Last update: Sept 10, 2017
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.
When is the best time to visit Myanmar?
Winter - November to February.
The weather in winter is warm but not stifling, and some cool nights are possible but most of the time you will probably use air conditioning.
November is probably the best month, not much rain but beautiful cloudy skies and fresh sparkling greenery everywhere. December and January are slightly cooler.
This is the busy high season for tourism. 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 heavy rainstorms and flooded streets in Yangon; whereas the climate further north is not so wet. 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 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 Yomas (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 division: Dawei, Myeik. Mon state: Mawlamyine.
Arakan division: 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
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 this 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 not very similar and they do not take the monsoon into account:
Do plenty of research on vaccinations and consult a travel doctor before you travel to Myanmar.
- 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 National Travel Health Network : Malaria risk is present throughout the year in all areas except the major cities Mandalay and Yangon. Risk is highest in Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Rakhine, Sagaing and Tanintharyi states.
- 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.
In short: malaria chances are seasonal and higher in endemic area's like jungles and swamps, around the borders of burma. Even in the second world war the experts knew that malaria is seasonal - see the chart below. It's quite complicated to estimate you chances but - catching a food-borne disease (dysentery, typhoid fever, travellers diarrhea) is much more likely to happen. 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.
And if you are a mosquito magnet; the kind of person that always gets mozzie bites no matter what then just get the malaria pills.
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 from the old British colonial names to the new Myanmar 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 - Goktheik (railway viaduct/thresle also: Goke theik)
Hsipaw - Hsipaw (also: Thipaw, Thibaw)
Kyaukme - Kyaukme (Kyaukme can be pronounced ChowMein)
Kengtung - KiangTung (also: Chiang Tung, Kyaing Tong, Kyine Tone)
Kyaik Htee Yoe - Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock pagoda near Kyaikto village)
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 (Mrauk U is pronounced Meow 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 (Mrauk-U, Rakhine)
Mong Pai lake - MoeBye reservoir (also: 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".
copyright © 2016 Rolf Schierbeek. Any comments or improvements? Please mail me at : bytelife AT gmail.com