Some love Yangon and some hate it, some spend many days there and some just go to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. Here are some information about the city and the 6 things that you shouldn’t miss.
Yangon is the biggest city of Myanmar and, even though it hasn’t been the capital since 2006, it remains the most important commercial center in the country. The city of Yangon is developing fast and new high-rise residential and business buildings are growing side-by-side with the old and worn colonial architecture. This is happening in the greater Yangon area, but the outskirts are still poor and highly undeveloped.
The city saw its maximum development during colonial times, when the british built most of the infrastructure, hospitals, schools and public services. After their independence, in 1948, the development stopped and the lack of maintenance brought to a deterioration of the city and it’s infrastructures. Over the years Yangon became more and more indigenous, most of the anglo-burmese left the city and it became the center of the violent anti-government protests in recent years.
In 2008, cyclone Nargis put the city on its knees with over US $800 million in losses, leaving the country with the most undeveloped infrastructure compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Blackouts a few hours long at a time hit the city almost daily and most of the condos and hotels had to invest in independent generators if they wanted constant electricity.
That said, Yangon has the highest number of colonial buildings, markets, pagodas and beautiful parks in Southeast Asia, so what are the Top Things To See In Yangon?
1 – Downtown
Downtown Yangon is the historical part of the city. The majority of the colonial buildings are in this area: the Custom House, Strand Hotel, High Court, St Paul High School, the red brick post office and more. The area isn’t interesting just for its historical heritage, it’s also the best part when it comes to observing people and the bustling life of the city. The high buildings are dotted with big satellite dishes and laundry hanging out the windows, the streets are busy with old cars, people, food, small tea shops in every corner, books and other random items for sale. Downtown is the heart of Yangon.
2 – Sule Paya
Used as a roundabout in the middle of a busy intersection, the pagoda is the real expression of the burmese mix of traditional and new. In Myanmar you will see pagodas everywhere, they have been built over the years in the most unusual places and many of them are hard to reach. Sule Paya, with its architecture and location, creates an unusual contrast with the surroundings. The colonial City Hall is just a few steps away and there is a park behind it with busy streets around. The best thing to do is to sit at the Maha Bandoola garden and enjoy the view.
3 – Bogyoke (or Scott) Market
At the market you can find many different things: gems and jewelry, handcrafted luxury items and a tailor section where you can have your longyi made up, choosing from the beautiful fabrics. The building that hosts the main market is from the colonial time, which offers a very nice setting, and the streets around the it are set as markets for selling food, cheap clothes, bags, books, and many other items.
The lakes are perfect for a break from the busy and hot city. There are a few restaurants and bars under the shade where you can enjoy the cooler temperatures and a refreshing drink. The garden itself is nice for a peaceful walk and you can’t miss the Karaweik Palace. The palace is actually used as a restaurant and hotel where you can enjoy a buffet dinner and cultural performances every evening. It looks like a boat tracked on the lake with 2 big golden swans in the front and, as usual in Myanmar’s architecture, gold is the leader.
5 – Dala
Dala is the rural area across the river from Yangon. You can get there by taking the ferry from Pansodan Street jetty on Strand Road ($4 return) and, once there, you will find many trishaw that will want to take you around for $8 per hour. Find one that speaks English and can explain to you the situation about the villages and the history of the temples. Even though the two sides of the river are very close to each other and a flood of people cross it every day, going to Dala is like jumping into a completely different world. The area is rural, peaceful and inhabited mainly by fisherman living in bamboo huts. Kids go to the clean water lakes to get water for the family, women carry big baskets over their heads, there are no cars and cows roam around freely—very different from the bustling and trafficked downtown just across the river. It’s a very nice experience if you want to get in contact with the rural communities and way of life.
6 – Shwedagon Pagoda
Last but not least is the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar. The pagoda is visible from most parts of the city and is accessible by different roads across markets that sell souvenirs and offers items for the temple. At every entrance you will be welcomed by big and impressive Chinthe: the half lion and half dragon pagoda guardians. The big golden stupa in the middle is surrounded statues and the whole complex is an explosion of gold that will leave you with your mouth open. The pagoda has experienced several damages over the years but has still existed for over 2,600 years, which makes it the oldest pagoda in the world. It is very popular with peregrines that visit it, especially during the holidays and weekends. The best time to visit is for the sunset when, even though it gets busier, the pink sky creates an unforgettable atmosphere.
What are yor favorite things about Yangon?