Colonial Yangon, the Rangoon of my imagination.
We set off on foot early the following day, before breakfast to take advantage of the cool morning air, to explore the city centre.
Our stroll meandered into town and became more built up the nearer we got, crossing over an overgrown railway that led down to the river. Hawkers and street vendors were already in full swing, stalls were busy with tea drinkers and people were washing the dust off their cars.
A side street was a vibrantly lined with market stalls selling produce and flowers, it certainly paid to shop early, before the stifling heat of the day.
We passed a parked bus, it was painted in bright primary colours with three birds in flight painted on the side. The bus seemed at odds with the surroundings, a vision of freedom in a land where the average person has historically had very little. This cheery bus seemed to represent optimism and hope, a changing Myanmar.
Our route took us down Pansodan Street, suddenly we were passing imposing colonial buildings, they towered over the passers by like giants from another era.
A shiver went down my spine, it was something I hadn’t expected. I’d known about the British rule, the exile of King Thibaw and destruction of the Mandalay Palace, but what I hadn’t considered was that there would be British buildings in the city. I’ve been in many colonial cities yet colonial Yangon took me by surprise.
It was like a nineteenth century/early twentieth century British street had been transplanted to this hot, humid Asian city. Many of the grand buildings were deliciously art deco having been built in the 20’s, this filled me with glee, deco-lover that I am!
The Strand Hotel, a colonial relic looking as smart now as it must have done in its heyday, the vintage bus parked outside adding to its yesteryear charms.
I adored the old Customs House, a pale mint coloured building with octagonal domed towers on each corner, tattier than most of the buildings nearby it reminded me of the crumbling facades of Kolkata, India.
We headed back into the city up Sula Paya Road, to Sula Paya, another golden zedi, this pagoda set within a traffic roundabout.
Sula Paya may not look particularly ancient but the site has been a temple for around two thousand years. As a city landmark it couldn’t be more perfect, the British centered their grid-plan city on this radiant stupa, why build a monument when a magnificent golden zedi could be used instead.
No one quite knows how old this current incarnation of the temple is, like many of the golden zedi up and down the country the stupa has been revived many times.
With its angular shape, the pagoda looks all the more exotic against the european architecture that surrounds it.
We dodged the traffic to cross over to the ring of shops circling the temple, now on the hunt for wifi or internet so we could book our next accommodation (we hadn’t been able to connect at our hotel). We asked at a bakery and a donut shop without any luck then a friendly local gave us two addresses for internet cafes further up the street but when we eventually found them both had closed down. We learnt there and then that the telephone rules in Burma.
It may have been early yet Yangon was alive, the atmosphere was relaxed though, it wasn’t a typically chaotic Asian city. The traffic was light too, and noticeably lacking in motorbikes, and their accompanying noise. Two-wheeled vehicles are banned from Yangon’s streets apparently due to a military leader being hit by a motorcycle, whatever the reason it makes Yangon a unique city in Asia because of this!
I’d fallen for Yangon, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, the Rangoon of my imagination. I loved the crumbling colonial architecture, the cultural mix of people, the bustling, vibrant streets and the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda, it was a wrench to leave so soon, I wanted more time!
Leave we must though, we had a tight schedule, a lot to see and a train to catch.
The Myanmar Rail Experience. Exactly what it’s like to take the overnight sleeper to Bagan: an adventure!
Bagan, You’ve Never Seen So Many Temples Oh my goodness wow! WOW!
The Iconic Bagan Sunrise to the Unforgettable Sunset. Hot air balloons, well worth getting up before dawn!
Wine and Hot Springs: Cycling Lake Inle Not some thing I’d ever imagined I’d do in Myanmar!
Lake Inle Boat Trip. An Extraordinary Day In Burma! Ok, it’s touristy, but it is incredible and it’s magical!
On The Rails To Mandalay. The Mail Train To Thazi. Another wobbly train through Myanmar, this time through the beautiful hills.
The Golden Land: Travels Through Burma a video ‘trailer’ for these posts about Myanmar.
Golden Yangon Arriving into Myanmar and being utterly astounded by the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda!