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Last update: Oct 31, 2020

Colonial Yangon.

Yangon, the new name for Rangoon, is one of the most beautiful preserved colonial cities in Asia; the range of architecturally stunning buildings here is amazing. Downtown Yangon is the most interesting part for tourists, along with the Shwedagon pagoda which is a short taxi ride up the Shwedagon pagoda road. Below is a tourist map of the downtown area around Sule pagoda with its impressive colonial heritage buildings.

Yangon must see highlights.

  • Shwedagon pagoda.
  • A Heritage Walk, including Pansodan road.
  • Bogyoke Aung San Market.

Recommended:

  • National Museum.
  • Botataung pagoda.
  • St. Mary's Cathedral.
  • Kandawgyi lake.
  • A stroll through downtown Yangon's smaller streets.

The official Government of Myanmar travel agent Myanmar Travels and Tours, (MTT, see map) is next to the Immanuel Baptist Church. MTT provides permits for restricted areas, maps and information.

The railways in Yangon have a ticket office and a separate advanced ticket office. Train ticket booking for same-day travel can be done at the Central Train station; and there is an advanced train ticket booking office (1-3 days ahead) at Bogyoke Aung San road just east of the Sule Pagoda road crossing, opposite the Sakura tower. The advanced booking office is a bit hard to find, because it looks more like a restaurant than an office on the outside.

 

Yangon Heritage Walk.

Downtown Yangon is a compact town, so it's quite easy to do a walking tour and admire the colonial buildings. You can do it on your own; or you can join one of the many guided tours if you prefer a guide. This walking tour is 3 kilometers long, and takes between 1 and 2 hours.

Yangon City Walking map
Downtown Yangon walking map
Plan de ville de Yangon, Touristenkarte/karte Stadtplan von Yangon

This walk takes a minimum of an hour if you walk briskly; but count on longer if you want to enjoy it and make some stops. Start your colonial walk at Sule Pagoda, which is the center of downtown Yangon. South-east of the Sule pagoda roundabout is the grassy Mahabandoola Garden Park which was cleaned up in 2015. The tall Independence monument of 1948 stands in the middle; flanked on all sides by lion statues.

The remarkable and modern looking Yangon City Hall (1) is located right on the busy Sule Pagoda square. Because it was built around the 1930's by a Burmese architect, this building is one of the rare colonial buildings which has its own typical Myanmar style. It has changed in the last few years from the traditional yellow to a light mauve pastel color, and is now painted quite white.

Next, walk eastwards along Mahabandoola road. At the corner of the Mahabandoola garden street is the Rowe & Company building (2); a department store built in 1910 and known as the Harrods of the East. The ugly red and yellow building looked worn-out in 2009; see below.

AYA Bank / Rowe & Company, 2009 Yangon
Rowe & Company building next to City Hall (left) in 2009

Since its renovation in 2014 it is the head office of the AYA Bank and it now appears as an elegant wedding cake with beige fondant striping and a prominent clocktower on the corner.

AYA Bank / Rowe & Company, Yangon
Rowe & Company / AYA Bank, Yangon, 2017

Monumental Pansodan

A block further on, at the corner of Pansodan road, turn south. This stretch of Pansodan is the most beautiful street of Yangon; on the left and right are Rangoon's monumental colonial buildings, as well as some galleries and a few coffee shops.

On the first corner is the Telegraph Office (3); this brick Edwardian office block with a classical portico was Rangoon's link to the outside world. On the right side is the more than 110 years old Rangoon High Court building (4). You are looking at the back of the High Court, the main entrance is facing the Maha Bandoola Garden but for some reason this has been closed.

Should you wish some refreshments; on the right is Rangoon Tea House, an upmarket, modern, and busy Burmese restaurant which gets good reviews. Next door is Sharky's restaurant. If this is not to your liking you can also walk to the riverside, cross the Strand and have a beer at the large Junior Duck restaurant. The Junior Duck is a Chinese restaurant, which does seem to have dual pricing, so western tourists are charged more.

