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One way to do Yangon (Rangoon)

Until recently visiting Yangon has been the preserve of a small number of river cruise ships and their passengers.

Over the last 12 months it has been noticeable that this unusual port is now the destination for  a number of ocean cruise lines and the Myanmar (formerly Burma)  port of Yangon, (formerly Rangoon) is firmly on their itineraries.

These include lines such as Regent Seven Seas (Voyager),     Azamara’s Journey and  Quest, Voyages of Discovery’s Voyager,    Oceania’s Nautica,  Crystal Serenity, Phoenix Reisen’s Albatross and even Fred Olsen’s Black Watch.

River cruise ships generally berth in the heart of Yangon while Ocean cruise ships will normally dock at Thilawa Port. Thilawa is located 25 Kilometres , about an hour’s drive,  south of Yangon: not to worry, most itineraries are scheduled over night.

The purpose of this edition of my ‘One Way to do…‘ series is to show what can be achieved while on any type of ship visit.

I have deliberately split the advice into two parts because there are some places that the visitor really ought to see and which I would strongly advise are better seen as part of an ‘organised’ tour, while the remainder are easily visited on a DIY basis.

The reason I suggest the organised tour for three sights is the fact that they really require transport and, certainly in the case of the Shwedagon Pagoda, where a guide is really essential if the visitor is going to achieve any real  insight into what is the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar.

The stunning Shwedagon Pagoda is Yangon’s most famous landmark and sits on a 114 acre site that dominates its skyline. Its massive  gold plated pagoda,  with the diamond studded spire,  dominates the area and is visible from much of the city…

There are four entrances to the complex, all of which except the Eastern one have either an escalator,  an elevator, or a covered stairway…

The centre of the Shwedagon Pagoda complex is formed by a large platform measuring 275 meters long with the main stupa and many smaller stupas surrounding it. The main stupa enshrines relics of the four previous Buddhas including sacred hair relics of the most recent Buddha.

Apart from the main stupa with the height of 99 metres (326 feet), and a circumference of 433 metres (1,421 feet) there are upwards of 47 various other pagodas, shrines, halls, stairways and museums within the complex…

A quick tour…

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The second recommended attraction is the The Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda…

At a very impressive 65 metres long and 16 metres high, the  Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha image  is housed in a large covered complex north of Kandawgyi Lake.  The Buddha is wearing a golden robe and the right arm of the Buddha  supports the back of the head. The Reclining Buddha image is decorated with very expressive colors, white face, red lips, blue eye shadow, golden robe and red finger nails…

And to give some idea of the actual size…

The Buddha feet markings in closer detail…

…and for those interested, a detailed explanation of the markings…

The third and final attraction recommended on a guided tour is famous and rather ornate Karaweik Hall Palace  on Kandawgyi Lake…

Karaweik Hall is a palace in the shape of a barge and was designed by Burmese architect U Ngwe Hlaing, who based it on the Pyigyimon royal barge.

The ‘barge’  is a two-storied concrete and stucco construction with a Buddhist style Pyatthat roof. Today it houses 2 large halls, a conference centre and a restaurant.

That completes my suggestions for places to see where a guide and transport are really needed. The sites and buildings in the remainder of this review are very achievable on one’s own.

While for sheer convenience my personal walking tour of Yangon commenced from the ‘River Cruise Ship Berth’ shown at the bottom of the above map there is no reason why a start could not be made at any point along the route, particularly if one of the highlighted sites happened to be where a tour drop-off took place…

 

Strand road runs almost parallel with the river and has many old colonial buildings situated along its entire length. Indeed, its general feature is not too dissimilar to the Bund in Shanghai.

Buildings include the Strand Hotel and the Port Authority Building (with tower) …

…seen here in more detail from from Pansodan Street…

 

…and nearby, the British Embassy…

Also at the junction of Strand Road and Pansodan Street is the rather dilapidated Accountant General’s Office…

 

Heading up Pansodan Street, once the commercial heart of Rangoon,  as far as Government Telegraph Office…

…and, on the opposite corner, the Sofaer & Co Building...

In the 1900s the Sofaer & Co Building was the epicentre of the city and housed several businesses including the China Mutual Life assurance Co. along with shops selling a variety of imported goods; from German beer, Scotch, Egyptian cigars and English sweets. Over time, the building would serve several interests, including as a Reuters telegram office, while the ground floor corner premises were occupied by the Bank of Burma.

