mandalay, the Irrawaddy River passes ruby mines and narrows and picks up speed and courses between towering cliffs. It twists and turns through the Three Narrows, three areas where the river narrows to less than 100 meters between forest and cliffs. The currents are very fast and there are of whirlpools. Between Bhamo and Sinbo, 55 miles to the north, there is another set of narrows that can not be negotiated by large boats.
Usually, this section can only be negotiated by boats for a six week period after the rainy season when the water is high enough. Before entering the most treacherous section of the river, captains consult a painted red-and-green rock shaped like the head of a parrot. If water reaches the parrot's beak it means that there is a difficult ride ahead. If the water is over the beak the boat has to wait.
There are many ship wrecks along this section of river, including vessels of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, which were deliberately sunk in 1942 to keep them out of the hands of the invading Japanese. Some of the ships were salvaged in the 1980s and rebuilt. Between the Mandalay area and the ancient city Pagan are the ruins of several old Burmese capitals, including Mingyun, Sagaing, and Amarapura. The temples of Pagan are visible along the banks of the river for more than 30 kilometers. In this area the river is filled with teak canoes and lashed together logs.
The ancient Burmese worshiped the Irrawaddy as Hindu's worship the Ganges, and Burmese monarchs built their royals cities on its banks and held meetings on it with their generals and scholars in gold-and-crimson ships with silk awnings. Captains and crews that ran aground on Italian sternwheelers purchased by the kings in the 19th century ran the risk of being beheaded on the foredeck of their own ship.
Downstream from Pagan, the Irrawaddy River passes the ancient city of Prome. As one approaches Yangon, more and more factories come into view and river activity picks up. The Irrawaddy does not run through Yangon but is connected to it by the Twante Canal. Before emptying into the Bay Of Bengal, the Irrawaddy breaks down into a massive delta laced with creeks and swamps. See the Irrawaddy Delta.
River Travel on the Irrawaddy River
Much of the commerce between north Myanmar and south Burmese travels on the Irrawaddy River via the world's largest fleet of river steamers (600 ships carrying 1.36 million tons of freight and 14 million passengers in 1984). Many of the boats are shallow draft T-class vessels which date back to the Japanese-era in the 1940s. These boats can carry around 400 deck passengers and 60 tons of cargo.
The pilots of these boats often place their feet on the wheel because, one pilot said, "the steering on these old T-class ships is so heavy you need the full power of your leg and thigh muscles." At night they use a search light to scan the banks and the water for reference points and sandbars. Biblical swarms of insects sometimes congregate around the lights. The pilots endure a lot of stress and often they are the only members of the crew allowed to bring their wives, to help them relax.
There are also some luxury boats that run on the river. Most of these trips are organized by tour companies. The 53-meter RV Pandaw is one boat used in such trips. Built in Scotland in 1947, it is a shallow-draft luxury steamer outfit with a modern engine. Trips on the boat range from $145 for a singel day trip to $3,750 for a 10-day cruise. In the early 2000s, luxury steamers cruised were allowed to travel past Mandalay through the famous Three Narrows area to Bhamo for the first time. There is a six week period in August, after the rainy season, when the water is high enough for this trip. A ship called the Road to Mandalay does a trip that includes this section. Run by Venice Simplon-Orient Express, the11–day trip cost between $3,340 and $6,230 in the early 2000s.
Dangers on the Irrawaddy River
The problem with T-class vessels is that they tip over easily and roll badly even in a one-foot swells. Some are outfit with metal "panic barriers" in the middle of the deck of the boat that stop people from rushing from side to side and turning the ship over. A half dozen or so T-Class vessels have been lost when they flipped over in storms.
An obvious indication that a boat-turning storm is coming is a massive spiraling dust devil that is visible in the distance. If a pilot sees one of these he immediately steers the boat to shore and orders everyone off the ship. During the sudden turns to get to shore though sleeping children sometimes roll over the edge of the deck and are never heard from again.
Many ships run aground, which is more likely to occur in the dry season when sandbars lurk just inches below the water. To avoid running aground, boat pilots listen to the sound of the bow wave of their boats. "When it grows soft," one pilot told journalist Alexander Frater, "it means the water is getting shallow. When it vanishes altogether, you're in trouble."