On the corner of Merchant road is the Rander House (5) - now the Internal Revenue Department. Rander House is an imposing five story building with a rigid window grid and subtle Art Deco features. It was built in 1932 by Indian traders who had migrated to Burma from Rander, a town close to Surat in Gujarat.

Rander House, Yangon
Rander House, Yangon

Opposite Rander House at the corner of Pansodan and Merchant road is the Sofaer & Co. building (6) built in 1906; which is now the Lokanat building. The largest part of four-story structure is in a quite deplorable state, and in need of a thorough restoration. The exception is Gekko, a Japanese restaurant in the corner of the Lokanat building. Isaac and Meyer Sofaer were Baghdad-born Jews, and educated in Rangoon. Next on the left side is a rather nondescript building which used to be the Grindlays Bank; and is nowadays occupied by the Myanmar Agricultural Bank.

At Pansodan Street nr. 22-24 is the location of the Yangon Heritage Trust (HT), on the second floor. They are very active with preserving the historic buildings of Yangon. The waiting room has a fine display of historical photography.

DMyanma Port Authority
Pansodan road and Myanma Port Authority seen from the Strand.

At the end of Pansodan road on the corner with Strand is the Myanma Port Authority building (7) built in 1920. Opposite the Port Authority is the old Accountant General's Office (16), a rather dilapidated building which is now in use as office for the Yangon Division Court. The Accountant General was responsible for collecting all revenue in Burma, which for a large part was from teakwood. You can have a look into the office building but entry is not allowed.

The Strand Stroll.

When you can spot the busy Strand road ahead, you can either walk up there and turn left to the east, or if you're up for it make a quick walk westwards, up and down Bank street, which is filled with food stalls and double parked cars and can be a bit difficult to walk through. Here you can see the backside of the imposing New Law Courts building (14) , completed in 1931. In 2020 the Rosewood Yangon hotel has opened here, after a complete renovation of the large building on Strand Road. During the second world war, the Japanese transformed the building into the headquarters of their much-feared Kempeitai, or secret police. It also housed the District Court and the Police court in past years.

Old Law Courts building
The old Law Courts building seen from the Strand, around 1900?
Replaced in 1931 by the New Law Courts building.

Further east is the Custom House (15). The old Reserve Bank of India (13) building on Sule pagoda road has become the Yangon Stock Exchange in march 2016. It has also housed the Central Bank of Myanmar in the past. After your short walk westwards, you can walk back through Merchant street to Pansodan road and down to the Strand. Here you can cross by footbridge over the busy Stand road, and see the market and the Dala ferry on the Yangon river. The small ferry boats land on a spot a bit past the Chinese Junior Duck restaurant,

Dalla ferry sloops, Yangon river
Dala ferry sloops, Yangon river

Once on Strand road walk eastwards until you reach the Post Office; on this stretch there are many colonial buildings including the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation (8) set up by the Wallace Brothers from Edinburgh. Now this is the office of Myanmar National Airways (MNA).

In the mid-1850s the Wallace brothers set up a business in Rangoon, shipping tea to Bombay. In 1863 the business was floated as The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. By the 1870's it was a leading producer of teak in Burma and Siam; and they are partly responsible for the large-scale deforestation. Nowadays there are very few mature teak trees left in the forests - most teak trees grow in teak plantations. Some very good black and white photographs of the historic Burmese teak exploration by Mr P. Mashall are here: www.bensquiresphotos.com

Strolling along the busy Stand road we find the high-end, famous, Strand Hotel (9). The Strand Café offers the renowned Strand High tea. Further on is the British Embassy (former J&F Shipping Co.) and at the next corner the marvelous maroon Post Office building (10), the former Bulloch Brothers & Co.

The Secretariat.

At the corner of the Central Post Office turn left into Bo Aung Kyaw street. Walk northwards until you reach the corner of Anawrahta road. Along this stretch are only residential buildings, mostly from the colonial era. At the corner of Anawrahta road and the Bo Aung Kyaw street is the grand and impressive The Secretariat (11), built around 1900, which occupies an entire city block. This is where general Aung San (Bogyoke Aung San) was assassinated during a cabinet meeting. The Secretariat was a government office, and used to house the administration of Burma, which was part of British India in colonial times.

