Yangon (formerly Rangoon under the British) was the capital of Myanmar until 2005 when, Than Shwe, the leader of the former military regime constructed a brand new capital at Naypyidaw, seemingly as a vanity project. It apparently has 20-lane motorways with few vehicles and not many inhabitants, apart from government employees.
However Yangon is the country’s biggest city and most locals still view it as the real capital. Unlike most Southeast Asian cities, there are loads of well preserved colonial buildings dotted around the downtown. After walking around these, we visited an exhibition displaying images of the city over the years. It was incredible to think of how it once was as many of the buildings are now in serious decay.
As well as the British influence, the city is full of temples. The most spectacular of these is the 99 metre Shwedagon Pagoda which is covered in gold leaf (worth approximately US$3bn, equivalent to 5% of Myanmar’s GDP). Walking around it was astounding (apart from burning your feet on the hot tiles as you are forbidden from wearing shoes) with the sun glinting on the gold spire. As we sat down for a rest in the shade, a local women almost threw me her baby and then leaned in for a selfie!
Other sights included two visits to the cinema where tickets cost just 70p and we were surprised that Hollywood movies (Logan and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) were not subtitled or dubbed.
We also walked along the boardwalk of scenic Lake Kandawgyi (a brief respite from the 35C streets) and took coffee in a cool cafe frequented by rich Burmese and expats.
On our final day we rode the 46km circular train which makes it way around the city stopping at 39 stations. It was a fascinating snapshot into daily life. We spent half the journey chatting to a young woman about life in Yangon and her dreams of travelling to Europe.
And that ended our nearly three weeks in Myanmar. It was brilliant and everyone was so friendly. We loved it.
Next stop: a last minute trip to the Maldives…