Describing what this pilot did when his boat ran aground, Frater wrote: "He ordered the engines full astern and the steamer trembled violently as a cloud of frothing water, the color of bitter chocolate, steamed away past her bow. Then he rang up full ahead and with her plates grinding like iron teeth, the ship inches forward. Backwards and forward we went, painstakingly digging our own trench and, within half an hour, the skipper got us out of there. It was a performance of consummate skill."
Describing the Irrawaddy River biggest danger, a flooded chuang , the pilot told Frater, "It's when a cloudburst causes a flash flood in a dried-up stream bed which carries everything before it—trees animals, even people. Only last year a visiting dance troupe was performing for a village in a dry creek bed when the waters caught them. Everyone was washed into the river and, days later, we were still picking up the bodies of the dancers in their bright silks."
"Along the length of the river there are thousands of these chuangs and everyone is a potential menace. It makes a roaring sound when in nears, and that is something a master must always listen for because, if it strikes a ship broadside, there is nothing he can do. One T-class we lost was steaming at night. It caught him at 4:00am and that ship vanished entirely. We knew where it went down and we even went looking for it with metal detectors, but it was buried under thousands of tons of sand and there wasn't a trace of it."
After one great flood so many people were killed the bodies were wrapped in bamboo mats and set adrift because there wasn't the time or a place to bury them and steamboat captain had to navigate their way around the bodies for weeks later.
Irrawaddy Delta or Ayeyarwady Delta lies in the Irrawaddy Division, the lowest expanse of land in Myanmar. It that fans out from the limit of tidal influence at Myan Aung to the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, 290 kilometers to the south at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River. The delta region is densely populated, and plays a dominant role in the cultivation of rice in rich alluvial soil as low as just three meters above sea level, although it also includes fishing communities in a vast area full of rivers and streams. In May 2008, the delta suffered a major disaster, devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which reportedly killed over at least 77,000 people with over 55,900 missing, and left about 2.5 million homeless. Portions of the low-lying delta—50,400 square kilometers, 19,500 square miles—were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Irrawaddy Delta produces 65 percent of Myanmar’s rice. The region also is home to 80 percent of its aquaculture, 50 percent of its poultry and 40 percent of its pig production, according to the FAO. The area has numerous rivers and channels and much of the transport in and around the area is by boat. There are many creeks and streams. The rich alluvial soil is ideal for rice growing. Many fish are shrimp are available. Dried fish and shrimp from the region are used to make sauces and paste.
The Irrawaddy Delta comprises the main arms of Pathein River, Pyapon River, Bogale River, and Toe River. Mawtin Point, formerly Cape Negrais, is a famous landmark in the Irrawaddy Division, and it also marks the south west end of Myanmar. The highest point of the delta, Waphu Mount 404 meters (1,325 feet) lies between Pathein and Mawtin Zun (point), on the western strip of the delta. A major portion of the area is covered with low lying lands just three meters above sea level. This alluvial plain is bounded to the west by the Rakhine Yoma and to the east by the Bago Yoma. It is dissected into peninsulas and islands by the large southward flowing rivers which are subject to tidal intrusion. The lower seaward third of the delta is completely flat with no local relief and stretches for 130 kilometers from east to west.
The waters of these rivers are very turbid due to a heavy silt load they carry and the sea is very shallow with depths less than 5.5 meters across the coastline and in the east for a distance of up to 28 kilometers offshore. As a result of constant accretion into the sea, the delta is advancing at a rate of 5–6 kilometers per 100 years, equivalent to about 1,000 hectares per year.
Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2,500 milimeters (100 inches), with a mean temperatures of 32 degrees C (90 degrees F). Most of the rain falls during the monsoons between mid-May and mid-November. It is cool and dry from mid-October to mid-February when temperatures begin to rise with premonsoon squalls in April and early May.
Major cities include Bogale, Maubin, Myaungmya, Moulmeingyun, Pantanaw, Pathein, Pyapon, Dedaye up to Twante, and Kyauktan. Islands: The principal islands include Haingyi Kyun, Leit Kyun (Turtle Island), Pyin Salu Kyun, and Meinmahla Kyun (Pretty Women Island). There is no extensive system of irrigation or water transport canals except Twante Canal, constructed during the colonial period. It is much beneficial to the delta region for communication and commerce through water transportation with Yangon. Meinmahla Kyun Reservation is a national heritage site as well as a natural habitat to many mangrove forests and diverse sea life.
