October 8, 2017 Salay

Salay Colonial Architecture

Salay Mann Paya Buddha

New Monk at the Salay Mann Paya Temple

Salay Yoke Soun Kyaun Taw Gyi

In the small village of Salay we witnessed the British influence here as we explored an area of charming colonial style houses, remnants of the Burma Oil Company, which housed rig workers in the area starting in 1886. Men worked in Chauk about 9 miles upstream, but they settled in Salay. Today the village has a population of about 6,000 inhabitants.

We also visited the Mann Paya Buddha. Legend has it that local villagers spotted the hollow wooden statue floating downriver after heavy flooding in 1888. They rescued the 20-foot-tall statue from the waters, dragging it ashore and coated it with gold lacquer. No one knows who carved the statue but it is believed to date back to the 1300’s.

In the small village there is also an incredibly ornately carved monastery called Yoke Soun Kyaung Taw Gyi where monks were housed for a century before the structure was turned into a museum in 1996. The structure is raised off the ground about ten feet by 150 posts more than three feet in diameter each. At the entrance stairwell there are Magans, half-crocodile and half-lion mythological creatures to symbolize the connection between heaven and earth. The exterior of the building features ornate wood carvings depicting mythical stories. Inside there is an interesting collection of Buddha’s, old furnishings from British times, a carriage and vintage coins.

Back onboard we enjoyed a demonstration about how to wear the longyi and a lecture titled: Myanmar Then and Today. The lecture covered the period of time from pre World War I to the present day. They have had a difficult time trying to become a democratic society when individuals of the military are pushing the country to be controlled by the military. Today the country is growing and beginning to prosper but they are dealing with Muslim terrorists in the western part of the country that are from Bangladesh but as always it is difficult to find the truth.

It was our fourth wedding anniversary and the cruise director left some fresh flowers and a small carved wooden Buddha in our cabin as a gift. After dinner the entire crew brought a cake to our dining table and sang a happy anniversary song to us. Very nice celebration.

October 7, 2017 Bagan/Tan Kyi Taung Mountain

Gubyaukgyi Temple

Tan Kyi Stupa

Tan Kyi Stupa Elephant

View from Tan Kyi Stupa

We visited the local market where they were selling most everything from fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry to wood carvings, fabrics, longyis and rattan products. The longyi is a sheet of cloth or fabric widely worn in Burma as well as in other nearby countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. For men, the fabric is about 6.5 feet in length and 2.5 feet wide with the two ends sewn together to create a cylindrical shape. The fabric is worn around the waist, usually hanging down to the feet and held in place by folding the fabric and tucking it in, but without a knot. It can also be folded up to the knee in warm weather for comfort. The longyi came into fashion during British colonial rule replacing a much longer piece (about 30 feet) of fabric previously worn called a pasos. The amount of fabric you wore was a sign of your social status. Women wear something very similar but the fabric would be slightly larger and is folded differently. Men usually wear fabric with checks, stripes or plain colors while the women wear prints and floral patterns in more multicolored hues.

Next we visited the Gubyaukgyi Temple known for its richly colored paintings thought to date to the early 12th century. The temple is quite small and dark inside, but the brightly colored paintings are still in excellent shape. The paintings depict historical stories of Buddha, similar to what we might think of as biblical stories.

In the afternoon we ascended the Tan Kyi mountain in vans to visit some man made caves carved into the hillsides and filled with Buddha statues and a reclining Buddha.  We then took an elevator up several stories to a very large stupa with views overlooking the river below and Bagan across the river. The Buddhists here practice Mahabote and believe that there is an animal protector based on the day of the week that you were born. There are eight animals representing the days of the weeks, with Wednesday having two elephants, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. The morning elephant for Wednesday has tusks and the afternoon version has no tusks. The Mahabote is an ancient branch of astrology developed by the Burmese monks and believed to be a branch of the massive Hindu astrological system. Mahabote is based on the number 8 because it is believed that this number reflects harmony in energy, deflecting imbalance and perpetuating congruence.

October 6, 2017 Tan Kyi/Bagan

Ananda Temple Buddha

Bagan Temple

Bagan Lacquerware

Bagan Ox Cart Ride

Bagan Ox Carts

We docked in Bagan where we spent the day exploring this site of the more than 3,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, believed to be the first kingdom to unify the regions that would become modern Myanmar.  During its height between the 10th and 13th centuries more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone. It is believed that as many as 200,000 people once lived in this area. Unfortunately, this area is prone to earthquakes; as recently as August 2016 an earthquake destroyed some 400 temples.

