Exploring Downtown Yangon by Foot

Wherever we go we'll usually go walking, whether it be just wandering around to see what we find or following a well known route looking for landmarks and points of interest. The guide book we had with us included a guided walk around Downtown Yangon so we decided to stick to tradition and use that as the basis to do a bit of exploring.

The walk began at the Sule Paya, a 2000 year old golden temple. Legend states that the paya is older than the Shwedagon paya and was built during the time of the Buddha. The paya has played its part in the past in both Burmese and Yangon politics, serving as a rallying point during various protests and demonstrations. 

Today it stands right in the middle of several busy roads with businesses plying their trades around the base of the temple grounds so for me it was hard to fully appreciate just how old it actually is. This also made it quite tricky to know where the temple grounds begin and end. If you're visiting here and other temples you need to make sure you don't accidentally end up in the temple compound without removing your footwear first. A nearby pedestrian bridge across one of the roads provides some good views of the temple from an elevated position. We didn't enter this temple, choosing to carry on to the next stop on the walk, we visited a lot of other paya's in Yangon (more on that soon) and elsewhere over the course of our trip so were happy enough on this occasion to skip over this one and just view it from the outside.

From here it was on towards Yangon's city hall. This colonial style building, construction of which was completed in 1936, is home to the city's administrative body, the Yangon City Development Committee. They are responsible for a whole array of functions for the city including, waste management and street lighting. If you get closer to the building you'll notice it has a lot of traditional Myanmar decorative details on it as well including peacocks, nagas (serpents) and the traditional tiered roofs called pyatthat. 

The park facing the city hall is Mahabandoola garden and is home to the Independence monument. The park dates to around 1867 and was originally named Fytche Square after Albert Fytche, the then Chief Commissioner of British Burma. In 1935 it was renamed Bandula Square and after Burmese independence from the British in 1948 the Independence monument was erected replacing a statue of Queen Victoria. The architect of the monument, Sithu U Tin was also the architect of city hall. 

The park is pristine and clearly popular with the locals as a place to spend time with their family or friends. Although we'd only just begun our walk the opportunity to spend some time here made a pleasant brief break from the bustle of the streets around us. Though you definitely need some sun cream if you plan to spend any prolonged time here.

After a couple more stops we arrived at the Customs House, a gorgeous red brick building built in 1915. Around here there are a lot of colonial era buildings with this particular one being a rarity in that it is still used for its original purpose. A little further along the Strand Road is the Myanma Port Authority. This is the government agency with the responsibility for regulating and administering the coastal ports of Myanmar. It's another striking building, as so many in this part of the city are, this is an area that you really don't want to miss if you're visiting.

Also along this road is the Strand hotel, opened by the Sarkies brothers in 1901, the very same brothers who owned Raffles hotel in Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang. As so many of these grand hotels did this one hosted a multitude of famous writers in its early days including Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and W Somerset Maugham. During World War ll the Japanese took it over and from 1962 to 1989 it was owned and managed by the Burmese government. Time took its toll and it ended up in a very poor state but in the early 1990s it was brought back to some of its former glory. It's well worth a stop for a refreshing drink and a blast of air con if you are walking in the area.

Depending on what time of the day you get to the Strand hotel you may well want to take advantage of this bar

After our break we were coming towards the end of our walk, passing through busy streets full of Yangon's day to day life and many more of those beautiful old buildings we came to the Ministers Office or as it is also known, the Secretariat. This red and yellow brick building was originally the administrative seat of British Burma. It was also the place where Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and six cabinet ministers were assassinated in 1947. 

The building and its land takes up a whole block, we ended up walking all the way around its perimeter as the side we initially approached from was covered in scaffolding so not the best for photos. This turned out to be a good decision as we then realised we could go into the grounds as well as the building, from the section covered in scaffolding this wasn't immediately obvious. It's now been renovated and includes a museum and art exhibit spaces. You can also join daily guided tours around it as well as do a bit of shopping or have a coffee there if you wish.

By this stage, although our walk wasn't quite finished, we both felt it was time for a proper break as the lure of food was calling. The walk was well worth it for a taster of downtown Yangon especially as we only had a couple of days in the city. We got to see some key spots in the city and the country's history, walk among the pavement vendors selling their wares as well as seeing some of the impressive colonial architecture that is still such a part of Yangon. It was well worth the heat of the day and the inevitable sweating for this walk.


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