Our trip to Myanmar started in Yangon with a couple days of touring, eating and meeting people. We were picked up at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel and headed immediately to the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). The YHT is an independent organization that advocates and promotes understanding and appreciation of Yangon’s historic architecture with a focus on integrating these buildings into the 21st century vision of Yangon. While the YHT has no policy making authority, they do put forth recommendations, educational sessions, tours and even help in the restoration of historic buildings.
The YHT wasn’t technically open during our visit, but they were kind enough to provide a special tour for our small group. The tour started at the YHT offices and then headed out into the street to see the buildings and explore the work done throughout the area by YHT. We even saw some new buildings that were being built recently and much to the chagrin of both YHT and us, some of these buildings are just awful, devoid of any real architectural character.
Our final stop with the YHT was at the Ministers’ Building – formerly known as the Secretariat. This building was the former Administrative Building of the Colonial British Government. We weren’t able to enter the gates nor could we get a tour. This property opens to the public just once a year — or if you provide substantial donations to the renovation process, you can get private tours too — we weren’t here during the public opening nor did we write a big check to get in. Both the buildings and grounds need some repair work, but luckily this building is actually getting renovated and is not slated to be torn down. It is a beautiful building and if you happen to get the opportunity to walk the grounds or get a tour inside the building, please let me know – I’d love to hear the details and see you photos!
As the YHT has a plan for the future of Yangon – blending ancient temples and pagodas, the colonial building and modern structures, they put together a vision of the future. Take a look at this vision of a blending Yangon — does anything look familiar? For those of you not from the Windy City — the skyline in the background is actually Chicago. You can see the Willis (f/k/a Sears) Tower, the Aon Center and the red CNA Tower.
We visited the Reclining Buddha in Yangon, which is the largest in Yangon and one of the largest in the world. There weren’t many tourists when we visited, but we did see many monks and what I presume to be locals at the Buddha praying.
We visited a Buddhist convent shortly after their lunch. At the convent these nuns eat just two meals a day. Breakfast is served before sunrise and lunch is served between 10h30-11h30 each day. We arrived around 11h00 and found the nuns and the novices cleaning up from their lunch. This cute young novice had just finished doing the lunch dishes during our tour.
We took a break from touring in Yangon and visited the historic hotel, The Strand. This beautifully renovated hotel was a wonderful place to relax, cool off and enjoy a cocktail.
After a cocktail break, we continued on exploring the two main temples in Yangon. We were pleased we opted to hire a guide for our trek not only through Yangon but Myanmar in general. While we were stuck in traffic, the vehicle we were in was comfortable and we didn’t have to worry about trying to provide proper directions or ensuring that our driver really knew were we were trying to go.
The Sule Pagoda was just a couple hundred meters from the Sule Shangri-La Hotel, our home base while in Yangon. The Sule Pagoda is the center of the city with the roads radiating from the Pagoda itself. We didn’t enter the Pagoda, as we were told the interior had just a bunch of low quality tourist shops.
Our final major site in Yangon was the Shwedagon Pagoda. We decided to visit this site at dusk and spent about an hour walking around the Pagoda, watching Buddhists praying, dodging children running wild and even jumping out of the way of a small rat scurrying across our path
We decided to splurge on dinner and visited a French restaurant which was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel. Le Planteur has a beautiful outdoor dining area right on a small lake and near the US Embassy. It was too dark to take any real photos of our food, but we enjoyed our selections. The beef was a little gamey and despite the fact that there were a few ducks walking around our feet, the duck was removed from the menu. The meal was quite expensive for Yangon — actually it was pretty expensive period. The space itself was stunning and I spent more time than I should just imagining the old parties held at that property during British Colonial Rule.
What were your favorite parts of Yangon? Did you find a small, off the beaten path, place that just made your trip? What must see places did you visit, but realize weren’t must see?