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Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

This sprawling and stunning city tells a story at every turn and is filled with secrets, history and spirituality. Truly one of the most beautiful and unspoilt cities left in Asia today, emerging out its turbulent past to be a dynamically peaceful destination for those who prefer a more authentic taste of Asia’s soul.

 

Story

Yangon was formerly known as Rangoon and is the former capital of Burma, as it was known then. The new capital is Naypyidaw, however this is still the biggest city and economic hub.

A wonderful fusion of Burmese, British, Chinese and Indian influences it is a fascinating and beautiful place. Bustling with energy, relaxed in its colonial charm with the highest and biggest concentration of British heritage houses languishing in dilapidated grandeur and a naivety of mass tourism make this one of the most alluring Asian destinations.

The city started as Dagon and was a small fishing village centred around the iconic golden Shwedagon Pagoda. It became the capital of British Burma and was known as the ‘garden city of Asia’ with its spacious parks, colonial buildings and Burmese wooden houses. The British also installed an infrastructure to rival London. After a stint under Japanese rule in World War II it was retaken by the allies and finally gained independence in 1948.

Under the rule of the Military Junta the city has opened up since the 1990’s and now is easily accessible for travellers. The city suffered a lot of neglect during the isolationist years of Ne Win’s rule 1962-88.

But with economic expansion in the 1990’s many colonial buildings were demolished to make way for new high rises, this led to the creation of the Yangon City Heritage List in 1996.

After years of struggle the first truly democratic elections are due to take place in November 2015 with Aung San Suu Kyi or ‘The Lady’ expected to win a landslide majority with her NLD (National League of Democracy) Party. After years of house arrest and her persistent struggle for democracy in Myanmar, the Nobel Prize winning political prisoner was fully released in 2010, paving the way to run for President in these elections. However the constitution needs at least one military general to back her to the presidency if she wins. With mounting national and international pressure it is hoped truly democratic will take place in Burma in 2015. Her stance and lack of speaking out on the behalf on the persecuted Rohingya population with the international community has however discredited her with the international community in recent months.

Sleep-01

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

Sleep

The Belmond Governor’s Residence and a featured Eco Escapeis a beautifully restored colonial mansion of the former governors of British Burma. Set in beautiful gardens with a sprawling swimming pool hugging this latticed teak house, it is the perfect oasis in the city.

Colonial charm resonates throughout the property and gives glimpses into the past set amongst the ambassadorial neighbourhood. Within easy access to everything this is the quintessential colonial experience in the city.

Spacious suites decorated with classical teak interiors and Burmese art and textiles providing a warm and luxurious escape in the city. Fabulous Burmese curry dinners, beautiful breakfasts interrupted with the appearance of peacocks, stunning cocktails in the bar and a heavenly spa; it is the best place to explore Yangon’s treasures. Complimentary bike tours of the city are the slow and easy way to get around and see all the sights, pagodas and colonial beauty of this green and sprawling city.

This is a must stay in Yangon www.belmond.com/governors-residence-yangon

Shwedagon-Pagoda-01

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon is the oldest pagoda in the world at 2600 years old. A place that is almost too beautiful to imagine it really does look like you have reached Shangri La. Monks and pilgrims circumnavigate the pagoda and the array of tiny temples scattered around, the novice children running and laughing in the golden light. The scent of flowers and incense fill the air as the hues of light are reflected in this magnificent monument.

It is one of the most recognised pagodas in the world and its golden stupa glistens above Yangon on top of a hill ninety-nine metres high, hence being known as ‘the crown of Burma’. Reached by elevator or walking up the hill through passageways lined with stalls selling alms, souvenirs and fresh flowers, this is a place of pilgrimage for all Burmese. The dome itself is made of plated gold topped with a stupa of over seven thousand diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires topped with a huge emerald to reflect the setting sun.

It is said to contain eight hair of Buddha and the whole place is thought of as indestructible. Shwedagon survived the major earthquake in 1769, a huge fire and 1931 and several smaller quakes that damaged other monuments in the last century. It is therefore thought of as indestructible and a place of great importance so although there are many pagodas throughout Yangon, this one you should definitely make the time to watch the sun go down and marvel in its beauty.

www.shwedagonpagoda.com

Savour-01

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

Savour

Also located in the Dagon District is Feel Restaurant, an amazing little place buzzing with life and a great place to try a huge array of Burmese dishes and deserts. Firmly put on the map by a visit from it Anthony Bourdain covers Shan, Myanmar, Indian influenced and Chinese food so there are around thirty different types of dishes to choose from at any one time.

It is a very informal place where you go up to the counter and choose what dishes you like whilst the staff are very helpful guiding you through the array. Rice, raw salad, thanatsone, and soup are brought to your table along with your choices. Piquant and hot dishes of the more Shan influence explode with opposing flavours in your mouth, creamy rich beef curry balls, lone kyaw, and a spinach soup, chin hin, all meld together to make this a laid back and memorable Myanmar meal.

