Last update: Oct 30, 2019
Monsoon climate in Myanmar.
The asian southwest monsoon over India and SE-asia is among the most impressive weather systems on earth. The summer monsoon brings 80% of the subcontinents rainfall and its arrival is of critical importance to over a billion people. The neighbouring countries India and Myanmar are similarly affected by the rains; and their mountain ranges play a critical role in the huge amounts of rain the two countries recieve.
Myanmar has a typical tropical monsoon climate with three seasons: the hot period, the monsoon and the cool and dry winter. The hot season starts somewhere in March and lasts till May; the rainy season starts around the end of May and ends in October; and the cool, dry season stretches from November to March.
The monsoon weather you will encounter all depends where you are going, as Myanmar has some of the wettest areas on earth but also some much drier zones. The coastal zones and beaches all just happen to bear the brunt of the monsoon rains, for reasons explaned below. It can be an occasional monsoon shower, but also flooding and torrential rain. A bit of rain in a tropical climate is not so bad, it brings some well needed cool wind and fresh air along!
When is the best time to visit Myanmar?
Winter - November to February.
The winter is the best time to visit; this is the busy high season for tourism. The weather is warm but not stifling, and some cool nights are possible but most of the time you will probably use air conditioning. In November there is little rain but beautiful cloudy skies and fresh sparkling greenery everywhere. December and January are slightly cooler. Sometimes a cold spell might occur in January when one needs a light jacket and sweater.
The hot season - March until May
From sometimes in March onwards it will slowly but surely get quite hot. The daytime temperatures can be around 35 degree Celsius but sometimes soar up to about 40 degrees; which means sweaty nights which are unbearable without air-conditioning and days when you have to avoid the sun in the afternoon and drink lots of water. The few Mango rains will not bring much relief.
The Monsoon - May until October
The monsoon season usually enters southern Burma around May 15, and arrives in Yangon around May 20. The Monsoon season can cause rainstorms and perhaps some flooded streets in Yangon; and at the same time the climate further north in the Dry zone is usually much drier.
The end of the monsoon is much less clearly defined; the rains taper off during the last months. Thus, the monsoon starts quite suddenly (within a few days) and ends gradually; it starts with a bang and ends with a whisper.
By the second half of October the rains should be descreasing. Should is the word ... October is the transition period between the rainy season and the cooler dry season. However, depending on the Weather Gods there can still be a lot of rain.
October and November are the best time for photography because the landscape is still lush and green; and there are often blue skies with some clouds as a backdrop.
These two satellite photo's show the vegetation difference between the hot season and the end of the monsoon season. The effect of the mountains on the rainfall is obvious, as is the central Dry zone.
The satellite images are from the LANCE Rapid Response MODIS system (NASA).We acknowledge the use of data products or imagery from the Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) system operated by the NASA/GSFC/Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) with funding provided by NASA/HQ.
The Monsoon pattern and the rain shadows.
The north-south alignment of the Burmese mountain ranges and valleys creates zones of heavy and little rainfall during the southwest monsoon. The rain shadow effect from the Arakan Yoma (Arakan mountain range) at the western seashore is the cause of a much drier region in the center of Myanmar. This area is called the Dry Zone.
Monsoon Wind Flow over Myanmar / Average annual rainfall Map.
The Arakan Yoma is a major mountain range on the western side of Myanmar that blocks the Monsoon windflow. During the Southwest-monsoon the humid air from the ocean is pushed up by the Arakan mountain range; the air cools down at higher altitude (the orographic effect) and forms monsoon clouds, and huge amounts of rain fall on the coastal area's. Once inland the air has become much drier - this is the rain shadow effect in central Burma. The Irrawaddy Delta is not sheltered by mountains and thus receives the full brunt of the Southwest-monsoon.
Annual rainfall in the four Monsoon zones in Myanmar.
