Upper Myanmar

Upper Myanmar (Burmese: အထက်မြန်မာပြည် or မြန်မာပြည်အထက်ပိုင်း, also called Upper Burma) is one of two geographic regions in Myanmar, the other being Lower Myanmar. Located in the country's centre and north stretches, Upper Myanmar encompasses 6 inland states and regions, including Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway Regions, and Chin, Kachin and Shan States. By contrast, Lower Myanmar encompasses the southern and coastal-facing regions of Myanmar. Upper Myanmar is home to several distinct cultural regions, including the homeland of the Bamar in the low-lying central plains, and those of the Chin, Kachin, and Shan peoples in the highlands. Home to over 23 million people, the region's agricultural sector, natural resources, and shared borders with India, China, and Thailand have made Upper Myanmar a major economic hub. Four of Myanmar's ten largest cities, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Monywa, and Myitkyina, are located in the region.


Upper Myanmar is geographically diverse, bounded by the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau to the north, and the Arakan Mountains to the west, the latter of which separates this region from Rakhine State in Lower Myanmar. Upper Myanmar is home to the country's highest peak, Hkakabo Razi. The region is bisected by the country's primary river, the Irrawaddy River, which runs throughout the length of the country. The eastern stretches of Upper Myanmar are surrounded by the Shan Hills, and the Thanlwin River, which separates parts of Myanmar from China and Thailand. The low-lying central plains (also dubbed the 'Irrawaddy Basin') between the Arakan Mountains and Shan Hills are predominantly inhabited by the Bamar, while the Shan Hills are inhabited by various Shan-speaking ethnic groups and other minorities.


The British subdivided its colonial possessions in Myanmar into three regions: Upper Burma in orange; Lower Burma in pink; and the Frontier Areas in green (as of 1885).

The term 'Upper Burma' was first used by the British to refer to the central and northern areas of what is now modern-day Myanmar, a division that accentuated between 1852 and 1885.[1] After the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, Lower Burma was annexed by the British Empire, while Upper Burma remained independent under the Konbaung empire until the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885. Historically, Upper Burma was predominantly Bamar (whereas Lower Myanmar was historically Mon-speaking until the early 19th century), while the Frontier Areas, as designated by the colonial administration, included areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, such as the Shan States and modern Kachin State.

In the aftermath of the 2021 Myanmar coup d'état, Upper Myanmar, including the Bamar heartland, has become a major centre of anti-military resistance and fighting in the ongoing Myanmar civil war (2021–present), due to the presence of People's Defence Forces and ethnic armed organisations.[2]


Upper Myanmar continues to be used as a geographic designation with respect to government administration and legislation. The national government's Ministry of Home Affairs invokes separate land and revenue laws for Upper and Lower Myanmar.[3][4] Myanmar's national weather agency, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, has a dedicated sub-department for Upper Myanmar.[5] Likewise, the country's civil service commission, the Union Civil Service Board, operates separate civil service academies for Upper and Lower Myanmar.[6][7] Until 2015, Myanmar's Department of Higher Education was divided into separate departments to support tertiary schools in Upper and Lower Myanmar.

Parts of Kachin and Shan States remain contested; they are administered to varying degrees by the central government as well as numerous non-state actors like ethnic armed organisations. Upper Myanmar is also home to all of the country's self-administered zones: Danu, Kokang, Naga, Pa Laung, Pa'O, and Wa.

Cultural regionsEdit

Bamar heartlandEdit

Men on an ox-drawn cart in Bagan, a historic royal capital in the Anya region, the cultural heartland of the Bamar.

Anya (အညာ, lit.'upstream', also spelt Anyar), the Bamar heartland, is situated around the low-lying central plains of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers that now comprise Sagaing, Magway, and Mandalay regions.[8][9][10] The region has been the homeland of the predominantly Buddhist Bamar people for over a millennia. The Anya region (အညာဒေသ) is often called the 'Central Dry Zone' in English due to its paucity of rainfall and reliance on water irrigation.[10] For 1,100 years, this region was home to a series of Burmese royal capitals, until the British annexation of Upper Burma (the last remaining part of the Konbaung Kingdom) in 1885.[8] Bamar from this region are called anyar thar (အညာသား) in Burmese, while their counterparts from Lower Myanmar are called auk tha (အောက်သား).[11]


Agricultural cultivation is a mainstay in Upper Myanmar. The region's proximity to major undammed rivers has also made it the site of many hydropower dams. Natural resources also play a big role in the economy, including extraction of timber (including Teak), precious gems (including jade, rubies, sapphires and gems), metals and minerals (including silver, lead, zinc, and gold, barite).[12][13][14] Sharing of natural resources remains primary factor driving armed conflict in many parts of Upper Myanmar.[15] Upper Myanmar is also home to controversial economic projects, including the Myitsone Dam and Letpadaung Copper Mine.[16] [17] Upper Myanmar's contested border regions, particularly the Golden Triangle and Wa State, are also major global producers of methamphetamines and opium.[18][19]


The Central Dry Zone in Upper Myanmar cultivates 35% of the country's grain crops and occupies two-thirds of arable land in the country.[20][21] However, the region is remains food insecure, and is the most water-stressed region of the country, due to lack of regular rainfall (the lowest in the country, at 500–1,000 mm (20–39 in)), inequitable distribution of water, and climate change, which has intensified droughts in the region.[21][22] 80% of the land there is used to grow pulses (e.g., chickpea, black gram,mung bean, etc.), legumes, sesame, and sunflower.[22][23] Shan State cultivates most of Myanmar's soybeans.

Border tradeEdit

Upper Myanmar is a major hub for border trade, due to its shared borders with India, China, Laos and Thailand. The region is home to all five of Myanmar's official border gates with China (i.e., Muse, Chinshwehaw, Lweje, Kanpaikti, and Kyaingtong), one of seven border gates with Thailand (i.e., Tachileik), and both border gates with India (Tamu and Rikhawdar).[24] In 2022, total trade volume at these gates stood at US$2.7 billion.[24]

2022 Total Trade Volume (in US$ millions)
Border Gate Exports Imports Trade Volume
Muse-Ruili 1832.468 266.897 2099.365
Chinshwehaw-Qingshuihe 153.496 129.900 283.396
Tachileik-Mae Sai 45.092 85.572 130.664
Lweje-Zhangfeng [zh] 90.276 32.484 122.760
Kanpaikti-Houqiao 77.357 10.824 88.181
Tamu-Moreh 9.352 5.782 15.134
Kyaingtong 7.192 3.332 10.524
2022 total 2215.233 534.791 2750.024


According to the 2014 Myanmar Census, Upper Myanmar had a population of 23,354,199, who make up 46% of the country's population.[25] 75% of residents in Upper Myanmar live in rural townships. 75% of the population in Upper Myanmar lives in Mandalay and Sagaing Regions, and Shan State.

State / Region Urban Rural Total %
  Mandalay Region 2,143,436 4,022,287 6,165,723 26%
  Shan State 1,395,847 4,428,585 5,824,432 25%
  Sagaing Region 911,335 4,414,012 5,325,347 23%
  Magway Region 588,031 3,329,024 3,917,055 17%
  Kachin State 592,368 1,050,473 1,642,841 7%
  Chin State 99,809 378,992 478,801 2%
Total 5,730,826 17,623,373 23,354,199 100%


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See alsoEdit