For reasons of both laziness and logistics, we ended up spending a fair bit of time wandering around Yangon. And, while it is not exactly Paris or New York, it was a pretty pleasant place to potter around in. Mouldy buildings and really cheap gin might not be much of a draw for many, however, they happen to be two of my favourite things. Luckily Yangon beats Paris hands-down for both.
Yangon is busy, but it’s not angry and busy, like London is when the concrete heats up and tempers shorten accordingly. There is time to perch on a tiny plastic stool and sup tea. You can pause to discuss the respective merits of jam and coconut puffs with a disarming bakery salesman. No one tuts if you stop in the middle of the pavement to nosey down a mysterious side-street, or peruse a market stall. People smiled at my kids as they negotiated the throngs, but no one tried to sell us anything, or got pissed off at our presence. Yangon is just not that kind of place.
Obviously, architecture and cheap booze are only two of the many highlights of Yangon. If you are genuinely interested in what the rest are then I am sure there are enough enthusiastic lists online, copied off Trip Advisor by people who have never visited them. Otherwise stay with me as I give you the low down on my expertly thought out and exhaustively researched, highlights of Yangon….
Highlight of Yangon #1 – Mouldy Old Colonial Buildings
Under British rule, Yangon (then Rangoon) was the capital city, hence they built plenty of government and administrative buildings, alongside business premises like banks and hotels. Lots of these colonial era buildings still remain in Yangon, in fact, Wikipedia claims that Yangon now has the highest number of colonial era buildings in South East Asia.
It is pretty easy to take in lots of them by just wandering around the City Centre and looking up. Go for a walk down Pansoedan Road and then turn left before continuing along Strand Road and you will see some of the best examples, all reasonably close together.
Now – I have a complicated relationship with mouldy old buildings, and in particular mouldy old colonial buildings. On one hand, I love them for the way they represent the changing times and for the atmosphere they create. I also get a kick out of how they can end up morphing and melding into their surroundings. On the other hand, the lack of investment, leading to loss of important architecture and valuable historical assets really pisses me off.
You will understand then, that I was both delighted and distraught by the old buildings in Yangon. Some examples are in a greater state of dilapidation than others, but most of the city centre is a photographer’s dream. I also recommend stepping off the main roads and investigating up some of the side streets and alleyways. You can still find fascinating older apartment blocks that may have fallen from their former glory, but are totally bursting with life and character.
I don’t have much talent for photographing architecture but we took a few snaps to show you what I mean.
Highlight of Yangon #2 – Really cheap gin
Everyone knows that it is an obligation for any self-respecting British person visiting any part of Asia to drink gin and tonic at least once, as it is just the only acceptable thing to do. Luckily for me, I discovered that the gin is so cheap in Yangon that it is actually cheaper to mix your tonic with gin than to drink the tonic by itself. I have reproduced the menu below to prove this fact for all disbelievers.
I case you were wondering 900 Burmese Kyats are currently equivalent to 50p or 66 US cents, and yes, it was good.
As I was just finishing off this post, I began to listen to a recent BBC podcast about the flourishing art scene in Yangon. The young artists, poets and musicians interviewed talked about how, five years ago, Yangon was a ‘deadzone’ with people afraid to walk the streets. Now, these young people are on the front line of change. They are opening galleries, hosting spoken word nights and starting literary magazines. They talked about how Burma was a country in transition and how they felt they were ‘teetering forward’. It was incredible to hear how brave they were, testing out the boundaries of their newly acquired freedoms, not quite sure yet just how far they could push, but determined to try. It absolutely confirmed to me the need for us to go back to Yangon in a few years time to see just how they how much change they have managed to drive. Plus, I need to try a Mandalay Mango, I can’t believe I missed that.