The delta was historically populated by the Mon. Politically, the Burman kingdoms in farther north the Irrawaddy river had controlled the delta area since mid-11th century for the most part with few exceptions. The control of the fertile area reverted to Bago-based Mon kingdoms in the 13th to 15th centuries (1287–1539) and briefly in 18th century (1747–1757).The delta was also where the British first got toe-hold of Burma. The British seized Haingyi Kyun or Negrais Island in 1753, after the Mon resisted their request to establish a trading post. The Burmese king Alaungpaya ceded the island to the British in 1757 but retook the island in 1759 by force when the king felt he had been betrayed by the British in his war against the Mon. The battle of Danubyu in 1825 in the delta was the last major stand by the Burmese against the advancing British forces in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). The delta was seized by the British in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852 and became part of British Burma.
The British colonial administration drained the marshes and swamps that dominated the area, and built dykes and embankments starting from 1861 for rice cultivation as the Burmans began to migrate south into British Burma in search of greener pastures. There now exist 1,300 kilometers of major embankments in the delta to protect 600,000 hectares of paddyland. Inhabitants
The Irrawaddy Delta is mainly populated by farming and fishing communities. Many villages and market towns are located along the main rivers. At 100 per square kilometer, it is one of the most densely populated regions in the country with a total population of 3.5 million. Current inhabitants include, apart from the Mon and Bamar, a majority Pwo Kayin, and Muslims.
As the region is Myanmar's largest rice producer, its infrastructure of road transportation has been greatly developed during the 1990s and 2000s. Two thirds of the total arable land is under rice cultivation with a yield of about 2,000-2,500 kilograms per hectare. Fishing is carried out from fixed fishing frames as well as from small boats. Prawn fishery and harvesting sea turtle eggs are also major commercial activities both of which are now threatened by the loss of mangrove forests as clearing of land proceeds for agriculture. Since communication throughout the delta is easiest by water, almost every household possesses a boat and major towns such as Bogale, Mawlamyinegyun and Myaungmya are served by steamer.
The Salween River is powerful waterway even in the dry season. It runs 1,900 miles (3,060 kilometers) from the high Tibetan mountains to the Gulf of Martaban and the Andaman Sea, off Myanmar’s western coast. At Weigyi, on the border of Myanmar and Thailand, it produces a notorious whirlpool that is strong enough to pul a boat underwater. Locals leave offerings of rice, flowers and bananas to appease the god of the Salween and to thank him for vital water and prosperity he brings. The Salween is home to 70 species of fish including catfish, eel, featherback and carp who thrive in its surging rapids and deep pools. During the dry season the river dropes by 10 meters (33 feet) or more. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times, March 23, 2006 >|<]
Three Parallel Rivers in Yunnanm China is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here the upper reaches of three of Asia's mightiest rivers—the Yangtze, Mekong, and the Salween—flow parallel to one another within a 55 mile band, divided by high mountain ridges. The Yangtze river, known in this area as the Jinsha, marks the boundary between Tibet and Kham. The Mekong is known as the Lancang. The Salween is called the Nujiang. “Jiang” is the Chinese word for river. The area is stunningly beautiful but rarely visited because the terrain carved by the rivers is so severe and rugged.
Fed by monsoon rains, the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween all sweep east of the Himalayas then drop due south, parallel to one another, before heading off in different directions. The gorges of the upper Yangtze, Mekong and Salween are among the deepest in the world, each twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, and reaching three kilometers in some places. Each gorge is separated from the others by towering mountains with more than a hundred peaks over 5,000 meters.
The Salween River flows undisturbed through some of the most outwardly tranquil territory on earth. It is Southeast Asia’s longest undammed waterway. But if the Myanmar government and the Chinese have their way it won’t be that way that way for long, turning parts of it into still-water lakes to which many of species that thrive in the river are ill-adapted. >|<
In Myanmar much it flows through territory occupied by the Karen minority. “As long as I have lived here my family has been totally dependent on the Salween for our livelihood,” says Htoo Lwee, a member of the Karen ethnic group that lives in the village of Hoekey, a few miles below the proposed dam site at Weigyi. “The river gives us a living from fishing and from boating. It is our life and our mother. If the dam is constructed we will not be able to live.”