In Myanmar it is the end of lent and they have not been able to marry or have any celebrations for the last three months. Now that the full moon has arrived and lent is over, many of the Burmese people are making pilgrimages to the area of Bagan to visit some of the local temples. They are coming from all over the country in busses, in the back of pick-up trucks and on all forms of transportation. Many of the local nunneries and monasteries allow the pilgrims to stay on their grounds. There are many food stands along the roads and people are selling souvenirs on the roadsides. Traffic in some areas is very congested and the most popular temples are extremely crowded.

First, we took a ride on an open air oxcart where we meandered along a dirt path to admire a large number of temples. Most of these temples were built of red clay brick and then covered in a plaster with additional ornamentation. Today most of the temples have weathered enough so that all that remains are the brick structures and a few remnants of the plaster outer layer.

We visited Htilominlo temple that is decorated with the finest plaster carvings and murals which remain. Most of the remaining murals are on the ceilings where they were better protected over time. All of the temples are unique in their architecture and size, but they all are similar in that they contain at least one large Buddha statue. Most of the Buddha statues are made of brick and plastered over to create a smooth surface which can then be painted or gold leafed. Most of the Buddha statues are painted white and the facial features are enhanced with red lips and black paint to define the hair and to outline the eyes and eye brows. The Buddhas are the main interior decoration of the temples in most cases.

We then visited a temple by the name of Ananda built in the year 1102. This temple was built with four main entrances, one each facing north, east, south and west. At each entrance there is an enormous standing Buddha and this is one of only four remaining temples from this time period. The Buddhas are all covered in gold leaf although each of them is unique to itself in facial expressions, position of the hands and ornamentation.

In the afternoon we stopped at a workshop where we learned about the ancient Burmese lacquer ware techniques. The lacquer ware technique is believed to have come to Burma from China in the first century. Traditionally fine lacquer ware bowls were produced using a combination of horsehair and bamboo to make them very flexible. Lacquer ware is crafted from a mixture of the juice from the Thitsi tree and ash applied to the surface of the object made of woven bamboo or wood. There are more than a dozen steps in the process so it often takes six months or more to complete the items. Successive layers of lacquer are applied to the object to eliminate any irregularities and then dried several days. When fully dry, the surface is polished to a smooth finish and ornamental and figurative designs are added to enhance the object. The most popular color of lacquer ware is black but you do see some in red, green, yellow and even some with multiple colors.

We then visited another area with a cluster of smaller pagodas, typically with just one small inner room housing one Buddha. Many of these were built by local families that lived in the area. They would have needed permission of the King and would have been told how large of a pagoda that they were allowed to build. Those who were more affluent and wealthy were allowed to build larger and more elaborate pagodas.

Just before sunset we headed for a temple with four levels of terraces called Shwe San Daw where we climbed the steep stairs to the third level to enjoy the sunset. The temple was extremely busy with pilgrims and tourists who all converged here to enjoy the views from the terraces over the flat plains of pagodas and temples. Unfortunately, the sunset was not that spectacular due to clouds, but the views were very nice.

October 5, 2017 Yandabo/Hnaw Kone

Hnaw Kone Bamboo Strips for Baskets

Hnaw Kone Basket

Hnaw Kone School

Yandabo Kiln

Yandabo Pottery

Yandabo School

We visited the village of Yandabo, known as the site of the 1826 Treaty of Yandabo that began the long British occupation. The treaty ended the longest and most expensive war in British Indian history. Fifteen thousand European and Indian soldiers died, along with an unknown, but almost certainly higher number of Burmese. At the time it cost the British five million pounds or more than twenty billion in todays dollars. The treaty required Burma to give up parts of India and Bangladesh that they had previously occupied. The village has about 250 homes and families and about 1,200 residents.

Today the village is famous for its pottery and we had the opportunity to watch some of the local artisans at work. The pottery is made from clay gathered along the rivers banks. They use the pottery to store water and food supplies. Mostly women are the potters and it is a two-woman job with one person potting while the other operates the wheel using a treadle. The women decorate the pots with patterns before arranging them in a circular pattern to dry. There may be up to three thousand pots in a mound of wood and straw which is then covered with a large pile of ash, straw and wood before being set on fire. The temperatures reach 2,200 degrees for three to four days including the cooling. At the end of the process the pots change in color from a dull brown to a brilliant red clay color. The finished product is then transported for sale all over the country by trucks and boats.

