Independent since 1948, the architectural legacy of the British Empire hangs over Myanmar’s capital Yangon. Your first impression of Myanmar is the airport taxi driver, wearing an elegant longyi and a well-ironed shirt, a funny contrast to his blood-red betel burnt mouth.
Advisable to any traveller, is walk through the city. You would find the beauty and charm overwhelming and the best part, the people don’t bite!
First stop while walking through the city should be to the 2,000 year old, 45-metre-tall Sule Pagoda, a vestige of the time when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a British colony. The pagoda, located at the middle of a roundabout, marks the exact centre of Yangon during the 19th century and huge parts of the 20th. Due to the rapid expansion of the city, which started in the 1980s and spread northward, the downtown core today sits in the south end of the city, on the banks of the Yangon River.
Yangon, which is sometimes known as “The Garden City of Asia.” is home to the small and well-maintained Mahabandoola Park. At its middle stands the Independence Monument, shaped like a small obelisk and taking up the site where a statue of Queen Victoria once stood until Myanmar’s independence in 1948. Sule Pagoda and a small mosque are to the left, and an old British-built Baptist church to the right. The most impressive sight was the monumental City Hall, so big it defies most tourists’ tries to capture it in one photo.
People jumping on and off old, noisy and miserably crowded buses are a common sight. Street markets line both sides of the road and vendors hawk everything from aromatic fried samosas to children’s toys and leather belts.
Pansodan Street is known for two things: possibly the highest concentration of British colonial buildings in one place in Southeast Asia, and traditional street shops selling books in Burmese and English, often at very low prices.
What was perhaps the most beautiful colonial building in Myanmar, if not in all Asia, was the Supreme Court. Designed by architect James Ransome, construction of the Court began in 1905 and it was completed in 1911. It is noted for its Queen Anne-style architecture, including a clock tower and redbrick exterior. It’s on the city’s official list of heritage structures. Another set of colonial buildings revealed themselves: the magnificent Custom House, the General Post Office, unchanged
since it was built, the British and Australian embassies and, perhaps the best of all, The Strand Hotel. The Victorian-style hotel, named after its address at 92 Strand Road, was built in 1896 and opened its doors in 1901. During the colonial period, it was one of the most luxurious hotels in the British Empire, with an exclusively white clientele. Over the years it became one of the most famous hotels in Southeast Asia, attracting guests like Pierre Cardin, Mick Jagger and David Rockefeller, among others.
All in all, Myanmar is a treat and a sight for sore eyes, especially for all those looking for a bit of history, architecture and life in the slower lane.