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Myanmar Travel Advice: Cultural Considerations

The Country

Located between India, China and Thailand; Myanmar links the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. It´s called "The Golden Land". Formerly called Burma its name was changed into "Union of Myanmar" in 1989. In 1996, the country opened itself to tourism, where an official campaign took place. The country has an estimated population of 42 million inhabitants. Five million of them are living in the capital Yangon which is a quiet place compared with other big cities in Asia. There are around 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar. The official language is Burmese, spoken by nearly 80% of the population. Before WW2, Burma under British rule was the richest country in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar´s Nature

Myanmar has as much variety in its climate as in its landscapes. You can find tropical rainforest in the north, dry zones in the center and wetlands in the south. Myanmar's bio diversity is the biggest in Southeast Asia. The country has very rich wildlife; you can find exotic animals such as tigers, elephants, leopards, buffalos, bears and monkeys.

Burmese Way of Life

Traditions play an important role. Despite influences from the outside, daily life is still defined by old customs. One of the very special traditions is the "anade", the way Burmese people interact with each other. They are friendly, respectful towards the elderly and keep their distance, so that they never "lose face". Both women and men wear "longyis", a type of ankle-length skirt. Another widespread habit in the whole country is to chew betel nuts. As make-up and sunscreen Burmese women use "thanaka", a paste made from ground sandalwood and water.

Buddhist Myanmar

Nearly 90% of the Burmese population are Buddhists. The remainder is Christian (4%), Muslim (4%), Hindu (1%) and animist (1%). Myanmar is said to be the most devout Buddhist country in Southeast Asia. The culture and daily life are very much defined by Buddhism. Numerous pagodas and temples shape the landscape.

Government

Myanmar is currently ruled by a military government: The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). This party took power undemocratically in 1988. General Than Shwe became the head of the state in 1992. He´s both the commander-in-chief and the prime minister of the forty-headed government. The SPDC rules without a constitution as a so-called provisional government. A new constitution was being negotiated. However, the current regime wants to see their dominant leadership entrenched in the constitution.

Opposition

The opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), won the elections to form the new parliament in 1990. However, the military junta never accepted the results of the election. Since that day, the
NLD´s protest is repressed violently by the government. Previous negotiations about a new constitution failed because of the current military regime.