We visited a local elementary school with about 120 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.  It was a holiday because of the full moon, but the village children came to the school to greet us and to sing a couple of songs for us. They were very cute.  We also gave them the school supplies we brought for them.

The village is quite primitive with very basic wooden homes, some with palm frond roofs or in some cases corrugated steel. The homes are mostly built on two levels with the ground floor serving as the main living area and the upstairs being a sleeping area and a place for storage and to get out of the water in the rainy season. The floors are dirt and are sparsely furnished with a table and chairs, mats for sleeping on or beds with mats, and usually no electricity unless they have a solar panel and battery connection for a few lights. They have outhouses and no running water. The school was a bit better built with a raised foundation, a floor, wooden walls with shutters and a metal roof. There are no windows to speak of and there are very limited lights (maybe two fluorescent tubes in a room) operated by solar panels.

After lunch onboard we visited the small village of Hnaw Kone. There we took a walking tour to get a glimpse of the local’s daily life along the river. This village of about 1,000 residents and 200 homes is known for the woven baskets made from bamboo canes. They large baskets are about 36” tall and wide and they use the baskets to store rice, tobacco, beans and other goods. The women in one family can make about 10 of these baskets in one day and they sell them for about $1.50 each. They also weave thin strands of bamboo into panels for building homes. The bamboo does not grow in this area but it comes from the far north of Myanmar and is transported south by floating bundles of it on the river. The bamboo is then cut into sections about two-inches wide and soaked for a few days in water until it is moist. Once soft, the thickness of the bamboo can be split into very thin strips which are then used to weave baskets or even used for thatched roofs.

This village appeared slightly more affluent than the village we had visited in the morning. Many of the homes were larger and appeared better built. There had more livestock and chickens. They are also mostly farmers who grow tobacco nearby and only make baskets as a second income for the family. In this village we visited another elementary school that has students from kindergarten to the ninth grade. They sang us the national anthem and another song and we gave them some school supplies, balls and badminton rackets. Only about 30% of Myanmar’s population has access to the power grid.

Upon returning to the ship, we attended a lecture by the program manager, Robin, about life along the Irrawaddy River.  He shared photos and info about many aspects of life along the river.

In the evening we were treated to a Burmese puppet show, a long tradition kept alive by talented artists. Believed to have started about 1780, the Burmese marionette puppets employ 18 or more strings for a human character and each puppet is controlled by only one puppeteer. A Burmese marionette troupe has 27 different characters including a buffoon, princes and animals of all types. The puppets are typically accompanied by a musical group and each puppeteer uses his own voice for each character. This particular performance used taped music.

October 4, 2017 Sagaing/Ava

Ava Bagaya Monastery

Sagaing Buddha

Sagaing Harbor

Sagaing Silversmith

Sagaing Stupa

In the early morning we set sail for the village of Sagaing to visit the impressive Soon U Ponnya Shin Pagoda. Once we reached the village of Sagaing, the surrounding hillsides were covered in temples of all sorts. Some painted white and others covered in gold leaf, some in bell shapes and yet others cone shaped. It was explained to us that this area is well known for its number of nunneries and monasteries (also known as the Buddhist Vatican). They believe that more than 6,000 monks and nuns live in these residences. The area is not only a place of pilgrimage but also a place where Buddhists come to learn to meditate.

We took busses to Sagaing hill where we transferred to local pick-up trucks fitted with a covered truck bed with a bench on either side. These popular forms of local transportation were small enough to transport us up the steep winding streets to the Soon U Ponnya Sin Pagoda. Once at the pagoda we removed our shoes and socks before entering. Once inside the first thing that you see is an enormous depiction of Buddha in beautiful white and dressed in a gold sarong and it must be at least 30-feet tall. The complex of the Pagoda also has a large gold Stupa which is a solid pagoda with no access to enter it. The views from the hillside are spectacular looking over the Irrawaddy river and the neighboring hillsides covered in lush green vegetation and dotted with many pagodas. The grounds comprise many outdoor courtyards tiled in colorful ceramic tiles and many surrounding structures each elaborately decorated with mosaics of mirrors and housing a variety of different sized Buddhas.