A left turn onto Merchant Street will, in a few minutes, enter Maha Bandula Park…

…which really is ‘tourist central’ with Yangon’s ‘Independence Monument’ an unmistakeable landmark.

To the right of the park, seen here from the steps of the monument, is the High Court Building…

This aspect appears in one or two Yangon guide books, hence my eagerness to take the photograph from that particular angle. However, as the High Court also fronts onto Pansodan Street,  this  further example of colonial architecture can be viewed in considerable more detail with just a short detour…

On the same side of the park can be found the Tourist Information Office and the Immanuel Baptist Church…

…while at the far end is City Hall…

…and The Rowe Building…

The building, at the corner of Mahabandoola Road and Mahabandoola Garden Street,  and next to Yangon City Hall,  was formerly the location of prominent department store Rowe & Company.  Once among the most opulent department stores in Asia it was  known for its top quality products until falling victim to a wave of nationalisation in 1964. Its recent renovation has earned it a ‘blue plaque award’  by the Yangon Heritage Trust.

On the opposite side of City Hall is the ultra symbolic Sule Pagoda…

…renowned as a functional meeting point for anti-government and pro-democracy protesters.

Research had indicated that there was a particular restaurant that offered incredible views over Yangon. During our day we sought out this restaurant for a lunch break. It is situated on the top floor of the Sakara Tower, just a 10 minute walk from the Sule Pagoda

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…and this was one of the views, putting the Sule Pagoda in a somewhat  different perspective…

Apologies for the crane in the foreground – just my luck.

An example of Mayanmar’s religious tolerance can be seen at the lower righthand side of the view above, the Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque…

 

…and once again, the Shwedagon Pagoda’s landmark position is also put into perspective from the Sakara Tower restaurant…

 

Suitably refreshed we headed for what was a fascinating insight,  if not a somewhat disappointing one,  into what was at one time the home and administrative seat of British Burma, the Government Secretariat…

 

Built in the late 1800s, the building occupies an entire city block.   In terms of notoriety it was in this building that the Burmese nationalist leader, Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, was  assassinated along with  6 of his cabinet ministers on 19 July 1947 -now commemorated aBurmese Martyrs’ Day.

The building, more than 120 years old,  was  renamed from 1972 as ‘The Ministers’ Building’ and is completely abandoned and in a considerable state of disrepair: though it  is currently on the Yangon City Heritage List and remains today a shadow of its former glory…

There is a unique tolerance of religion in Myanmar. Not too great a distance from the ‘Minister’s Building’  can be found one of the many Hindu temples in Yangon, the Sri Devi Hindu Temple…

 

…situated on the junction of  Anawratha Road  and 51st street,  this temple is not as famous as the Shri Kali Hindu Temple in Yangon’s Little India district but it is an incredibly vibrant temple painted in all colors of the rainbow and covered from top to bottom in depictions of Hindu gods: less crowded and well worth a visit.

The final destination of our walking tour of Yangon was the Botatuang Pagoda….

 

The Botataung Pagoda is another  famous pagoda located in downtown Yangon, near the Yangon river. The pagoda was first built by the Mon around the same time as was Shwedagon Pagoda — over 2500 years ago.

Its significance revolves around the belief that this hollow pagoda contains sacred hair from the Buddha’s head and two body relics of the  Gautama Buddha. The site,  Botataung Mount, has a significance in relation to the Shwedagon pagoda.

Botahtaung Pagoda’s name has an interesting origin. In Burmese ‘Bo’ means ‘leader’ and ‘tahtaung’ means ‘thousand’. Put together it means ‘thousand leaders’. Legend has it that a thousand military leaders acted as escorts when the relics of the Buddha  were brought from India. So, the pagoda is named Botahtaung in honor of these military leaders.

The Botataung Pagoda was completely destroyed during World War II, and was rebuilt after the war.

Entrance is gained from a side road…

…as the old main ornate entrance is no longer used as it fronts onto a busy highway…

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The Botataung Pagoda is well worth a visit with its hollow interior allowing visitors to walk inside the pagoda. Glass containers showcasing rescued artifacts are found in a  mirrored-maze like walk- way inside,  though expect to queue if you want to enter the nearby shrine…

 

That basically concludes this review of Yangon except to note that my suggested route can of course be reversed and, should there be any visitors with mobility issues there is a regular tram service along the length of the Strand Road between the River ship berths and the Botataung Pagoda…

And one final point. We genuinely felt that Yangon was one of the  safest places we have had the pleasure to visit and never once did we feel the need to be cautious or uncomfortable in crowded areas.

 

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