Outside there is a huge selection of traditional sweets that are delectable and made with local ingredients. Sanwin Makin, is a semolina pudding made with coconut milk, ghee, sugar and cardamom and is aromatic, rich, creamy and delicious. Accompany it with an ice coconut and sago drink for a velvety finish to your meal and a good nights sleep. It is best to head to Feel early as they shut the kitchens and the food goes fast.

For an outdoor and very authentic dining experience head to 19th Street inChinatown where you can wander through the food market and choose from lots of food stall barbeques or little restaurants and snack sellers. Also a market for clothing and electrical goods this is a place that is full of life and colour and noise and a must visit when in Yangon.

The best way to eat here is to head to one of the many fresh seafood counters lining the road and pick what you would like from a whole grilled fish to huge prawns from the Irrawaddy River or clams. Freshly basted and grilled in front of you and served with rice and cooked vegetable skewers, this is fresh simple and fantastic food in amongst a very local neighbourhood.

As this is predominantly a fruit and vegetable market closest to the road then finish with tropical fruits or head to one of the local bakeries serving warm pastries and cakes. Markets are always the best way to get a feel for a country and the vibrant nights in Chinatown are no exception filled with vendors, workers coming for dinner, food shoppers and a smattering of tourists.

 

Sightseeing

Sightseeing-01

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

Apart from the majestic Shwedagon there are many spiritual and interesting sites to visit throughout the capital. With such a rich and cultured history as well as darker days there are plenty of places to see.

The Botatoung & Sale Pagodas are both well worth a visit. Botatoung is almost more like a museum of holy relics and also contains the hair of Buddha and ashes of monks and other religious figures. Destroyed by a fire in World War II it was said that a small cask containing the hairs was found untouched in the ashes, so the pagoda was rebuilt. Sale Pagoda is located downtown near Chinatown and is an amazing place to wander around its golden glimmering labyrinth of corridors and walkways.

On a more sombre note the Thaukkyan War Memorial out of town is a beautifully maintained to remember all those who lost their lives in the Burmese wars. For those looking to trace their ancestors there is a register at the front. It is a deeply moving and beautifully preserved place. The Bogyoke Aung SanMuseumwas the last home of General Aung San before his assassination in 1947. It documents his life, the founding of the Burmese Communist Party and his road to democracy from British Colonial Rule. Initially anti British, he founded his Burmese Army in Bangkok in exile whilst aligned with the Japanese during the Second World War. However he was quickly disillusioned with what became the country’s next imperialist rulers and returned his allegiances to the British, who won back Burma and gave them independence after the war, after an agreement with Clement Atlee and Lord Mountbatten. Sadly the opposition assassinated him six months before seeing the day he had dedicated his life to.

Kandawgyi Lake is one of Yangon’s beautiful verdant parks that are the perfect place to relax and stroll from the mid afternoon heat. It is famous for the replica of the royal barge Karaweik that unfortunately now has an expensive gaudy restaurant inside. However it is well worth a stroll around and there are other small restaurants and cafés to enjoy lunch. Yangon is a very green city and was known as the ‘garden city of South East Asia’ before Singapore claimed the title. The lovely Inya Park and Perople’s Park are well worth a stroll for a respite from the vibrant yet traditional bustling city beyond.

 

Shopping

Shopping-01

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

Markets are always wonderful places to discover local produce, products and crafts and Yangon is no exception. Bogyoke Aung San or Scotts Market is definitely the place to go. Built in 1926 and inspired by London’s Covent Garden – it’s colonial exterior is another example of how many beautiful buildings are scattered throughout this city, and the St. Marys Cathedral is a stones throw away.

Once inside prepared to bargain and be overwhelmed by the sights, smells and sounds of the busiest market. There are a lot of souvenirs and gold shops but a wander through the spacious hall and surrounding smaller ones is a shoppers delight teeming with colour, textile, antiques and art. There is also an art gallery at the back that is filled with local artists and antique lacquer pieces, new pieces and handicrafts. There are also a lot of fabrics and traditional textiles on sale that are intricate, delicate and flamboyant. Alleyways fan out surrounding the main building filled with a riot in rainbow colours of materials, shoes, rattan, puppets and bags.

In the middle are jewellery stores selling a lot of gold and Burmese rubies, sapphires, jade from China and other gemstones from India. Although it is tempting to but here, make sure you know something about buying stones, as some are heat treated to enhance the colour making them less valuable. However there are many beautiful pieces to be found and just do a little bit of research first.

This is a wonderful market to find everything under one roof, grab some Shan noodles and fruit juice on the side of the street, change some money on the black market and generally shop and soak up the atmosphere.

Photos Courtesy Of Electra Gillies, Feel Restaurant & Go Myanmar

 
 
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