Next we took the pick-up truck transportation to the Thankyadita nunnery where we visited with about ten of the nuns who live there. This particular nunnery houses about 120 nuns aging form nine years old to 88 years in age. The head nun has been a nun here for 45 years, arriving when she was just ten-years-old. The nuns all wear pink sarongs over red skirts making them very recognizable throughout the country. They rise at 3:30 in the morning and study and pray until 10:00 at night.

From the nunnery we visited a local silversmith shop as this is also an area known for its silversmiths. Behind the showroom was a simple outdoor silversmith shop where several men worked on a variety of silver vases, a silver purse and a bowl. The silver goods were mostly thin walled, but ornately decorated with a variety of animals and geometric designs.

 Next we visited the ancient capital of Ava located a short drive across the river from Sagaing. The Ava Kingdom was the dominant kingdom that ruled upper Burma from 1364 to 1555. The town of Ava is very rural in nature and the roads are extremely narrow and covered by trees. Since it was not possible for the buses to transit these small streets we were transported around the town on horse carts. These wooden carts have large wooden wheels about five feet in diameter, a covered passenger cart capable of carrying the driver and two others.

As soon as we disembarked our bus and boarded the horse carts, we were surrounded by locals, mostly young ladies selling jade, chimes and other local items. Once we had boarded the carts and began down the street, the young ladies got on bicycles and followed the carts continuing the sales pitch during the entire ride. At one point Kent began to answer the young lady in Spanish and she began to speak back to him in Spanish. They see so many tourists that they pick up a variety of languages to better interact with the visitors and sell them their goods.

At Ava we visited the 200-year-old teak Bagaya Kyaung monastery originally built in 1593, but destroyed by fire in 1821. In 1992 the government rebuilt the brick building on the site of the old monastery from a model of the old monastery. The monastery has seven tiers built with 267 teak wooden posts and stands 188 feet tall and 103 feet wide. The structure is decorated with Burmese wood carvings of birds and animals as well as small pillars decorating the walls. The monastery being made of wood and having no air conditioning was extremely hot and was very dark inside. There were no lights and no windows, only a few small doors that provided light into the wooden structure.

From the monastery we were taken to a dock where our ship the Irrawaddy Explorer was waiting for us.

After a late lunch we were shown a BBC documentary on the life of Buddha to give us a better understanding of who the Buddha was. Buddha is believed to have been born along the northern border of India in Nepal. They say that he came from a very wealthy family and spent his entire 88 years understanding life, meditating and learning a new sense of consciousness. Once he came to understand these things, he spent his life training others.

October 3, 2017 Mingun/Mandalay

Mandalay Buddha

Mandalay Gold Leaf Manufacturing

Mandalay Puppets

Mingun Bell

Mingun Stupa

Mingun White Stupa

We awoke about 6:00am after a good night’s sleep and headed for the dining room to see what breakfast had to offer. The breakfast was served buffet style with pressed coffee or tea, omelets to order, local soup, sweet rolls, breads for toast, cereal, fresh fruits and more. It was beautifully displayed and everything was fresh and tasty.

After a short cruise about eight miles down the river we arrived at the town of Mingun. We walked through the village of Mingun where we saw how the local villagers lived. We stopped to admire a large, unfinished pagoda or stupa built in the year 1790 by King Bodawpaya. It was not completed because an astrologer claimed that if completed the king would die. If completed it would have been the largest in the world at 490 feet in height. The king had hired 7,000 workers responsible to each make 300 bricks a day. This massive structure is made of solid bricks as compared to a hollow structure filled with soil. The stupa was badly damaged in an earthquake in the year 1839. It is believed that the structure is comprised of some 22-million clay bricks.

King Bodawpaya also had a gigantic bell cast in 1808 to go with his huge stupa. The bell, called the Mingun Bell, weighs some 90 tons and still today is the world’s second largest working bell. The bell unfortunately fell to the ground in the earthquake and was not re-hung until 1898.

Our next stop was a large white stupa where we climbed the exterior until we reached the mid point of the stupa. From there we took a very steep interior staircase to an observation point, where we could see the river and surrounding area.