When the new capital of Myanmar was established at Naypyidaw in 2005, all government departments were transferred there, and the Secretariat has been left unoccupied since then. The huge Victorian building complex (the 400.000 square foot building is two-thirds the size of the Louvre) has been closed for many years and could only be photographed from behind the fence. In 2012, a plan to turn it into a museum failed; another project to turn it into a hotel and a cultural centre failed as well. Finally, the building was renovated during 2018 and 2019.

The Secretariat is nowadays open to visitors from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily. Visitors are allowed to observe the ground and first floors free of charge. If they want to explore other restricted areas, they will have to pay an admission fee, which has been fixed at 3.000 Kyat for locals, and 10 dollars (15.000 Kyat) for foreigners.


Now head westwards back to the busy Sule Pagoda road in the center of Yangon and have a good cappuccino with a croissant or other delightful pastry at the Parisian Cake and Coffee. This bakery & cafe is on upper Sule Pagoda road opposite the historic central Kyauktada fire station (12) and 100-foot fire-tower. The Kyauktada fire-tower is nowadays rather small, compared to the large new buildings on Sule Pagoda road, and has lost it's lookout function. The fire station is still fully operational.

If you don't feel like cake or coffee, you can go shopping at the Bogyoke Aung San market, if you still have the legs for it. This large market opens around 10 a.m. and closes at about 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday; it is closed on Monday.

The Bogyoke Aung San market is a popular tourist destination and still the market of choice for picking up Myanmar souvenirs. It was built in 1927 and originally known as Scott's market. Today, the market has jewelers, art galleries, clothing shops, antiques and local handicrafts. There is now also a "New Bogyoke Market" building across the street, in the modern building which also houses the Pan Pacific Yangon hotel. This is very different, and doesn't have the atmosphere of the old Bogyoke Aung San market.

And this is the end of my Yangon Heritage tour; I hope you have enjoyed it.


The next day you could have a short stroll into the western side of town. Start off from Sule Pagoda road and walk westward, along the busy Bogyoke Aung San road, past the busy market (closed on Mondays). Hop into Bogyoke Aung San market, which is a must-see, and have a look at the many ruby stone sellers and jewellery shops. At the next corner is the Holy Trinity Cathedral (1886).

The other large church in Yangon is the St Mary's Cathedral, designed by the Dutch architect Jos Cuypers and finished in 1899. Walk a bit further along Bogyoke Aung San road and you will see the Rangoon General Hospital, built in 1911, which can be visited, but photographs inside are not permitted.

Yangon house.
Rangoon General Hospital - photographs are not permitted ;-)

 

Other tours through Yangon city.

Free Yangon Walks (freeyangonwalks.com) seems to have scaled down in 2017 because of a lack of volunteers; they now have free walks on two days per week. You can also do one of their paid walking tours. There are also other tours; like the Heritage Building Walking Tour or the George Orwell Literary walking tour (3 hours).

Sa Ba Street Food Tours is a new street food tour through Yangon which gets very good reviews: sabastreetfoodtours.com

More on Yangon colonial architecture:

 

Book shops on Pansodan Street.

For many years Pansodan Street was the home of second-hand booksellers, but in 2017 most of them had to move to Thein Phyu road (between Bandoola and Anawrahta road); just east of the Secretariat. The new "Saturday-Sunday Book Street" is only open on weekends. There are nowadays still a few booksellers on Pansodan.

A new shop is the Book Plaza, on the 5th floor of Than Zay Market, Lanmadaw Street, Yangon; open daily from 9am to 7pm. Only one of the shops in the Book Plaza has English language books. The more interesting shop is in the far north east corner of the plaza, which has interesting second hand books, dating back to the fifties, including poetry, guide books, etc. More on Book Street and Book Plaza: www.mmtimes.com

Yangon Rowe & Co.
A shopping center in 2010 and 2017. Note the many new cars, the
traffic and the parking situation has become a real problem.


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