The population is estimated around 50 million inhabitants. The majority of the population live from agriculture and 70% live in rural areas. The capital Yangon has about four million inhabitants. There are several other cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, of which we will visit Mandalay and Bago. There are a hundred languages spoken.
The Burmese people live mainly in the central part of the country: in the flat fertile areas around the Ayeyarwady river. The mountainous areas of the country are inhabited by minority groups like the Shan, the Mon, the Karen, the Chin, the Kayah, Padaung and the Palaung. In these areas, the central government has little influence and the recent history of the country shows a continual conflict between the military regime and these minority groups. The Chinese and Indian population each count for no more than 1% of the total population.
The Shan minorities account for 8.5% of the total population, the largest minority in Myanmar. The Shan are mainly rice farmers and live in the fertile valleys and plateaus of the mountains. The hill tribes include the Akha, Lisu, the Lahu and Palaung. The Buddhist Palaung women are known for their colourful dress, the red longyi, often the velvet jacket and a belt of bamboo are the most striking features. They mainly work in tea cultivation. Their villages are distinguished by the characteristic "longhouses". They can be seen on the market revolving around Pindaya, Inle Lake and Kalaw or in the surrounding villages. Chinese dealers even sell the opium grown by the various hill tribes.
The Intha mainly live around Inle Lake. They live off the proceeds that lake provides, the fish, but also the vegetables that they grow on their floating gardens. The Intha are known for their way of rowing: standing on one leg while the other leg is used as an oar to move the boat.
The Karen are also called Kayin. According to official figures, they are the second largest minority group in the country. Among them are Karen Buddhists, animists and a large number of Christians. More than any other people in Myanmar, the Karen have been introduced to Western culture.
The small people of the Padaung are world famous. They are about seven thousand people in number. They are famous for their 'giraffe women'. When they are just five years old the girls have the first ring of brass put around their necks and every other year they add one more. This tradition was intended to deter slave traders, as they would have no interest in the deformed women. Today things are very different of course and these women can earn money from their popularity. Many Padaung are now found in Thailand, fleeing the violence of the military regime.
Besides these ethnic peoples Myanmar has many other groups, like the Pa'o, the Mon, the Chin, the Naga, the Arakanen and Wa. The great diversity of peoples and cultures makes the country difficult to steer, but that diversity makes the country so interesting and attractive for travellers.