Myanmar’s Highest Peak Not Really Myanmar’s Highest Peak
In November 2013, Robin McDowell of Associated Press wrote: “Myanmar may have a new tallest mountain, though so far it seems quite happy with the old one. A U.S.-Myanmar mountaineering team trekked through jungles crawling with cobras, made a brief, illegal detour through Chinese-controlled Tibet and survived a terrifying 600-foot drop into a crevice on their way to the top of what has long been thought to be the country's second-highest peak, Mount Gamlang. Satellite and digital data, together with recent U.S., Russian and Chinese topographical maps, indicate it may be No. 1 after all, said Andy Tyson, leader of the team that climbed the snow-capped mountain along the eastern edge of the Himalayas in September. [Source: Robin McDowell, Associated Press, November 20, 2013 >>>]
“When Myanmar's peaks were surveyed in 1925, back when the area was part of the British Indian empire, Gamlang was measured at 5,834 meters (19,140 feet), behind Mount Hkakabo at 5,881 meters (19,295 feet). Tyson's team, equipped with a hand-held GPS device, measured Gamlang at 5,870 meters (19,258 feet). Tyson also said digital elevation data indicate that the British overestimated the height of Hkakabo, which may be less than 5,800 meters (19,029 feet). >>>
“That would make Gamlang the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, not just Myanmar. But the country appears cool to the idea of rewriting a key national statistic that schoolchildren have learned uninterrupted for nearly a century, through colonial rule, bloody military coups and self-imposed isolation. After Tyson and his team brought back the revised measurement of Gamlang, President Thein Sein wrote a letter congratulating them for scaling the "second-highest" peak. There were no stories in the local press. Geologists at the main university in Yangon were unaware. Students in Kachin state, home to both mountains, continue to be taught that Hkakabo is Myanmar's tallest, said Naw San, an elementary school geography teacher there. >>>
"As it turns out, even the mountains are unknown, or perhaps just poorly mapped," said Tyson, of Victor, Idaho, a specialist in remote summit expeditions in the Himalayas, Antarctica and the Americas. "I definitely stand behind the statement that Hkakabo may not be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, and our ascent of Gamlang is an important step to discovering the truth," he said. Scott Walker, a digital cartography specialist at the Harvard Map Collection, said a German radar topographic mapping mission currently underway will provide high-resolution and high-precision height measurements, though that data will not be available until next year. >>>
“If Gamlang does turns out to be the highest peak in Myanmar, it could turn into another magnet for climbers and adventure-seekers, thanks to its beauty and unique terrain, Tyson and other mountaineers on his team said. The expedition took 35 days and — before even reaching basecamp — included nearly two weeks of trekking through hot and humid jungles. The mountaineers passed through one of the only known pygmy villages in Asia. They dodged cobras and vipers, and swatted away mosquitoes and sand flies at every turn. They also ate and slept in the homes of villagers — in some cases the chief himself — most of whom had never before seen white faces. >>>
“They spent 10 days scaling Gamlang, which was when they briefly entered Tibet. Three climbers tied together endured the long drop into a crevice, but no one was hurt. "The route itself was very classic, Himalayan mountaineering," said Mark Fisher, also of Victor, Idaho. "Glacier travel, snow, ice, crevices, exposed ridgeline. A really aesthetic, enjoyable climb." Summit team member Eric Daft recorded footage for a documentary about the expedition, scheduled for release later this year. >>>
Weather and Climate in Myanmar
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer and not far north of the Equator, Myanmar is a hot, tropical country with three major seasons: the dry, hot season (March to May), the cool season (November to February) , and the wet monsoon season (June to October) . Rainfall during the monsoon season totals more than 500 centimeters (200 inches) in upper Myanmar and over 250 centimeters (100 inches) in the river valleys and delta of Lower Myanmar, including Yangon. Central Myanmar, called the dry zone, and Mandalay, the chief city in the area, each receive about 76 centimeters (30 inches). The coastal areas in the west and south have high rainfall over 500 centimeters (200 inches) a year. During the rainy season it can rain continuously all day.
Much of Myanmar is characterized by distinct seasonal weather patterns. During the northern winter months, dry, cool winds blow from the stable continental Asian high-pressure system, resulting in a dry period under clear skies across much of the south, center, and west (the dry, northeast monsoon). As the continental system weakens in spring, the wind direction reverses and air masses forming the southwest monsoon pick up moisture from the seas to the southwest and bring abundant rains as they rise over the hills and mountains.
