Geography and Climate
Myanmar is the largest country in mainland southeast Asia, slightly smaller than the state of Texas. The country consists of 14 regions and states. It shares borders with the Indian Ocean and a number of countries including Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. Below is a breakdown of the five main geographic areas.
Kachin State and Sagaing Region reside in the north. The tallest peaks in Myanmar, part of the Himalayan foothills, lie at the northern limit near the Chinese border. Accordingly, this is the coolest region with average temperatures of 70°F (21°C). Myanmar's longest river, the Irrawaddy River, runs south through Kachin from its source far in the Himalayas. Despite having a monsoon season, the annual rainfall is less than 40 inches, and part of the country's Dry Zone is located in lower Sagaing.
The remote and mountainous Chin State and Rakhine State are found here. The Chin Hills extend south into the Rakhine Mountain range. On their western slopes are dense forests of tall pines that receive plenty of rain. Large storms forming in the Bay of Bengal pour up to 200 inches of rain annually in parts of the region. The tall mountains, however, deprive Myanmar's central valley from much needed rain.
Shan State and Kayah State lie to the east. The Shan Plateau dominates most of the landscape with steep hills and dense forests. The rapid currents of the Salween River, Myanmar's second longest river, slice through the eastern part of Shan State with tall canyon walls towering on both sides. One of the country's largest and highest lakes, Inle Lake, is also found in this region. The average temperature is similar to the northern region, pleasantly warm during the day with a dramatic drop at night due to the altitude. Rainfall is upwards of 60 inches in the hills and 40 inches in the valleys.
Mandalay Region and Magway Region make up the central valley and most of the country's Dry Zone. It is the driest region in all of southeast Asia. The second and third largest cities in Myanmar, Mandalay and Naypyidaw accordingly, are here. As of 2005, Naypyidaw also serves as the administrative capital city of Myanmar. The Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers are crucial in giving life to an area that receives only 35 inches of rainfall annually. Irrigation systems connected to the rivers have made the area a significant farming region.
Yangon, Bago, and Ayeyarwady Regions sit lower on the map bordering the Indian Ocean. Yangon, the previous country capital, is the most populous city and region. The Irrawaddy delta region permeates through much of Ayeyarwady, Yangon, and parts of Bago. The lower expanse typically receives over 100 inches of rain annually which, along with the fertile delta soil, makes them ideal for farming. Ayeyarwady and Bago are the two largest producers of rice nationwide. Aside from the low lying Bago Hills, the region has a more tropical climate with high humidity and average temperatures of 81°F (27°C).
Kayin State, Mon State, and Tanintharyi Region are the 500 mile long tail of Myanmar. The Bilauktaung Mountains split the border with Thailand while the Mergui Archipelago sits off the western coast. With these districts closest to the equator, they experience little change in temperature and torrential rain year round. Needless to say, the majority of Myanmar's rain forests are found here.