Rangoon is one of the most beautiful preserved colonial cities in Asia; the range of architecturally stunning buildings here is amazing. It's well worth doing a leisurely walking tour on your own; or join one of the many guided tours if you prefer a guide.
Downtown Yangon is the most interesting part for tourists, with the exception of the Shwedagon which is a short taxi ride up the Shwedagon pagoda road. This is a tourist map of the downtown area with its most impressive colonial heritage buildings.
Yangon City Walking map,
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 area's, maps and information. Train ticket booking for same-day travel can be done at the Central Train station. There is also an advanced train ticket booking office (1-3 days ahead) at Bogyoke Aung San road just east of the Sule Pagoda road crossing, near the Sakura tower.
Yangon Heritage Walking Tour. (3km, 1 hour)
This walk takes about an hour if you walk briskly; but count on more if you make some stops. Start your colonial walk at Sule Pagoda, which is the center of downtown Yangon. 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; on your right is the grassy Mahabandoola Garden Park which was cleaned up in 2015. A tall Independence monument stands in the middle. 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.
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.
Rowe & Company / AYA Bank, Yangon, 2017
A block furher 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 galeries 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. Strange things happen to buildings in Yangon, for example the monumental Secretariat (11) has been closed for decades.
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
Opposite Rander House at the corner of Pansodan and Merchant road is the Sofaer & Co. building (6) built in 1906. 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, 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.
At the end of Pansodan road on the corner with Strand on the left is the Myanma Port Authority building (7) built in 1920. Opposite the Port Authority on the right 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 Stand Stroll.
When you see the Strand road ahead; you can either turn left to the east or if you're up for it make a quick walk westwards, up and down the very busy Bank street which is filled with food stalls and double parked cars and a bit difficult to walk through. Here you can see the backside of the imposing Yangon Region Court (14) and the Custom House (15). The old Reserve Bank of India (13) building on Sule pagoda road has become the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) in march 2016. It 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.
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 Airways.
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; so 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 famous Strand Hotel (9) and at the next corner the marvellous maroon Post Office building (10), the former Bulloch Brothers & Co.
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, elegant and impressive The Secretariat or Ministers Office (11). This is where general Aung San (bogyoke Aung San) was assassinated during a cabinet meeting.
Unfortunately 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 can 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. The building's size, which was always too large, has so far repelled any restauration plans.
Now head westwards back to the busy Sule Pagoda road in the center of Yangon and have a cappuccino or other refreshment at one of the many coffee shops or restaurants. Or you might want to go shopping at the Bogyoke Aung San market if you still have the legs for it. This is the end of the walking tour; I hope you have enjoyed it.
The next day, after shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market - the largest market in Yangon - you can have a stroll further along the much quieter Bogyoke Aung San road to the west. At the next corner is the Holy Trinity Cathedral (1886). The other large church in Yangon is the St Mary's Cathedral, built by the Dutch architect Jos Cuypers and finished in 1899. Walk a bit further along the Bogyoke Aung San road and you will see the busy Rangoon General Hospital (12), built in 1911, which can be visited but 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. There are in 2018 still some booksellers on Pansodan. The new "Yangon Book Street" is only open on weekends. frontiermyanmar.net
And some book tips: Modern English books are very hard to get, second-hand English language books for sale look terribly old and usually are ancient. Bring your English books and sell them to the second-hand bookshops east of Pansodan street.
Book shops in Yangon : www.yangonite.com/listings/book-shops
Buildings on the Yangon Colonial Heritage map
- 1 Yangon City Hall - Sule square
- 2 Rowe & Co. - now AYA Bank, Mahabandoola rd.
- 3 Telegraph Office - Pansodan & Mahabandoola
- 4 High Court Building - Pansodan rd.
- 5 Rander House (1932) - Pansodan rd.
- 6 Sofaer & Co. (1906) - Pansodan rd.
- 7 Port Authority Office - Pansodan and Strand
- 8 Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation - Strand
- 9 Strand Hotel (1901) - Strand rd
- 10 Bulloch Brothers & Co, now GPO - Strand
- 11 The Secretariat or Ministers Office
- 12 Rangoon General Hospital (1911)
- 13 Reserve Bank of India - Sule pagoda rd.
- 14 Yangon Region Court (formerly New Law Courts)
- 15 Custom house - Strand / Mahabandoola Garden st.
- 16 Accountant General's Office - Pansodan and Strand.
+ More colonial visit tips (click).
More colonial visit tips.
If you have extra time in Yangon 2 more colonial places uptown, closer to the Shwedagon pagoda are worth a visit: the Pegu Club and the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda.
The Pegu Club was a Victorian-style Gentlemen's club in Rangoon, Burma. It was built in the 1880s and completed in 1882 to serve the British army officers and civilian administrators. Membership was open to all gentlemen interested in general society, but in practice that meant whites only. The color of the skin was the only feature that mattered. By 1910 the Pegu Club boasted 350 members, 25 of whom lived on-site. In Burmese Days George Orwell reveals the mentality of such clubs:
"Natives are getting into all the Clubs nowadays. Even the Pegu Club, I'm told. Way this country's going, you know. We're about the last Club in Burma to hold out against 'em...."
Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda or Ngahtatgyi Temple is a Buddhist temple located off Shwegondine Road. Also named the 'big secret' Pagoda since it is not on the usual tourist circuit. Donations are encouraged (...? ) but no foreign visitor fee is charged. Ngahtatgyi has a huge image of the Buddha against an intricately carved wooden background. Combine it with Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda; a reclining Buddha statue across the street.
Apart from the Shwedagon pagoda there is also the Botataung pagoda on the riverside which is worth visiting. And naturally the marvellous old ... but for that you have to ask your taxi driver who should know all about Rangoon.
Yangon travel links
Copyright © 2017 R.Schierbeek, Netherlands.
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