Bhamo is located on the Ayeyarwady River about 186 kilometers south of the Kachin State capital Myitkyina. It lies just 65 kilometers from the border with China’s Yunnan Province and the population consists of Chinese and Shan, with Kachin people living mostly in the hills around the town. Bhamo was an important trading post with the Chinese Empire up to the 19th century, when copper coins from China flowed into Burma through the city. VOC (United Dutch East India Company) records identified these copper coins as an important source of profit, and also mention the presence of a Customs Office in Bhamo to regulate the border trade.
As of 1935 the town was situated at the highest navigable point of the river, and was the terminus of caravan routes from India and Burma, by which jade, in particular, was brought into China. Bhamo was once called Sampanago, the capital of the long-disappeared Shan kingdom of Manmaw. The ruins of the old city walls, dating from the fifth century, can be found some 5 kilometers from the modern town.
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