Reclining Buddha at the Chaukhtatgyi Temple in Yangon
Yangon, which is also called Rangoon, is the largest city in Myanmar with over 6 million residents. Although it's the largest commercial and cultural city in the country, Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar (Burma). In 2005, the former military government of Myanmar moved the capital 200 miles north to Naypyidaw, a planned city whose construction was only started in 2002.
Because of its repressive military government, many westerners omitted Myanmar from their travel bucket list for over 50 years. In 2010, when their beloved "lady" Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, attitudes began to change and the west re-discovered Myanmar. Now, many travel experts and publications have designated Myanmar as a "must-see" country, and Yangon is the place where most visitors begin their exploration.
Since Yangon is less than 20 miles from the sea, cruise travelers can visit Yangon on ocean ships, with some of the smaller ones sailing the river right up to the city. River cruise ships sailing the Irrawaddy River of Myanmar usually begin their cruise tour in Yangon. Guests stay in one of the best western hotels in the city like the Sule Shangrila Hotel, which is centrally located in downtown just a few blocks from the Bogyoke Market and Maha Bandula Park.
Yangon is filled with many construction sites, and the city is rapidly changing. Unfortunately, the infrastructure has not kept up with the growth, so basic services like reliable electricity and garbage pick-up are lacking in some parts of the city. During a period of high growth in the 1990's, many historic structures in Yangon were torn down for new housing or commercial developments. This uncontrolled growth led to the city government designating over 200 religious and British colonial era structures as protected heritage sites. These sites, along with the friendly people and fascinating culture are the highlights of why people come to Yangon.
Foot of Reclining Buddha at the Chaukhtatgyi Temple in Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon has several important Buddhist temples. One of these is Chaukhtatgyi Temple, which has a 213-foot-long reclining Buddha as its most memorable element. Like many reclining Buddhas, this one has on eye make-up, lipstick, and toenail polish.
The most distinctive feature of the reclining Buddha are the soles of his feet, which have 108 distinguishing marks representing the three worlds.
Maha Bandula Park
Maha Bandula Park is centrally located in downtown Yangon. It features the 165-foot Independence Monument and the 2500-year-old Sule Pagoda. This park is bounded by the City Hall and the High Court. During the pro-democracy protests of the late 1980's, the park was the scene of many incidences of violence and was occupied by soldiers. Today it is peaceful, quiet, and a lovely grassy area in the center of town.
Gate to the Home of Aung San Suu Kyi
Visitors won't be in Yangon very long before they hear the name of "the lady", Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the country's symbol of the path to a democratic government. During the tumultuous years of the late 20th century, she spoke to her followers many times from this gate. She still owns the house, and travelers to Yangon often ride by (as we did) to see the famous gate and the home where she was under house arrest for almost two decades.
NLD is the National League for Democracy, the democratic socialist and liberal democratic political party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.
A replica of the gate and house played a major role in the French movie, "The Lady", which is a wonderful biography of Aung San Suu Kyi.
This view of downtown Yangon was taken from the window of my room at the Sule Shangrila Hotel.
Downtown Yangon Apartments
Many of the streets in downtown Yangon are narrow and packed with traffic. It's fun to stroll and check out the tiny shops and street vendors.
Crowded Housing in Yangon
Although some of Yangon is modern and appealing, the city has many areas of low cost housing. Some of the residents do have satellite television.
Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon (Scott Market)
On the left side of this photo is the Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon, which is also called the Scott Market. This market provides a guaranteed sensory overload--so many things to see, smell, hear, and taste. The market is very busy, but the atmosphere adds to the appeal.
Buying Longyis at the Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon (Scott Market)
Our first afternoon in Yangon, my friend and I walked the few blocks from the Sule Shangrila Hotel to the Bogyoke market. I bought one of the longyis and had it altered while I waited. Fun, inexpensive shopping.
Minister's Building Compound in Yangon, Myanmar
When the British ruled Burma, the Minister's Building complex was the administrative seat of the government. This complex, which was built in the late 1800's, is a good example of the colonial buildings in the city. The building and compound are currently abandoned.
The Minister's Building has one horrific event in its history. One July 19, 1946, Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar stateman) and six cabinet ministers were assassinated in the Minister's Building. This day is now commemorated as Burmese Martyrs' Day.
View of Yangon from the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, and the 325-foot pagoda and surrounding complex occupy a beautiful hilltop site outside the city center. The views of Yangon from the Shwedagon Pagoda are breathtaking, and touring the pagoda compound at sunset is a must-do for anyone who visits the city.
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Although historians and archaeologists say the Shwedagon Pagoda was built in Yangon between the 6th and 10th centuries, Burmese legend sets the date back 2,600 years ago, making it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. Whatever the date, Shwedagon is impressive and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over the world.
This article has touched on a few of the things to see in Yangon with just a couple of days in the city. It's a great place to start exploring mysterious Myanmar. However, a cruise on the Irrawaddy River will open up even more of the country, its people, and its culture.