Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand


  1. Regional Setting
  2. Physical Setting
  3. People
  4. Development
  5. References
  6. Review Questions

Regional Setting

Both countries share a border on the Indo Chinese peninsula, in the heart of Southeast Asia. The land of both Myanmar and Thailand slopes from the north to the south. Mountains are in the northern section of both countries and low-lying river deltas dominate the southern areas.

Myanmar and Thailand are in the same region, but beyond that there aren't many similarities. Thailand has been successful in its quest for economic and political development while Myanmar has failed. First of all the Union of Myanmar was colonized by the British, whereas Thailand has always been independent. Thailand easily adopted westernization and opened its economy through a policy of free enterprise; Myanmar rejected Western ways, and chose to isolate their nation from the global economic system. As a result, Thailand's per capita GNP rose almost $3,000 in 30 years. Myanmar's per capita GNP raised only $600 in the same amount of time. Only the presence of the black market has made the economy of Myanmar tolerable.

Physical Setting

Myanmar and Thailand are both referred to as protruded countries. Characterized by most of the regions land mass contained inland and a protruding piece of land which extends out on the Malay Peninsula. The topographical layout consists of mountains in the north and low lying, fertile agricultural land in the south. Both countries have major port cities along river deltas. The largest city in Myanmar, Yangon (Rangoon), lies on the mouth of the Irrawaddy River. Thailand's largest city, Bangkok is on the entrance of the Chao Phraya River.

The climate of both countries is tropical and monsoonal. There are three distinct seasons: the hot season (March-April), the rainy season (May-October), and the cool season (November-February). Many times flooding occurs during the rainy season along the river deltas.

Myanmar and Thailand both have a rich supply of minerals. The minerals contained in this part of the world are precious stones such jade, rubies, and sapphires. Copper, nickel, silver, lead, tin and zinc are also found here. Large natural gas deposits have been found here along with petroleum. Thailand produces ten percent of the world's tin. The difference between the two countries is that Thailand has the means to mine and process the resources found in the area so they continue to prosper. Whereas Myanmar is much poorer and cannot capitalize on the resources it has.


The overall population of Myanmar is 48.9 million people (2000). Some of the minority groups that make up Myanmar are: the Karens, who live in the eastern hills and the eastern delta, make up about 8% of the population; the Shans, that live in the Shan Plateau region, account for 7%; and the Talaings or Mons, Chins, and Kachins that make up the rest of the population are each about 2% of the total. Thailand consists of about 62 million people (2000). About 75% of the inhabitants of Thailand are Thai. The largest minority group consists of the Chinese, who make up about 14% of the total population. Other minority groups include the Malay-speaking Muslims in the south, Karens live in the isolated, rugged mountains along the Myanmar border, the hill tribes in the north such as the Hmong and Yao, and the Khmer and Vietnamese refugees in the east.

Both countries are strongly rooted by the Buddhism; it is the official religion of both. Buddhism is followed by 95% of Thailand's inhabitants. Approximately 18,000 Buddhist temples and 140,000 Buddhist priests can be found there. About 85% of Myanmar's population is Buddhist. Small groups of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians are also in the region.


Myanmar was first united as a single kingdom in 1044 under the ruler Anawrahta. In the 19th century the British took control of Myanmar and governed it from 1886 to 1937. Finally, Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948. The Union of Myanmar was known as Burma until mid-1989 when the country's name was changed to quiet protests by ethnic minorities. Thailand has a much different history. Unlike Myanmar, they were never controlled by another country during colonial times. Thailand was known as Siam for a long time. In 1939, the name was changed to a more nationalistic name, Land of the Thais, which means, "free".

Thailand has a constitutional monarchy that is largely dominated by the military. The king is head of state and commander in chief of the army. The head of government is the prime minister. Legislative power comes from the Senate and a House of Representatives. Myanmar is controlled by a military regime. When the regime took power they abolished all previous governing laws. The countries differ greatly in the quality of life because of the government. Myanmar's life expectancy is 60 years for men and 64 for women. Thailand's is higher at 67 for males and 72 for females.

Thailand's economy is mainly agricultural, but in recent years a larger industrial sector has emerged. Three-quarters of the labor force work in agriculture. Thailand is one of the world's leading producers of rice. In the early 1990s, Thailand annually produced 18.5 million metric tons of rice, up from about 11.3 million metric tons per year in the 1960s. The second most important crop in value is rubber, which is mainly raised on plantations on the Malay Peninsula. In the early 1990s, approximately 1.4 metric tons were produced each year. Other important crops include cassava, sugar cane, maize, pineapples, coconuts, kenaf (a fiber used in making canvas), and livestock. Tourism is also a growing industry in Thailand, drawing in more money every year. In Myanmar about two thirds of the labor force tills the soil for a living, but only about 15% of the total land surface is suitable for farming. However, during the late 1980s, only a small portion of the land was cultivated. Rice is the major crop and is planted on about three-quarters of the cropland. In fact Myanmar is one of the world's leading rice producers. Much of the rice is produced in the Irrawaddy delta, which was developed under British colonialism. Other important crops grown mainly on small farms in the central lowlands are corn, cotton, peanuts, legumes, millet, nuts, sugar cane, tobacco, and sesame.

The Golden Triangle is a region around northern Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. It is infamous throughout the world for its opium production. Opium is the plant that heroin is manufactured from. Myanmar has been accused of having a relaxed drug policy since the illegal opium trade makes the country a great deal of money on the black market. Thailand, on the other hand, has taken a stance against drugs and eradicated the problem from their portion of the Golden Triangle.


1. de Blij, H.J. (2000) Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts (Ninth Edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
2. Bradshaw, Michael. (1997) World Regional Geography. Brown & Benchmark publishers. McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
3. World Population Data Sheet. (2001) Population Reference Bureau.
4. [May 23, 2001]

Review Questions

1. Which of the following country's names was changed because of protests by ethnic minorities?
    A. Myanmar B. China C. Laos D. Irrawaddy E. Thailand

2. What religion is the most dominant in Myanmar and Thailand?
    A. Catholicism B. Buddhism C. Islam D. Hinduism E. Judaism

3. The rainy season is more commonly referred to as what?
    A. Hurricane B. Cyclone C. Monsoon D. Tornado E. Saturation

4. Most agriculture occurs in what area?
    A. Mountains B. Plateau C. Countryside D. Golden Triangle E. River Delta

5. Thailand produces ten percent of which mineral for the world?
    A. Gold B. Copper C. Silver D. Tin E. Zinc

6. What is the largest minority group in the area, making up 14% of the population?
    A. Japanese B. Indians C. Chinese D. Arabs E. Americans

7. Which country controlled Myanmar during colonial times?
    A. Great Britain B. France C. Spain D. Portugal E. Germany

8. Which country has an emerging industrial sector?
    A. Myanmar B. Thailand C. Laos D. Bangladesh E. Cambodia

9. Thailand is one of the world's leading producers of what crop?
    A. Corn B. Beans C. Rice D. Sugar E. Bananas

10. The Golden Triangle is famous for producing what?
    A. Opium B. Cocaine C. Marijuana D. Emeralds E. Diamonds

Created by Matthew L. Irons on 12/5/96. Updated by Paula Slavin on (6/16/97). Updated by Sarah Overley on (12/8/99). Updated by Eric Bond on 5/23/2001.