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el2995 Rangoon - A travel report by USC
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Rangoon,  Burma - flag Burma -  Yangon
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el2995's travel reports

Rangoon, Burma

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Rangoon travelogue picture
Rangoon (Yangon) is the capitol of Burma and the point of entry for travelers that fly in from abroad. The city is home to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the largest standing pagoda in Burma. Downtown Rangoon is surrounded on three sides by water, on the West and South by the Rangoon River and on the East by the Pazundaung (translates to Mountain of Shrimp) Creek, which is river-like in size. There are two scenic man-made lakes (Kandawgyi, or royal, Lake and the larger Inya Lake) which were created by the British during their colonial rule, and many wooded areas that make much of Rangoon surprisingly lush. Rangoon has many ethnic communities, with a bustling Chinatown (Ti'youht Tun) and its own Little India (Kalah Tun).

Favourite spots:
Rangoon travelogue picture
The Shwedagon Pagoda is my favorite spot. We're developing a tradition of going there on our first evening in Rangoon at sunset to walk around the pagoda's compound, which sits on the top of a wooded hill and commands a good view of the city. The compound is generally crowded, as the locals come to do the same regularly as a social outting (which provides you with a good visual cross-section of Burmese society), but at the same time it is very peaceful. Many have come to worship or make offerings to The Buddha or to the other Dieties that pre-dated the introduction of Theravada Buddhism from India but are still revered and somewhat incorporated into the Buddhist belief system. The Shwedagon stands about 328 feet tall and is covered at the higher elevations with solid gold plates and a wealth of jewels (diamonds, rubies, emeralds, saphires) at the top (known as the umbrella or Hti) donated by earlier royalty.

What's really great:
Rangoon travelogue picture
Experiencing the Shwedagon at sunset is the most special part of a visit to Rangoon. Walking around the base of the majestic Shwedagon, which is surrounded by 64 smaller pagodas and numerous temples and pavillions, is awe-inspiring. As you stroll the grounds of the compound, the warm evening air is sweet with the perfume of incense and flowers offered by the faithful, and the sound of the voices of young Buddhist nuns chanting prayers in the ancient Pali language mingles with the shimmering melodies of the countless small brass bells that adorn the pagodas and the penetrating low tomes of larger bells weighing several thousand pounds and housed in ornate pavillions as they are struck three times by the faithful, symbolic of the Three Gems of Buddhism: refuge in The Buddha, refuge in the teachings of The Buddha, and refuge in the monks (Boda, Dharma, Sanga). The images and sensations remain long after you've left and become fond memories.

Maha Bandoola Road
Maha Bandoola Road
In addition to the regular tourist sites, try a walk along Maha Bandoola Road through the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little India (starting at 15th Street and heading East to the Sule Pagoda), as there are a lot of sidewalk vendors and, though the streets are quite crowded and noisy during the afternoon, there are a lot of good photo opportunities.

One thing that was new about this last visit to the Shwedagon was that we met a man named U Bon Ni who had spent so much time at the pagoda studying it in detail from every possible angle, that he discovered numerous "special viewing points" where the huge diamonds and other precious gems on the spire ("Hti") catch the spotlights below at just the right angle that they blaze like reflected lazer light in various hues which change depending on your position in the compound and the angle of your gaze. He is also very knowledgeable about the history of the Shwedagon and took us on a memorable private sunset/evening tour for US$ 5.00.

Rangoon travelogue picture
Winner Inn on Inya Road is nice; link to their web site through The Strand and the Kandawgyi hotels are the most famous (the Kandawgyi Hotel has been featured in books on Asian architecture.) Sakara Residence, on Inya Road across from Winner Inn, was where I stayed on my recent visit to Burma (November 2006). Sakura is nicer than Winner Inn in that it has a nice swimming pool and an open-air portion of the bar/restaurant adjacent to the pool. What I really like about Sakura is that the South-facing balconies afford a view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is especially majestic in the evening when it is illuminated but also enjoyable in the morning as it's highlighted by the low sun through the morning haze.

This last trip, I got to experience one of Rangoon's "gentlemen's" clubs, which are a far cry from Bangkok's Patpong and decidedly cheesy, but an interesting experience. The place, Asia Entertainment City, has some rather attractive ladies on stage that put on a bit of a fashion show, and guys vote for their favorite by buying them plastic flowers; the lady with the most during the round is crowned the winner with a white feather boa, and the winning 'model' may go down and sit with the guy that buys the most fake flowers for a chat and a soft drink which, it is said, may lead to further negotiations (?) There are also some slightly less glamorous though still quite attractive ladies that hang around your booth while you drink your Myanmar Beer, waiting for you to invite them to join you for friendly conversation over a soft drink while a male waiter comes by to continually fill your beer glass; generally the conversation ends and she leaves when you refuse her indecent proposal.

Rangoon travelogue picture
Karaweik Restaurant on Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake is a building shaped like a royal barge on the lake, with live cultural performances (music, dancing, puppetry) in the evening. One place to try is a more Chinese/Vietnamese-styled noodle house called Thousand Coins not far from Inya Lake, which I learned during my recent trip had expanded its menu to include a wider variety of Burmese, Chinese and Western food in addition to cocktails. I wasn't brave enough to try the vendor food around Scott Market, but it was very tempting. One thing that's probably better looked at than eaten is the pa'yhit kyaw, which is fried locus stuffed with ginger and garlic. Check out Green Elephant Restaurant for good Burmese cuisine. Kokant Restaurant on Insein Road is a open-front bar and grill for the local folks and the tourist; I had an enjoyable time snacking on grilled pork and fried fish, sipping Mandalay Rum, and watching both the locals and a James Bond movie subtitled in Thai on the T.V.

Other recommendations:
Rangoon travelogue picture
Bogyoke Aung San Market in downtown, Sule Pagoda, Reclining Buddha. A walk along Inya Lake near Prome Road is enjoyable, particularly near sunset. Check out the Minigone market on Inya Road across from the Winner Inn hotel, especially early in the morning when the market is the most active; it will make for some nice photographs. Rangoon is a good city for people-watching, and the people you encounter are generally friendly and often curious about Western tourists, which had made for some enjoyable and interesting interactions. For a 'local' experience, try a ferry ride across the Rangoon River from Rangoon to Dalat and back (15 minutes each way + 10 minutes at each dock for passenger boarding; locals pay 200 Kyats, foreigners pay US $2), though time the trip so you can enjoy the sunset. Check out the Hlaw Ga wildlife preserve where you can take a short elephant ride and drive/hike through the preserve to see monkeys, deer, peacock and water buffalo, and get to feed hippos.

Published on Sunday June 23th, 2002

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Wed, Jan 09 2008 - 06:13 AM rating by akhila

It is a pleasure reading your travel reports- very informative.

Sun, Dec 17 2006 - 08:27 AM rating by marianne

Well-written and intersting to read, lovely photos especially the one of the road vendor.

Wed, Dec 08 2004 - 06:49 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii usc,
excellent report and very neately written
keep it up

Fri, Jun 04 2004 - 03:53 PM rating by khemabaya

Great report. I have been to Burma several times but I always feel that I have missed something. When I return, I will explore what you saw there. Thanks, Carima

Wed, Apr 28 2004 - 08:39 AM rating by britman

Great report - Burma is fascinating and you enhance its appeal with your report. Thank You

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