Yangon, or Rangoon as it was once known, was chosen as the British capital in 1885 and today you can see the last intact ‘colonial centre’ in the region; while there may be hints of the olden days in cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, glittering skyscrapers are now the norm. The city features many buildings that date back to British rule, some beautifully restored and others abandoned and in danger of being replaced by more modern structures.
The best way to explore the heart of the city is on foot. You’ll pass interesting landmarks in styles ranging from Victorian and art deco to an amalgamation of British and Burmese architecture. Many of these structures are protected as part of the Yangon City Heritage List. The gleaming City Hall is one of the most impressive buildings in the downtown area; as are the Queen Anne-style High Court and The Secretariat, which is now vacant since the capital was moved to Naypyidaw. The famous Strand Hotel, which overlooks the river near the corner of Pansodan Street buildings, was once the place to see and be seen. Pansodan Street is one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in the city, lined by the likes of the striking Rander House, the Telegraph Office and the 1920s Myanma Port Authority.
At the heart of the colonial core is the Sule Paya. Legend has it this pagoda was built before the city’s two-and-a-half-millennia-old Shwedagon Paya. It’s much smaller than its more famous counterpart, but is incredibly striking and a fantastic place to spend some time exploring, especially if you seek a moment of calm in the midst of the city bustle. In the pagoda’s more recent past, it was used as a meeting point during important political events including the 8888 Pro-Democracy Protests in 1988 and the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Another popular attraction in the area is the Bogyoke Aung San Market, which was originally built in 1926. Wander through the multi-level covered market and browse souvenir, antique, jewellery, clothing and handicrafts stalls and stores before refuelling on mouth-watering street food.
Rising like a gilded wonderland above the city, the world-famous Shwedagon Paya is the most sacred site in all of Myanmar. This striking structure dominates the city skyline and is said to house hairs of Gautama Buddha as well as relics from three former Buddhas. Entering the vast temple complex prepares you for the extravagant sights within – the four entrances (one on each point of the compass) are flanked by two chinthe sculptures, mythical Burmese lion-like creatures sedately stand guard as if protecting what is within. From here there’s a bit of a climb to the terrace, where you’ll find the main gold leaf-covered pagoda, Shwedagon, and two smaller pagodas. There are also many shrines, pavilions and statues of Buddha that have been added throughout the centuries.
Shwedagon Paya is open from 6:30am until 9:00pm; visit early if you want peace and quiet, but bear in mind that the glistening gold looks most impressive in the fading light of day and is beautifully lit up once the sun has set. You should dress conservatively and will have to leave your shoes at the entrance (don’t forget which hall you came in through), as is customary at sacred Buddhist sites. Longyi are available to borrow at the entrance, or you could buy your own from Bogyoke Aung San Market.
There are two lakes within the city – Kandawgyi and Inya – and we recommend spend some time enjoying the peace away from the busyness of downtown. Kandawgyi is home to the regal-looking Karawiek Palace, an elaborate barge where you can watch traditional dances and cultural shows. The lake is also surrounded by a boardwalk and green trees, with lovely views over the water towards Shwedagon Pagoda from its western shore.
Myanmar’s largest city is served by Yangon International Airport, which sits approximately 10 miles north of the city. Simply contact one of our team and we’ll arrange everything you need to charter a private jet to Yangon.