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The Nation
     Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia and borders on China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh and India, having long coastlines with the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. These prominent locations could well lead Myanmar to become the regional economic leader and center for Southeast Asia. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has an area of 676,577 sq .km. The official language is Myanmar, but English is compulsory in schools and the courts operate in both Myanmar and English. All laws are printed in both languages.
facts03      The largest city in Myanmar is Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) with a population of over four million people. Yangon, being Myanmar's capital, is considered to be the heart and core of Myanmar. The city is the major port of entry for foreign travellers and all roads in Myanmar literally converge on Yangon. Yangon is the crossroads for investment in Myanmar and throughout the region. Yangon is a city of the present and future, but has managed to retain its ancient buildings as compared to many Asian capitals which have lost their air of antiquity, by failing to preserve the past. In colonial times, magnificent facades were built but now many have already been torn down to be replaced by modern buildings, particularly hotels. At present, there are no legal preservation restrictions and so visitors are advised to visit Yangon soon, before more old buildings are replaced. The city fathers have still not learnt the art of allowing redevelopment and rebuilding inside the building whilst at the same time preserving the facade. In the rush to build new hotels in time for 'Visit Myanmar Year 1996' some hotel groups fail to foresee a time when Yangon may have too many rooms to let and tourists will prefer to check into those hotels which have preserved their ancient fronts.
      Myanmar's second largest city is Mandalay, the previous capital, built by King Mindon and the last regal seat of government, until the British sent King Thibaw and Queen Supaya-lat into exile in India in 1885. There is much to fascinate the tourist and so far, most of the business opportunities are mostly tourist-related, but the Myanmar are brilliant engineers and light industry is rapidly gathering momentum, and there is talk of upgrading Mandalay airport to international standard, to cater to the large droves of 'culture vultures' expected.
      There has been a big inflow of Chinese business men into Mandalay, mostly from nearby Yunnan Province in China. Land values have escalated as many Chinese buyers move in. This movement can be expected to accelerate as the dual carriageway project approaches completion, thus joining Kunming with Ruli on the China/Myanmar border. Also a new railway is bring built, linking Kunming with Dali; later this is expected to be extended to link up with the Myanmar railways system. Malaysia is talking about running a railway from Singapore, through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to Kunming but there is more advantage in such a ling using the existing excellent railway system of Myanmar rather than laying tails over unbroken land.
     For the most part, Myanmar is a forest-clad mountainous country. The parallel chains of mountainous ranges that begin from the eastern extremity of the Himalayan Mountain Range, run from the North to South; the Western Yoma and the Shan Plateau. The snow-capped peak of Hkakabo-Razi at 5,881 m is the highest in Southeast Asia. These mountain chains divide the country into three river systems, the Ayeyarwaady, the Sittoung and the Thanlwin of which the Ayeryarwady (formerly known in colonial times by its anglicied name as Irrawaddy River), the most important river is about 2,170 km long and its major tributary the Chindwin is 960 km long. They constitute the greatest riverine system in the country. As it enters the sea, the Ayeryarwady forms a vast delta of 240 km by 210 km.
     With these mountain chains and river systems, the country can be divided into seven topographical regions: the Northern Hills, the Western Hills, the Shan Plateau, the Central Belt, the Lower Myanmar Delta, the Rakine Coastal Region and the Tanintharyi coastal strip.
      Myanmar, unlike most neigh boring countries, still has large areas of potential land resources available for cultivation. Of the total area of 67.6 million hectares, only about 12% of the area is under cultivation. There is also a great potential for further expansion of mixed and multiple cropping areas, especially in Lower Myanmar, where the moisture content of the soil and water availability are much better than Upper Myanmar.
      In Upper Myanmar, especially in the dry belt zone, cultivation is done with water drawn from networks of irrigation facilities. There still exists room for further extension of irrigation facilities, as the potentials have only been exploited to a limited extent; the total cultivated area under irrigation amounts to about 12% of net area shown. Foreigners can now invest in agricultural land and a wide range of tax incentives are available. There are also marvelous opportunities in agriculture, particularly in areas bordering the Andaman Sea. The Government is looking for foreign participation in forest conservation and greening of nine arid districts in central Myanmar.
facts07       Myanmar has three major seasons: Winter from November to End February; rainy season from Mid-May to the end of October and Summer from the end of February to the middle of May. Foreigners sometimes refer to these seasons as Hot, Hotter and Hottest, but extremes of temperature are rare; the direction of winds and depressions brings rains and although it is always heavy in the coastal areas during Monsoon Season, it seldom creates hardships. The official currency is Kyats (pronounced 'Chuts' as to invite someone to 'shut the door'). The official rate is US$1=6 Kyats, but the market rate is $1=130 Kyats. This is the current rate for US$100 bills, but expect to accept a lower rate for small bills, especially US$1 bills. Tourists may change Dollars into Foreign Exchange Certificates, (called FEC) denominated in US Dollars, on the basis of US $1-1 FEC Value will be given at the market rate, by tradesmen, but expect about Kyats 100 only for each F.E.C. In the past dealings in the 'market rate' were 'frowned upon' by the government but it is interesting to note that some government officially licenced money changers are openly giving market exchange rates to foreigners, it is possible therefore that the government now accepts such transactions as legitimate.
      1 Kyat is equivalent to 100 Pyas, Coins are issued 1,5,10,15,20,45,50,90,100,200,500 Kyats.

      Myanmar has its own calendar system. Years are not calculated based on the AD or BC system but according to the Buddhist Era or BE. The first BE began the year the Lord Buddha went into Nirvana or eternal rest. The Western concept of AD is 543 years is BE 2539, according to the Western time, this is 1996 or 543 years behind the BE year.

The People
     The Union of Myanmar is made up of 135 national races, of which the main races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. The population of the country is estimated at just over 44 million, and the population growth is 1.88%. It is expected, that the population will reach 50 million by the year 2000.
    In colonial times, the Indians were dominant in business, but Indians now represent a minority, and they are found mostly in the central part of the country and in the area bordering on Bangladesh. In Yangon, local-born Chinese seemed to have replaced the Indians as a local business minority. facts06
    In the country, the different minority people wear their national costumes and it is a wonderful sight to go to a provincial Sunday morning market to see all the different types of dresses. Many beautiful young girls are suspected to go there to look for husbands. The country has allowed other ethnic groups to cross its borders.
      These ethnic groups include the Mons, Khmers, Laotians, Malays and Thais. All of these groups have intermarried into Myanmar society, so that there is no typical predominant feature that is considered Myanmar. Because of this, there are dark-skinned Myanmar, light-skinned Myanmar, round-faced Myanmar, long-faced Myanmar, petite or more robust Myanmar. Such diversity is a testimony to the Myanmar ability to intermingle with people of all races and societies. One of the most notable phenomena is that there has never been a 'Caste system' as in business. In Myanmar many successful businesses are headed by ladies who make rich contributions to the improving economy.
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