The capital city of Myanmar sits on a spit of land surrounded on three sides by water. Home to close to four million people, Yangon has a unique charm with its old colonial buildings, tree lined streets, bustling local markets and tranquil lakes. Pagodas glisten amongst trees and houses, notably Shwedagon Pagoda which is built on a small hill and is visible from many parts of the city.
Yangon became the capital of Myanmar in 1885, and is a thriving sea port and home to Shwedagon Pagoda. The small town grew rapidly, on a grid pattern around Sule Pagoda, an excellent landmark in the downtown area to this day due to its 46 metre high golden chedi.
According to legend, Sule Pagoda is more than 2000 years old and is said to enshrine a hair of the Buddha. The area around it is a hiv of local activity, alive with numerous small shops and business. The largest market in Yangon, Bogyoke Aung San Market, (formerly Scott Market), is near Sule Pagoda and one of the best places to hunt for souvenirs. Wood carvings, lacquer ware, longyis (sarongs), Shan bags and basket ware are among the many things to choose from.
Old colonial buildings are frequent sites, many of which are now occupied by Government offices. The City Hall is one of the grandest, a massive stone structure with a traditional peacock seal above the entrance, lending to it a distinctive Burmese flavour. The Supreme Court, High Court, and Railway Administration buildings are also magnificent remembrances of the bygone era. Famous thoroughfares in the city include Strand Road, Merchant Street and Mahabandoola Street, along which you can see pastel-painted shop houses.
On the river front, not far from the famous Strand Hotel, is Botataung Pagoda, one of the most important in Yangon, and said to house a hair and two other relics of the Buddha. The inside of the Pagoda is lined with mirrors and glass display cabinets containing many of the ancient relics and artefacts which were originally sealed inside the stupa. Close by is Botataung Jetty, and excellent place to watch ferries crossing the Yangon River.
The recently renovated National Museum is also well worth a visit, housing numerous exhibits that are testament to the wealth of the former kings of Myanmar.
Heading out of the town centre, you will find Kandawgyi (or Royal ) Lake and its surrounding gardens. It is both a pleasant place to walk and a place to find many local restaurants. Sunset at Kandawgyi Lake looking towards Shwedagon Pagoda is one of Yangon's most memorable experiences.
Described by Kipling as "a beautiful, winking wonder", Shwedagon Pagoda has to be one of the most magnificent monuments on earth. Its exact time of origin is hidden in folklore and legend,but it is said to be the 11th century, although the most current construction dates from 1769. The stupa is plated with more than 8000 solid gold slabs and its tip is set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and topaz. A huge emerald in the middle of the stupa catches the first and last rays of the sun. Around the golden stupa are more than 100 smaller stupas, pavilions and administrative halls. Eight hairs of Buddha and other relics are said to be enshrined in Shwedagon Pagoda.
Myanmar is profoundly Buddhist country and Shwedagon is the 'heart' of Buddhist Myanmar. It is always bustling with people who come to worship, picnic, read or simply absorb their surroundings. Dawn or dusk are the best times to visit although there is always plenty of activity there.
Heading out of the city towards the airport, you will pass close to Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 72 metre long reclining Buddha.
Yangon is changing fast as international investment comes into Myanmar. Construction sites and more cars appear on the roads almost everyday. However, the city has a very special charm, and one which will certainly be preserved in spite of the changing skyline.