There are more than 100 ethnic groups in Myanmar, all with their own languages and dialects. The majority speaks Myanmar (Burmese), although English is widely spoken in urban areas and tourist hubs like Yangon and Mandalay. Helpful tour guides that speak major foreign languages can be booked through your tour operator.
Mingalaba is a word of welcome as well as a wish for good fortune. This single word best signifies the inherent nature of the people of Myanmar: not only to offer hospitality but to wish others well. With traditions deeply rooted in the loving-kindness philosophy of Buddhism, the creed the Myanmar live by is cedana, or heart-felt goodwill towards friends and strangers alike.
This has been true throughout the country’s long history, which can be traced back to the 2nd century when the Rakhine ruled the west coast and Pyu civilisation began flourishing in the central regions. Throughout the years great kingdoms came and went, until the Third Myanmar Empire fell in 1885 to the colonial British. Myanmar subsequently gained independence in 1948.
For many years Myanmar disappeared behind a wall of self-isolation, and only recently did it reopen its doors to the outside world, revealing the country’s unique culture and stunning scenery to new generations of visitors. With a diversity of terrain that ranges from ice-capped mountains in the north, to pagoda-filled plains in the centre, to miles of pristine beaches along the coast, Myanmar has something to offer at all times of the year.
Myanmar is an agrarian country with a population of more than 50 million, about 90 percent of whom live in rural areas. More than 100 different national groups live within the country’s borders. The Bama or Myanmar are the majority group inhabiting the central zone, while the Shan, Kayin, Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Rakhine and Mon and their sub-groups live in mountainous regions closer to the borders or along the coast. Buddhism is the predominant religion, but there are also substantial numbers of Christians, Hindus, Muslims and animists throughout the country. It is therefore not unusual to see pagodas, churches, mosques and temples standing together in a single neighbourhood. Spirit worship also exists side-byside with Buddhism, as these minor gods are believed to be disciples of the Buddha’s teachings.
Myanmar is rich not only in traditions; the fertile land is crossed by a number of rivers that are used for transportation and irrigation, and also as a source of food. Mines have yielded some of the world’s finest rubies and imperial jades, while the sea off the southern coast is prime breeding ground for cultured pearls of excellent lustre. The country’s natural resources also include a stunning array of flora and fauna, from elusive tigers and elephants, to rare birds, butterflies and orchids. Many of these species are protected by Myanmar’s system of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
However, the most precious treasure of Myanmar is its people. One of the best ways to get an up close and personal look at local culture is to attend one of the many festivals that occur throughout the year. Pagoda festivals are very popular, and national groups also celebrate their own new year and harvest days. The spirits are also honoured with festivals that feature energetic music and dance performances. On a personal level, families celebrate their sons’ novitiation into the Buddhist Order, and daughters are pampered with equally lavish ceremonies to have their ears pierced.
To this day Myanmar remains one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world, a land of breathtaking beauty and charm that offers traditional Asian delights to all visitors. We welcome you to Myanmar, the golden land of pagodas, with a wish for your good fortune: Mingalaba.