The average temperature of Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta us about 32 degrees C (90 degrees F). The mean annual temperature is 27 degrees C (81 degrees F); average daily temperatures in Yangon (Rangoon) range from 18 degrees to 32 degrees C (64–90 degrees F) in January, during the cool season, and from 24 degrees to 36 degrees C (75–97 degrees F) in April, during the hot season. The climate in upper Myanmar, particularly at altitudes ranging from about 300 to 1,220 meters (1,000–4,000 ft), is the most temperate throughout the year, while lower Myanmar, especially in the delta and coastal regions, is the most humid. In most parts of Myanmar the dry season months are very hot, especially in April and May, before the arrival of the monsoons, when temperatures are often above 40 degrees C (100 degrees F) everyday. This a good time of the year to visit the mountains.
Climatically, Burma is unlike other Southeast Asian countries in that a considerable dry zone exists in the center of the country where rainfall can be less than 30 inches a year. This arid area, the dry zone, results from its location in the "rain shadow" of the Arakan Mountains that are situated between the dry zone and the Bay of Bengal. The dry climate is the result of the monsoon clouds first striking the eastern ranges of the Arakan Mountains and then being shunted higher into the atmosphere inhibiting rainfall until the rain clouds strike the Shan Plateau.
Because Myanmar embraces a varied topography and stretches a relatively long distance between north and south, the climate can vary quite a bit from region to region. Since Myanmar stretches into the southern Himalayas and northernmost reaches of Southeast Asia, much of central and northern Burma has a temperate climate although the southern third of the country is quite tropical with heavy rains and high temperatures.
The climate of Myanmar is cloudy, rainy, hot and humid summers when the southwest monsoon dominates from June to September. It less cloudy, with scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity when the northeast monsoon prevails in December to April. The "cool" months from November to February are the best time to travel in Myanmar as a whole. The temperatures are relatively mild, the days are bright and sunny, and humidity is low. In the mountains, however, it sometimes is cold at night.
The rainy season (May through October) is still a good time to visit Myanmar. Rains tend to fall in short afternoon downpours during the rainy season, when the countryside is lush and green and beautiful but the jungles are full of leeches and dirt roads in remote areas become impassable. In the lowlands it is extremely hot in March, April and May. In highlands it is cold from November to February. In the dry season, road travel is easier but the countryside is often brown and dusty. The Dry Zone can be extremely hot with temperature sometimes exceeding 45 degrees C (112 degrees F). In this area at this time of the year people often move their beds and furniture outside and sleep outside and gossip late into the night.
The typhoon season is from June to October. Although Myanmar sometimes experiences heavy rain this time of the year it is protected from the high winds by Vietnam (typhoons approach Southeast Asia from the Pacific). Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal generally head to India and Bangladesh not Myanmar but sometimes they can strike Myanmar with devastating consequences as was the case with Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 120,000 people.
The rainy season in Myanmar coincides more or less with the rainy seasons in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but is different from the rainy season on the west coast of Malaysia (from September to November) and rainy season in Singapore, Borneo, Indonesia and the east coast of Malaysia (November to January). The rainy season in southern China is generally most intense in June and July.
Lightning, Tornados and Rainy Season Weather in Myanmar
According to the meteorological department of Myanmar more than 200 people were killed by lightning in Myanmar in 2007. In October 2008, four people were killed and two were injured when lightning struck a roadside bamboo shop in the village of Dahut-kon in central Myanmar. [Source: Kyodo]
In August 2007, AFP reported: “Two children were killed and two others were injured when a tornado destroyed a school building in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River delta, official media. The school building collapsed when the tornado struck on Saturday morning in Labutta township, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) southwest of Yangon, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said. A total of about 60 houses, school buildings and offices were also damaged by the tornado, the paper said. [Source: August 6, 2007 <>]
“Meanwhile, other parts of the country remain hit by severe floods, with thousands feared home-less, the paper said. Severe flooding was first reported in early July in Bago, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Yangon. Authorities have been warning of dangerously high waters on four of the rivers that run the length of the country. <>
“Myanmar’s rainy season began in June and seasonal flooding is an annual problem. Some parts of Myanmar have experienced record rainfall in 2007. Myanmar has suffered a series of deadly storms since late May, when eight people were killed by a storm that lashed the country’s western coast. A woman was killed in Yangon in late June when a tornado ripped through part of the city.” <>
Science and Measurements in Myanmar
Training in the physical and social sciences at national institutions such as Yangon University and Yangon Technical University is very limited. Since 1962, the social sciences have been almost nonexistent. Some social science research continues to take place, but most of it focuses on the relatively distant past. Institutions involved in such work include the Myanmar Historical Commission, Cultural Institute, Department of Archaeology, and Religious Affairs Department. See Education.