Myanmar can be roughly divided into 4 climate regions: the Dry Zone, the Coastal regions, the Shan Plateau (Shan state), and the Irrawaddy River delta. Most of the precipitation comes from the southwest monsoon winds during the summer monsoon months.
Inle Lake is situated in the southern Shan State at an altitude of 900 meters and has a typical mountain climate. From November to February temperatures drop sharply at night to below 10 degrees Celsius. Mornings are quite cool but around 10 am quickly warm to the usual tropical temperatures of over 25 degrees Celsius.
| 500-1000 mm ||
The dry zone - Mandalay and Bagan.
The Dry Zone, in the middle of the Irrawaddy Valley, is located in the lower Sagaing and Mandalay districts. The average annual rainfall in the Dry Zone is less than 1000 millimeters. Mandalay and Bagan are in the famous "Dry Zone".
| 1000-2000 mm ||
Shan plateau - Kalaw, Nyaung Shwe, Taunggyi, Pyin-U-Lwin, Hsipaw, Lashio.
The Shan Plateau, also known as Shan Hills or Shan Yoma is a vast mountainous area which has an average elevation of about 1000 meters but can go to a height of over 2000 meters. Because of its elevation it has a typical mountain climate. Usually it receives between 1500 and 2000 mm of rain annually.
| 2000-3500 mm ||
Irrawaddy delta - Yangon, Bago and Pathein.
Yangon, Bago and Pathein are all in the Irrawaddy River delta. Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2500 millimeters. Yangon gets an average of 2700 millimeter of rain a year.
| 3500-6000 mm ||
Coastal regions - Tenasserim coast: Dawei, Myeik. Mon state: Mawlamyine.
Arakan coast: Ngapali, Thandwe, Chaung Tha, Ngwe Saung, Mrauk-U, Sittwe.
The coastal zones in Arakan/Rakhine in the west and Tenasserim/Tanintharyi division in the southeast can receive huge amounts of rain; between 3500 to 6000 millimeter of rain annually. Strong monsoon winds and high waves make swimming hazardous. The beach resorts in Ngapali close in June in preparation for the southwest Monsoon.
Really Dry or not-so-wet?
How dry is the Dry Zone? As the graph below shows, the annual precipitation in Mandalay is about the same amount as that in Amsterdam. Except in Amsterdam it can rain the whole year but in Mandalay it falls in less than six months.
Yangon is super-wet compared to most monsoon area cities like Phnom Penh, New Delhi and Vientiane, but Mandalay gets much less rain. Yangon gets more than three times the yearly rainfall than Mandalay (2700 mm versus 830 mm); see the graph below.
The Dry Zone is the official name but the correct term for the drier central area would be the "Much Drier zone." The Dry Zone is only really dry in winter - just like the rest of Myanmar. Then as the hot season starts the dry zone very slowly becomes a semi-desert, and Bagan becomes a dry sandy plain between thousands of stupas. The monsoon reverses this trend, and towards the end of the monsoon the plains and ricefields turn bright and green.
Lastly an interesting fact: It may be a coincidence that the largest river of Myanmar, the Irrawaddy, flows right through the Dry Zone; but it is no coincidence that the old capitals of Burma like Bagan, Ava and Mandalay were founded in this central dry region.
Graph of the annual rainfall in Myanmar compared to asian cities.
Myanmar gets on average much more precipitation than Thalland.
Comparison of the annual rainfall in Myanmar cities.
Tropical diseases during the monsoon
The monsoon has not only a transforming effect on the landscape, it also influences the wildlife and ... the mosquito's. Plants with fresh greenery appear, snakes escape flooded fields and search higher ground in the villages, and mozzies start their happy buzzing in search of prey.
During the fierce fighting between the Japanese and allied forces in WW2 many casualties were caused by tropical diseases like malaria, beri-beri and dysentery. The summer monsoon brings rain and warm weather - perfect conditions for mosquito's. Because of the monsoon Dengue fever and malaria are seasonal; though there are always some mosquito's even in winter.
