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Yangon

in front of the Old British High Court at Mahabandoola Park

Yangon is where visitors usually begin or end their journey in Myanmar. This historical trading port, formerly Rangoon under the British becoming its capital in 1885 with the British conquest of both Lower and Upper Burma, remains a melting pot of ethnicities. The downtown area has the largest concentration of colonial era buildings in Southeast Asia- some crumbling, and some being restored to remember the incredible history and heritage of this city.

The capital was moved to Naypyitaw in 2005, but Yangon remains the vibrant commercial center of Myanmar.

Sule Pagoda is at the heart of downtown and a crossroads for locals.
Legend tells of a powerful spirit nat, Sularata who helped find a suitable place for a sacred hair-relic of Buddha to be housed. This spot became what is today Sule Pagoda- 44 meters high which had been enlarged several times by later kings.  It was Sularata who also determined the site where Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda was to be built later.
The British during the 19th century, developed the downtown street grid layout with the major streets all leading to the Sule. This small octagonal pagoda has always been an important meeting point. Sule comes from the word suway which means meeting.  Sule Pagoda served as a rallying point for the 1988 uprising and the 2007 saffron revolution.

Young people today out enjoying themselves at Mahabandoola Park with Sule Pagoda in the background.
The park is home to Independence Monument and the white building is the City Hall.

Street food and teashops are a big part of the culture.

Burmese food enjoys a mix of Indian, Chinese and Thai flavours and food is everywhere, any time of day, wander the side streets filled with fresh food markets and tea shops.

Years lacking development have left many parts of the city in disrepair and power outages are still common. Traffic has become more chaotic with a flood of new vehicles. With a new era ushering in, there is so much to be done.

Yangon Heritage Trust is working to preserve the architectural heritage of downtown Yangon.
Join one of their walking tours exploring the riverfront and Strand Road where the famous Strand Hotel is, or along Pansodan, Sule Pagoda roads and into Chinatown.
Learn more:
http://www.yangonheritagetrust.org/home

Short You Tube introducing Yangon’s old architecture by Heritage Trust co-founder and historian
Thant Myint U:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxzqKwCEt-c

 

Shwedagon Pagoda
The spiritual heart of Yangon and Myanmar.
Shwe means gold and Dagon was the original name of the town before it became Yangon (meaning the end of strife).

A magical time to visit is late afternoon as evening light emerges

Dating back more than 2500 years, the original pagoda was only nine meters high and was built on a hill to house the eight sacred hair-relics of Buddha. The legend tells of two brothers traveling when they encountered the Buddha under a tree. After offering the Buddha food, the Buddha gave them a gift of eight hairs from his own head. The brothers then carried these hairs back home and presented them to the king.

The current bell-shaped stupa (or chedi) rises 99 meters and has reportedly accumulated  53 tons of gold leaf. The bell of the chedi rises in a band of symbolic downturned and upturned lotus petals to what is called the Banana Bud, topped with 1.4 ton seven-tiered umbrella crown known as a hti. On top of this hti is a weather vane and a 76 carat diamond. The tiers of the hti are studded with thousands of precious and semiprecious stones.

Throngs of people come each day to worship or socialize. The Buddhist culture embraces a combination of Buddhist and Hindu cosmology, mythology, spirit worship and alchemy.
Planetary Posts around the chedi represent the eight directions of the compass and its associated sign, planet and day of the week.

Worshippers come to the planetary post of the day they were born to offer cooling water to the Buddha and its vehicle.


Groups of caretaker associations volunteer and here is the group of sweepers on their rounds.

Four covered walkways guarded by Chinthes- mythological lions, lead up to the main platform. All except the eastern stairway, have an elevator or escalator.  Lining the entrance ways are rows of shops selling flowers, incense, prayer beads, wooden Buddhas, bronze temple bells and toys for children.  Shwedagon is open from 4am unil 10pm. You need to remove your shoes and foreigners pay an entrance fee of USD 5- the ticket is valid all day so you can come in the morning and return in the evening.  Reaching the top platform, the visual senses are simply overwhelmed. You can spend hours absorbing the energy here- a sacred space which has survived through wars and political turmoil.

A traditional novitiation ceremony taking place. A young boy who enters the monkhood is at first dressed up to represent Prince Siddhartha who later renounces his worldly goods to begin life as a monastic. It is common for young males to ordain for even short periods of time as an act of merit in honor of their mother or a deceased relative.


A group of ethnic Palaung pilgrims one beautiful early morning.


Exploring more of Yangon:

Bogyoke Aung San (Scott’s) Market:
Crafts, gems and textiles- this has has everything from all over the country. Locals, both men and women, love their longyis so here is a good place to starting finding your favorite.
For a collection of ethnic textiles, visit Yoyamay the shop of Daw Khun Shwe – upstairs in Main Building www.yoyamay.com


Yangon Art Scene
is thriving with galleries and gatherings worthwhile to check out:

National Museum and Hall of Arts:
a bit dark and musty, but if interested in history, this place offers a good introduction.  Located on Pyay Road. Entrance fee is  5000 Kyats.


Kandawgyi Park and Lake:

a relief from chaos within the city, is this green oasis with a view of Shwedagon. Popular with locals to relax and to enjoy the many restaurants and cafes.

Yangon Circular Train:
Enjoy half-a day riding this local commuter train built in 1954. A 39km loop gives you a great impression of local life passing by some great local markets.  Buy a ticket and travel on your own for only 300 Kyats, or join a guided tour giving you a better insight knowing where to hop off and back on to the train.


Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha:

Located about 3km northeast of Shwedagon and Kandawgyi Lake area, the impressive reclining Buddha is 65 meters long.
On the feet of the Buddha are symbols representing 108 auspicious characteristics of Buddha. The auspicious number 108 is derived from 9 planets x 12 months of the year.

Across the street is the  Nga Htat Gyi with a 14 meter high seated Buddha image.

 

 

Panditarama Meditation Center founded by Sayadaw U Pandita is also located in this area north of the city center. For more on Meditation Centers: http://www.buddhanet.net/medburma.htm

 

Accomodations in Yangon:

Downtown area:
close to railway station and walking distance to downtown and Scott’s Market:

The Loft Boutique Hotel

Park Royal

Close to Sule Pagoda, also easy walk to Scott’s Market:

Budget:
City Star Hotel clean and comfortable behind City Hall and just across the street is the Independence Monument Park: www.citystarhotelyangon.com

North of Downtown:

Classique Inn: small boutique home style: www.classique-inn.com

Luxury:
The Governor’s Residence


Food:

Feel Myanmar – a favorite place for locals as well to try different Myanmar dishes. Pyi Daung Su Yeik Tha Road in the Embassy area. (just down from Indonesian Embassy)

Padonmar Restaurant – more upscale in beautiful house also in Embassy area on Kha Yae-Bin Road.

 

Back to Main Myanmar Page
– Mandalay and Royal Cities
– River Journeys

Pwin Oo Lwin and Train to Hsipaw
Inle Lake  and  Pindaya and Kalaw
Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp near Kalaw

Bagan
Travel to Myanmar and within by air and overland
– E-VISA Link:  
www.evisa.moip.gov.mm

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