Geography of Burma or Myanmar

Uppatasanti Pagoda in Naypyidaw, Myanmar

Kabir Uddin/Getty Images


Burma, officially called the Union of Burma, is the largest country by area located in Southeast Asia. Burma is also known as Myanmar. Burma comes from the Burmese word "Bamar," which is the local word for Myanmar. Both words refer to the majority of the population being Burman. Since British colonial times, the country has been known as Burma in English; however, in 1989, the military government in the country changed many of the English translations and changed the name to Myanmar. Today, countries and world organizations have decided on their own which name to use for the country. The United Nations for example, calls it Myanmar, while many English speaking countries call it Burma.

Fast Facts: Burma or Myanmar

  • Official Name: Union of Burma
  • Capital: Rangoon (Yangon); administrative capital is Nay Pyi Taw
  • Population: 55,622,506 (2018)
  • Official Language: Burmese  
  • Currency: Kyat (MMK) 
  • Form of Government: Parliamentary republic
  • Climate: Tropical monsoon; cloudy, rainy, hot, humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September); less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity during winter (northeast monsoon, December to April)
  • Total Area: 261,227 square miles (676,578 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Gamlang Razi at 19,258 feet (5,870 meters) 
  • Lowest Point: Andaman Sea/Bay of Bengal at 0 feet (0 meters)

History of Burma

Burma's early history is dominated by the successive rule of several different Burman dynasties. The first of these to unify the country was the Bagan Dynasty in 1044 CE. During their rule, Theravada Buddhism rose in Burma and a large city with pagodas and Buddhist monasteries was built along the Irrawaddy River. In 1287, however, the Mongols destroyed the city and took control of the area.

In the 15th century, the Taungoo Dynasty, another Burman dynasty, regained control of Burma and, according to the U.S. Department of State, established a large multi-ethnic kingdom that was focused on expansion and the conquest of Mongol territory. The Taungoo Dynasty lasted from 1486 to 1752.

In 1752, the Taungoo Dynasty was replaced by the Konbaung, the third and final Burman dynasty. During Konbaung rule, Burma underwent several wars and was invaded four times by China and three times by the British. In 1824, the British began their formal conquest of Burma and in 1885, it gained full control of Burma after annexing it to British India.

During World War II, the "30 Comrades," a group of Burmese nationalists, attempted to drive out the British, but in 1945 the Burmese Army joined British and U.S. troops in an effort to force out the Japanese. After WWII, Burma again pushed for independence and in 1947 a constitution was completed followed by full independence in 1948.

From 1948 to 1962, Burma had a democratic government but there was widespread political instability within the country. In 1962, a military coup took over Burma and established a military government. Throughout the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s, Burma was politically, socially and economically unstable. In 1990, parliamentary elections took place but the military regime refused to acknowledge the results.

During the early 2000s, the military regime remained in control of Burma despite several attempts for overthrow and protests in favor of a more democratic government.

Government of Burma

Today, Burma's government is still a military regime that has seven administrative divisions and seven states. Its executive branch is made up of a chief of state and head of government, while its legislative branch is a unicameral People's Assembly. It was elected in 1990, but the military regime never allowed it to be seated. Burma's judicial branch consists of remnants from the British colonial era but the country has no fair trial guarantees for its citizens.

Economics and Land Use in Burma

Because of stringent government controls, Burma's economy is unstable and much of its population lives in poverty. Burma is, however, rich in natural resources and there is some industry in the country. As such, much of this industry is based on agriculture and the processing of its minerals and other resources. Industry includes agricultural processing, wood and wood products, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, cement, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, oil and natural gas, garments, jade, and gems. Agricultural products are rice, pulses, beans, sesame, groundnuts, sugarcane, hardwood, fish and fish products.

Geography and Climate of Burma

Burma has a long coastline that borders the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Its topography is dominated by central lowlands that are ringed by steep, rugged coastal mountains. The highest point in Burma is Hkakabo Razi at 19,295 feet (5,881 m). The climate of Burma is considered tropical monsoon and has hot, humid summers with rain from June to September and dry mild winters from December to April. Burma is also prone to hazardous weather like cyclones. For example, in May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit the country's Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions, wiped out entire villages and left 138,000 people dead or missing.


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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Burma or Myanmar." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, February 16). Geography of Burma or Myanmar. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Burma or Myanmar." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).