The chance of catching malaria is very small during the winter season because your chance of getting mosquito bites is quite low. If you visit rural areas (e.g. trekking) or jungle areas the chance of mosquito bites and malaria is higher.
The malaria risk assesment by the US, the UK and French authorities is dissimilar, and they usually do not take the monsoon into account:
So it seems malaria risk assesment is not hard science but more like an educated guessing game, doesn't it?
- The U.S. advice from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Areas with malaria: Present at altitudes <1,000 m (3,281 ft), including Bagan. Rare transmission above 1,000 m. Estimated relative risk of malaria for US travelers: Moderate.
- The UK advice from Travel health pro UK : There is a low risk of malaria in Myanmar: awareness of risk and bite avoidance recommended.
- The French advice: Risk of malaria transmission if you stay in a rural environment. No risk in the Yangon, Mandalay, Inle, Bagan zone.
Vaccination paludisme (malaria): Une prophylaxie antiamarile est indispensable pour les zones à risques. L'OMS (depuis novembre 2011) considere que dans la zone Yangon Mandalay Inle Bagan, il n'y a pas de risque pour les touristes et que la prophylaxie n'est pas indispensable.
Ngapali beach seems to have a higher malaria risk, because mosquito's are present year-round. The coastal zone of Arakan/Rakhine gets massive amounts of rain and has plenty of water for mozzies to breed in even in the dry winter season.
CDC Seasonal Malaria chart.
In short: malaria depends on the weather and is seasonal in Myanmar. The chance of catching it is higher in endemic areas like jungles and swamps, and in high rainfall area's. Even in the second world war the experts knew that malaria is seasonal - see the chart below.
Food-borne disease (dysentery, typhoid fever, travellers diarrhea) are more likely to happen in Myanmar than in Thailand. Avoid fish if it is not local, I believe the necessity of keeping fish fresh is often not understood and practiced. For example, seafood and fish poisoning (fish, shellfish, prawn, shrimps) seems to be quite common in Myanmar.
And if you are travelling during the monsoon, after nightfall, when the mozzies start humming; it is smart to "spray and cover up."
Seasonal Malaria chart for Myanmar, 1945.
Some people always get mozzie bites no matter what; in that case just get the malaria pills. If you go trekking, sleep in very cheap guesthouses or homes, get drunk and wake up in the local park, or are a mosquito magnet then take all the stuff you doctor advises you. Do plenty of research on vaccinations and consult a travel doctor before you travel to Myanmar.
Myanmar doesn't have the modern hospitals of Thailand, and it used to have a higher malaria rate than its neighbors, especially in the mountainous, remote western areas of Rakhine and Chin state. But there are currently several succesful programs for malaria prevention, and eventual elimination by 2030. In the last ten years Malaria cases in myanmar have dropped quickly, see more: www.rfa.org ( RFA, Radio Free Asia, 1-11-2018: Malaria cases in myanmar see huge drop).
Myanmar: a high rabies endemic country.
Myanmar is classified by the World Health Organization as a "high rabies endemic country." Myanmar's dog population is about 4 million; and an estimated 600.000 people are bitten annually. The cause of the many stray dogs is that in a Buddhist country like Myanmar, people are generally against the killing of any animal.
Municipal authorities in Myanmar's larger cities are culling the dogs regularly, with Yangon city killing about 2500 dogs each month. However, in smaller towns this is not the case. For example in Nyaung Shwe, Inle lake, there are way too many stray dogs. Sometimes at night you hear a few dogs howling, but occasionally a pack of 50 or more dogs might start their nighttime concert. A dog-orchestra of that size can be rather disconcerting.
The small villages around Inle lake used to solve their stray dog problem by putting the dogs on a boat and moving them to the other side of the lake. However, the opposite village usually repaid the compliment by reversing the operation. It appears many wild dogs have now ended up in the main town, Nyaung Shwe.