Myanmar missed many technological advances during 50 years of being shut off from the world by the military junta and has been struggling to catch up since an elected government came to power in 2011. Few people in Myanmar know, for example, that a man walked on the moon.
Many tools used in everyday life are made of bamboo and wood and to a lesser degree of metal. Modern technology is represented most prominently in the form of sewing machines, loudspeakers, battery-run transistor radios, some guns, and occasional vehicles. A surprising number of machines and vehicles date back to the World War II era.
The traditional Burmese units of measurement are still in everyday use in Burma. According to the CIA Factbook, Burma is one of three countries that have not adopted the International System of Units (SI) metric system as their official system of weights and measures. However, in June 2011, the Burmese government's Ministry of Commerce began discussing proposals to reform the measurement system in Burma and adopt the metric system used by most of its trading partners.
Most Burmese units are used solely in the nation but Burmese government web pages in English use imperial and metric units. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture uses acres for land areas. The Ministry of Construction uses miles to describe the length of roads, and square feet for the size of housing constructed but square kilometers for the total land area of new town developments in Yangon City. Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses kilometers (with mile equivalents in parentheses) to describe the dimensions of the country.
Length (Burmese Unit, Metric, Imperial): sanchi: 79.375 μm, 31/8 thou/mil; hnan: 0.79375 millimeters, 31¼ thou/mil; mayaw: 4,7625 millimeters, 3/16 in; let thit: 1.905 centimeters, ¾ in; maik: 15;24 centimeters, 6 in; htwa: 22;86 centimeters, 9 in; taung: 45.72 centimeters, 1½ ft, one cubit; lan: 1.8288 meters, 6 ft; ta: 3.2004 meters, 10½ ft; out-thaba (from Pali usaba): 64.008 meters, 70 yd; kawtha (from Pali kosa): 1.8016 kilometers, 0.795455 mi; ga-wout (from Pali gavuta): 5.12064 kilometers, 3.18182 mi; about one league; yuzana (from Pali yojana): 20.4826 kilometers, 12;7273 mi.
Mass (Burmese Unit, Metric, Imperial/US, ratio to the previous measurement): lay: 136.078 mg, 2.1 grain; yway gyi: 272155 mg, 4. 2 grain, 2; petha: 1.02058 g, 15.75 grain, 3.75; mutha: 2.04117 g, 31.5 grain, 2; mattha: 4.08233 g, 63 grain, 2; nga mutha ( Literally "five mutha", but in fact it is only four): 8.16466 g, 0.288 oz, 2; kyattha (Traditionally known as a tical in English): 16.3293 g, 0.576 oz, 2; awettha: 204.117 g, 7.2 oz, 12.5; aseittha: 408.233 g, 14.4 oz, 2; ngase tha: 816.466 g, 1.8 lb, 2; peittha ( Traditionally known as a viss in English): 1.63293 kilograms, 3.6 lb, 2; achein taya, 163.293 kilograms, 360 lb, 100.
Volume (Burmese Unit, Metric, Imperial/US, ratio to the previous measurement): la myu: 79.9118 ml, 213/16 fl oz, 2.70214 fl oz; la myet: 159.824 ml, 55/8 fl oz, 5.40428 fl oz, 2; la me: 319.647 ml, 11¼ fl oz, 10.8086 fl oz, 2; sa le: 639.294 ml, 11/8 pints, 1.35107 pints, 2; hkwet: 1.27859 l, 11/8 qt, 1.35107 qt, 2; pyi: 2.55718 l, 2¼ qt, 2.70214 qt, 2; seit: 10.2287 l, 2¼ gallons; 11/8 pecks, 2.70214 gallons; 1.16106 pecks, 4; hkwe: 20.4574 l, 4½ gallons; 2¼ pecks, 5.40428 gallons; 2.32213 pecks, 2; tin: 40.9148 l, 9 gallons; 11/8 bushels, 10.8086 gallons; 1.16107 bushels, 2.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014