The entire time we were onshore, it seemed as though we were part of a moving market of sorts. The local young women in the town would follow us through town trying to get people to buy postcards, clothing, fans, jewelry or other items from them. They would be fanning you with a fan, helping you up the stairs all to encourage you to purchase something. At the stupa when had to remove our shoes and socks to enter the stupa grounds and when we returned there was a young woman with our shoes ready for us at a plastic stool, ready to assist us with our shoes. Also at the stupa there were children selling strings of local white or pink flowers for the huge sum of 80 cents US. The locals use the flowers to place at the foot of a Buddha statue inside the huge stupa.

We departed Mingun at 11:00am headed back to Mandalay for an afternoon tour of Mandalay.

Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar with a population of about 2 million inhabitants. It was the last royal city built by the last of the Burmese Kings. In 1857 King Mindon founded a new royal capital at the foot of Mandalay Hill to fulfill a prophecy of a metropolis of Buddhism on the occasion of the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism. The new capital was surrounded by four rivers and was about 25 square miles in size. The new capital was built in a block grid pattern anchored by a 16 square block royal palace compound surrounded by a moat. Mandalay was the last royal capital under the independent Burmese kingdom before its annexation by the British Empire on November 28, 1885.

During World War II, Mandalay suffered devastating raids and air strikes during the Japanese conquest of Burma. Three-fifths of the houses were destroyed and 2,000 civilians were killed. Many fled the city during the Japanese occupation from May 1942 until March of 1945. The palace citadel was burned to the ground and only the royal mint and the watch tower survived.

Mahamuni Pagoda, a Buddhist temple, is a major pilgrimage site, where it is believed that this is one of only five likenesses of Buddha made during his lifetime. According to legend, after the casting of the Mahamuni Buddha was created, the Buddha visited and breathed upon it, and thereafter the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni. People visit the Buddha and purchase gold leaf sheets to be applied to the Buddha, so after years of applying gold leaf the shape of the Buddha is a bit overweight and somewhat grotesque looking. Only men are allowed within the inner sanctum where the Buddha is housed. The women must look from outside where they also have television screens broadcasting live photos of the Buddha.

We also took photos of the nearby temple-strewn Mandalay Hill, upon which the city was founded and named. This 790-foot-tall hill is known for its abundance of pagodas and monasteries, and has been a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists for nearly two centuries.

We visited some local artisan workshops to learn about gold leaf and tapestry making, wood and marble carving as well. The process of making the very thin sheets of gold leaf to decorate stupas, Buddha’s and pagodas was unbelievable. Young men use six-pound hammers for hours to flatten the tiny amounts of gold into paper thin sheets able to be applied. Between the paper thin sheets of gold are paper sheets made from bamboo. The process to create the paper sheets takes three years of soaking the bamboo to create a pulp to create the thin paper sheets.

After dinner there was a local dance troupe and local music group that performed a Burmese dance performance. They had beautiful costumes and performed a variety of local dances and songs from this region.

October 2, 2017 Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Irrawaddy Explorer Cabin

U-Sein Bridge


Upon arrival in Mandalay we met our Vantage Travel program manager by the name of Soe. From the airport we were immediately taken on a tour of a silk weaving factory in the old part of Mandalay that is known for making fine silk fabrics for wedding gowns. Many of the folks in our group made purchases of the local longe; a cylindrical piece of fabric wrapped around your waist and tucked in. You see many of the locals (men and women) wearing these, although most of them are made of cotton and not a fancy silk. The fancier hand-made silk fabrics are used for ceremonial occasions like a wedding.

After the silk factory we were taken to Amarapura, the last Burmese royal capital, where we embarked on a small sampan (with two other guests) on Taungthaman Lake just in time to catch the sunset as it washed over the famous U-Bein Bridge. The bridge is about 3,967 feet in length and was built in 1850. It is believed to be the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. It features about 1,086 pillars and four wooden pavilions at equal intervals along the bridge. The bridge was once painted in gold and was very elaborately decorated, but today the bridge is in a state of disrepair. The gold is gone and most of the support posts are in some state of disrepair, and there are no hand rails. Even so, the bridge is very busy with tourists and locals alike, fishing, walking, watching the sunset and visiting with friends. Along the roadside there are many small stalls selling a variety of souvenirs as well as local foods.

Our home for the next nine nights was the RV Irrawaddy Explorer built in 2014 with a capacity of 56 guests in 28 cabins on three decks. There was a crew of 34 to see to all of our needs. The river boat is beautifully decorated in a style that I might expect during the time of British Occupation. Teak wood floors, dark cabinetry, high ceilings, traditional furnishings and gilded mirrors. Out cabin is the largest we have had on a river boat and is very tastefully decorated and comfortable. There is a large bathroom with a huge shower. The water from the tap is not safe to drink but they provide us with unlimited bottled water in our cabin.