Rabies is a 100% fatal disease but at the same time 100% preventable. If you get bitten, you should go to a hospital within 24 hours. The post-exposure treatment (PEP - post-exposure prophylaxis) should start as early as possible after exposure, preferably within 72 hours. The PEP treatment is available in Yangon but not in small towns and villages. For example Nyaung Shwe has a very small hospital with few or no english speaking staff, so it is probably best to avoid it.
In Yangon or Bangkok a full course of the PEP vaccine treatment costs around $200 inluding consultation; it is administered over a period of three weeks. For a dog bite a Tetanus vaccination is also required.
News in Myanmar Times (12-nov-2018) :
- mmtimes.com - In Myanmar rabies is now more common than malaria, with around 600.000 bites and 1000 deaths every year.
- irinnews.org - Rabies in Myanmar is endemic.
- www.who.int - WHO: 23000 to 25000 people die in the SE-Asia region due to rabies.
International animal welfare organisation Four Paws will hold an anti-rabies vaccination for one million dogs and cats in Myanmar from 2019 to 2021. There are about four million dogs in Myanmar and 70 percent of them are strays. We aim to vaccinate 300,000 dogs in the first year of the project.
The Rabies catch-22.
If you are bitten by a dog, it is possible to just observe the dog for 10 days and see if it develops symptoms. However, the catch-22
is that it is compulsory to start treatment immediately after a bite. Also; observing the dog for 10 days may not be long enough.
List of geographical names.
In 1989 the name Burma was changed to Myanmar and many other British colonial names were changed - with the exception of Mandalay. This is a list of changes to the old British colonial names.
British colonial name - Myanmar name:
old name - new name
Akyab - Sittwe (Sittway)
Amherst - Kyaikkami (Kyaik-kami)
Ava - Innwa / Inwa
Bassein - Pathein
Bilugyun - Bilu island
Demoso - Demawso (Kayah state)
Fort Herz - Putao
Gokteik - Gokhteik (also: Goke theik, Goteik)
Thibao - Hsipaw (also: Thipaw, Thibaw)
Kyaukme - Kyaukme (pronounced ChowkMei)
Kengtung - KiangTung (also:
Chiang Tung, Kyaing Tong, Kyine Tone)
Kyaik Htee Yoe - Kyaiktiyo (near Golden Rock pagoda)
Magwe - Magway
Maymyo - Pyin U Lwin (also: Pyin Oo Lwin)
Martaban - Mottama
Mergui - Myeik
Moulmein - Mawlamyine (also: Mawlamyaing)
Mt. Victoria - Nat Ma Taung
Myohaung - Mrauk-U (pronounced Myow Oo)
Pagan - Bagan
Pegu - Bago (pronounced Peh kou)
Prome - Pyay
Rangoon - Yangon
Sandoway - Thandwe
Tavoy - Dawei
Toungoo - Taungoo (Bago region)
Taungup - Taunggok (Rakhine state)
Victoria Point - Kawthaung
Yawnghwe - Nyaung Shwe
Changed Myanmar state names.
old name - new name
Arakan state - Rakhine state
Irrawaddy region - Ayeyarwady region
Karen state - Kayin state (Capital: Hpa-An)
Karenni state - Kayah state (Capital: Loikaw)
Mergui district - Myeik district
Tenasserim state - Tanintharyi state
Changed Myanmar rivers and lakes.
old name - new name
Chindwinn - Chindwin River
Irrawaddy - Ayeyarwady River
Inlay lake - Inle Lake
Lemyo River - Lay Myo river, Laymyo river (Rakhine)
Mong Pai lake - MoeBye lake (Moe Bye or Mobye Lake)
Salween River - Thanlwin River
Sittang River - Sittaung River
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"Mandalay for the speaking, Yangon for the bragging, and Mawlamyine for the eating".
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