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Yangon And Its Wondrous Artifacts Of Buddhist Reverence And Colonial Power

Yangon And Its Wondrous Artifacts Of Buddhist Reverence And Colonial Power

This is an excerpt written by James Haft from the e-book, Borderless Thailand, produced for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.



Yangon is experiencing a metamorphosis as investment floods the city and its colonial charm is swept away by new development. While carefully planned by the British when they rebuilt the city after the second Anglo-Burmese War and made it their capital in 1885 under the corrupted name, Rangoon, today, it has difficulty handling the ever more congested traffic. While, motorcycles are banned, it remains quite noisy with all the honking horns.


Anglo-Burmese War


Yangon, which means End of Strife, was established in 1755 at the site of a settlement known as Dagon by King Alaungpaya, possibly reflecting his hope after conquering central Myanmar. Not long after, it became an important port and then, 130 years later, the seat for the British colony and commerce.


Yangon still captures the imagination of all those who visit. A railway trip around the city can put much in perspective as can a walk down city lanes and a visit to one of the many traditional teahouses. There are many historical and spiritual attractions and, rising above them all, is the resplendent, awe-inspiring, golden Shwedagon Paya.


The Golden Shwedagon, yangon; Myanmar.


Legend has it the original pagoda dates back 2500 years, almost the same age as Buddhism itself. Archeologists estimate the Shwedagon was actually built, though, by the Mon some time between the sixth and tenth centuries. Whatever the case, it remains the most sacred and revered paya for Myanmar Buddhists. Built atop Singattara Hill, which stands just over 42 meters above sea level, the pagoda from base to diamond-studded, gold hti is 99 meters tall. One stairway at each of the four cardinal directions, with lifts at the north and south, escalators at the west, and the most traditional entrance at the east, all gracefully rise towards this glittering pinnacle of devotion. However you choose to ascend, most visitors feel a sense of awe as they enter the main sanctuary. The gilded pagoda surrounded by smaller golden stupas and shrines is truly breathtaking. As one makes their way around the paya, always in a clockwise direction, they will come to shrines dedicated to each of the days of the week. Situated according to planetary, or astrological positions, many visitors will choose the shrine for their birthday to pray or pay obeisance.


Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market), Yangon; Myanmar.


Even if you don’t want to shop, Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market) is another of Yangon’s attractions that should not be missed as it has almost anything for sale for locals and tourists alike. You’ll find longyi, the Myanmar sarong for both men and women made of cotton and silk. There are art galleries and jewelry and gem shops, venders selling silverware, gold, lacquerware, antiques, handicrafts, traditional herbal remedies and ready-made clothing as well as seamstresses and tailors hawking their services.


The market, opened in 1926, is a beautifully preserved example of colonial architecture, set on the cobblestone Bogyoke Aung San Market Road. Originally named after the British Commissioner of that time, Gavin Scott, its name was changed to Bogyoke, or General Aung San Market in 1947 in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, the founder of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar Army, and liberator from British rule. If there in April, the market is turned into a fun, free-for-all water carnival on April 11th and 12th, during the Zay Thingyan Festival.


Old Colonial Buildings, Yangon (Myanmar's)


Strand Road: Old Colonial Buildings

Because of Myanmar’s isolation for more than five decades, Yangon, now the commercial capital, has more colonial era buildings than any other city in the region. There are still dozens featuring Victorian, Queen Anne, Art Deco, British Burmese and Neoclassical designs. Fortunately, the Yangon City Heritage List was established to preserve these testaments to the past. Among these are the massive Victorian Secretariat, from where the British governed their colony and the British-Burmese Yangon City Hall.


The Sarkie Brothers.


Across from the Hliang, or Yangon River on Strand Road is the hallmark of these grand edifices, The Strand Hotel. Built in 1901 by the British entrepreneur, John Darwood, it was quickly picked up by the Sarkie brothers to add to their famous properties, The Raffles of Singapore and Eastern & Oriental (E&O) of Penang, the epitome of east Asian colonial elegance and luxury. After Burma, now Myanmar gained its independence in 1948, it was neglected for decades until the early 1990s when it underwent a full restoration. Today, under glittering chandeliers and the soft caress of slowly rotating ceiling fans, the charms of the colonial era still live amidst the teak and mahogany furnishings, canopied beds and period fixtures.