The bar area and main public room on the boat is called the Writer’s Lounge and is very comfortable with upholstered sofas and chairs, dark wood tables and a large bar area. The dining room is comfortable with upholstered chairs, linen table cloths and elegantly decorated. Our dinner consisted of four courses; an appetizer, a soup, an entrée and dessert. Each category had several items to choose from, including local flavors and some western style dishes. The lamb dish with rice I had was excellent. Kent had a local white fish.

By dinner’s end we were exhausted and ready to collapse at the dinner table. By the time my head hit the pillow I was out.

September 30, 2017 San Diego/ Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Map of Myanmar

We departed San Diego airport bound for Los Angeles at 6:00pm, a short twenty-two-minute flight. Our next flight left from Los Angeles at 11:55pm arriving in Hong Kong at 5:45am, nearly 15 hours later. From Hong Kong we departed at 8:00am bound for Bangkok, Thailand, a three-hour flight. Finally, from Bangkok we boarded our final flight to Mandalay, Myanmar at noon, arriving nearly two hours later. It was an exhausting trip but we made it safe and sound with no delays or incidents.

Myanmar is located on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. It borders India and Bangladesh on the north and west, China, Laos and Thailand on the east. King Anawrahta formed the country in the 11th-century, with Bagan as its capital. The empire collapsed with the invasion of the Mongols 200 years later. King Alaungpaya, on the location of the small town named Dagon, founded Yangon (later Anglicized to Rangoon) in 1755. Various ethnic Burmese and ethnic minorities or kingdoms occupied the present borders through the 19th Century. From 1824 to 1886 Britain conquered Burma and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. The country was ruled by the British from 1852 until 1942 when the Japanese occupied the area until 1945. Allies retook the city in 1945 but this would be short lived. On January 4, 1948 the country regained independence from the British Commonwealth. General Ne Win, a military ruler and then a self-appointed president, was an isolationist ruler of the country from 1962 until 1988. During this time the country was isolated from the outside world. In 1988 he resigned due to extreme civil unrest. During his rule the infrastructure deteriorated through poor management (corruption) and population growth.

In 2011 president Thein Sein came into office and began political and economic reforms that lead to the opening of this long isolated country. The reforms included the release of hundreds of political prisoners, a cease-fire with several of the country’s ethnic armed groups, legal reforms and the gradual reduction of restrictions on the freedom of the press. On March 30, 2016 Burma’s first credibly elected civilian government, after more than five decades of military dictatorship, was sworn into office. Some of the government were still military officers.

Myanmar is slightly smaller in size than Texas but has a population of about 57 million inhabitants. Rangoon is the largest city with a population estimated at 7 million, 86% of which are Buddhist. Under British rule the city was laid out in a grid pattern and by 1900 beautiful colonial buildings and parks filled the city. It was said that the city was on par with London and was known as the garden city of the east. Unfortunately, in 2008 much of the city was heavily damaged by cyclone Nargis, which caused $800 million in damage and 138,000 people were left dead. Today these old colonial buildings are being restored and many of the great parks and lakes remain.

Burmese is the primary language, with English being the preferred second language to the educated. The country’s main economies include agriculture, rice, sesame, peanuts, cotton, lima beans, chick peas, wood–like teak, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, cement, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, oil, natural gas, garments, jade, ruby, sapphire, emeralds and amethyst.

Throughout its history Myanmar has experienced waves of immigrants which traveled southward along the Ayeyarwady, Chindwin, Salween and Mekong rivers. These diverse ethnic groups came primarily from the Central Asian Plateau (modern day Tibet and China) and are reflected in the wide-ranging ethnic assortment found in Rangoon today. 86% of the local people are Buddhist, 5% Christian, 4% Muslim and there are 56 Jews today.

The local currency is the Myanmar kyat (MMK) pronounced like CHAT and the current exchange rate is approximately 1,350 kyats to the US dollar.

The living standards are very low in Burma and it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. Approximately 26% of the residents live in poverty. The isolationist policies of the past have left the country with a poor infrastructure, endemic corruption, underdeveloped human resources and inadequate access to capital. This in combination with an antiquated banking and revenue collection system will take a major commitment to reverse.