Yangon – A First Glimpse

Yangon

A Yangon sunrise

February 2016:  It was Valentine’s Day when I landed in Yangon.  There were no red roses or heart-shaped balloons to meet me at the terminal but, following instructions from the office, I made a brief queue to obtain my visa-on-arrival (It costs $50 for a 70-day stay), followed a long queue with a large group of tourists trying to clear immigration, claimed my luggage, then I was out into the humid brightness of Myanmar‘s capital.  A smiling taxi driver, who held a white paper with my name on it, helped me load my  bags to the cab, then whisked me through Sunday traffic to my hotel.  After many years of having it in my bucket list, I was finally in Yangon.  Happy hearts’ day to me.

Yangon

The Yangon International Airport has direct flights to regional cities in Asia – mainly, Dhaka, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Guangzhou, Taipei, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming and Singapore. Most domestic flights are for tourist destinations such as Bagan, Mandalay, Heho and Ngapali, and to the capital, Naypyidaw

It was a business trip, of  course. And so, for the full two weeks I was in Myanmar, I had to content myself  with having to take photos of this historical city from the passenger seat of a car or from the rooftop restaurant of my hotel where I took my morning and evening meals.   The former approach gave me photos of the streets,  street hawkers and massive traffic jams; the latter gave me a bird’s-eye view of the amazingly red Yangon sunrise and the  tips of gilded stupas dotting the landscape of Myanmar’s capital.  On my final day in the city, however, I made it a point to squeeze in a couple of hours before my flight to drive around the city and visit some of its most prominent landmarks.  I knew it was not enough but it was a good start to the many more photo outings I knew I’m going to do about Myanmar in the coming months and years.

Yangon

A street vendor, wearing the traditional “longyi” – the equivalent of the sarong worn by Malay men – sells mineral water and cigarettes along Yangon’s busy streets

Yangon

Passenger bicycles fitted with a third wheel and a carriage — referred to locally as “sidecar” — can accommodate two persons sitting back to back and provides a cheaper alternative to the taxi

Yangon

The “sidecar” competes for space with four-wheeled vehicles in the heavy traffic on the busy city streets and often carry cargo that looks a lot more than it’s supposed to carry

Yangon, also known as Rangoon (literally meaning”End of Strife”), became the capital of Union of Burma (former name of Myanmar) in January 1948 when the country regained independence from the British Empire.  It remained the capital of Myanmar until the present military government officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw in March 2006.  Yangon, however, remains to be the country’s largest city and Myanmar’s most important commercial center.  Today, Greater Yangon encompasses an area covering nearly 600 square kilometers  with a population of over five million.

Yangon

Although Yangon’s infrastructure is under-developed compared to those of other major cities in south-east Asia, it prides itself for having the largest number of colonial buildings in the region today

Yangon

While many high-rise residential and commercial buildings have been constructed or renovated throughout downtown and Greater Yangon in the past two decades, most of its suburbs and nearby towns remain generally impoverished

Yangon

A latter day hallmark of Yangon is the eight-story apartment building. In Yangon parlance, a building with no elevators (lifts) is called an apartment building and one with elevators is called a condominium.

Public transportation within and around the city includes buses, taxicabs, and yes, the “sidecar” — a somewhat old-style bicycle fitted with a third wheel and a carriage car — for shorter destinations.  The Yangon Central Railway Station is the heart of a 5,403-kilometre (3,357 mi) rail network that connects the capital to Upper Myanmar (Naypyidaw, Mandalay, Shwebo), upcountry (Myitkyina), Shan hills (Taunggyi, Lashio) and the Taninthayi coast (Mawlamyaing, Dawei). A commuter rail network connects Yangon to satellite towns and  is heavily utilized by the local populace, selling about 150,000 tickets daily.

Yangon

Three ladies wait for their bus along Pyay Road at 7-Mile

Yangon is located at the convergence of the Yangon and Bago Rivers about 30 km(19 mi) away from the Gulf of Martaban, an arm of the Andaman sea.  Yangon’s four main passenger jetties, all located on or near downtown waterfront, mainly serve local ferries across the river to Dala and Thanlyin, and regional ferries to the Irrawaddy delta. While passenger ferries to the delta are still used, those to Upper Burma via the Irrawaddy river are now limited mostly to tourist river cruises.

Yangon

Colorful passenger boats carry early commuters across the Pun Hlaing River, a tributary of the Yangon River

Yangon

Because of the high cost of housing units within the city, many city workers live in settlements across the two rivers and commute through these boats daily. The bigger ferries provide river cruises or ferry passengers to the Irrawaddy delta

Much of Myanmar lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator— the monsoon region of Asia, with its coastal regions receiving over 5,000 mm (196.9 in) of rain annually. During the course of the year, average temperatures show little variance, with average highs ranging from 29 to 36 °C (84 to 97 °F) and average lows ranging from 18 to 25 °C (64 to 77 °F).  Yangon features a lengthy rainy season from May through October; and a typically humid dry season from November through April.  In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Yangon leaving a few human casualties but damaging almost three quarters of Yangon’s industrial infrastructure, with losses estimated at US$800 million.

Yangon

Aside from the intrepid”sidecar” and the “longyi”-clad street hawkers, monks are a common sight in Yangon’s streets

Yangon

Buddhist monks are always seen walking barefoot around the city and carrying jars for donations collected from the city’s population where a large majority practice Buddhism

Yangon

Too early. The Aung San Market (named after General Aung San, nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) was still a bit deserted when I arrived

Yangon

The market is reportedly the best place to hunt for souvenirs which can be anything from wood carvings to gems, particularly jade jewelries, which Myanmar is popular for.

Armed with a city map and excited to see the rest of the city; I headed out of my hotel in a rented taxicab before the sun was up on the last day of my first visit.   I only had two hours before I needed to be at the airport so I had to make the city tour pretty quick.  We first went to Yangon’s most popular landmark, the Shwedagon Pagoda which was surprisingly already filled with people at 6:00 am (I will post a separate article on the Shwedagon later); visited the two lakes in the middle of Yangon: Inya and Kandawgyi; checked out the riverfront along Yangon River; then examined souvenir items at the Aung San Market.

Yangon

In the middle of the city, just next to the colonial era University of Yangon, is the scenic Inya Lake

Yangon

Inya Lake is a favorite hangout place of Yangon University students, and a well-known place of romance in Burmese popular culture

Yangon

Just a few blocks from Inya Lake is the most popular recreational area in the city, the Kandawgyi Lake — a 150-acre lake surrounded by the Kandawgyi Nature Park and the Yangon Zoological Gardens

Yangon

Floating on the eastern shore of Kandawgyi Lake is the the Karaweik Palace — an eye-catching, intricately-designed two-storied barge containing two reception halls, a conference room and a buffet restaurant, popular among tourists and moneyed Yangonites

Yangon

A large mural on the wall of Yangon International Airport features the Pyigyimon royal barge – the inspiration for Karaweik Palace’s design – portrayed as the center of Myanmar’s colorful customs and traditions

Yangon

Not to be missed and visible from most sections of downtown Yangon is the gilded stupa of 2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda

Yangon

Considered as Myanmar’s primary religious landmark and the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world; the Shwedagon receives thousands of tourists and devotees daily — definitely a spot not to be missed by any wandering tourist

I was terribly hungry by the time I finished the quick city tour and checked out of my hotel.  But my camera’s memory was full and I can’t complain.  Yangon is a city worth every visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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