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Yangon, the capital city, has an impressive colonial and spiritual heritage, which makes it one of the most fascinating capitals of South-East Asia. Despite being a city of 4 million inhabitants, much of Yangon still retains a feeling of space, with wide tree-lined streets and many reminders of its colonial past. Parts of the city look as if they have been transplanted from the shires of England with red brick houses surrounded by walled gardens. Fine examples of colonial architecture from the days of British India survive everywhere in the city especially around Sule Pagoda with the City Hall, the Supreme and High Court Buildings, the General Post Office, colonial offices on Pansodan Street and the beautifully restored Strand Hotel.  

Yangon’s most famous sight is the Shwedagon Pagoda whose giant golden dome and stupa dominate the capital’s skyline. Originally built around 2, 500 years ago to house eight sacred hairs of the Buddha, the pagoda has changed beyond all recognition over the centuries. The first structure was only 9 metres high and it was not until 1774 that it reached its current height of 107 metres. The great bell-shaped dome is covered with 60 tonnes of gold leaf and the top of the stupa is encrusted with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. On the bustling terrace around the stupa devoted Buddhists from all over the country pay their respects by offering flowers, pouring water over the different Buddha statues or shopping for Buddhist artefacts to take home. Shwedagon is a particularly impressive place to visit at sunset.

Two other interesting Yangon pagodas are Sule Pagoda and Kyauktagyi Pagoda. Sule Pagoda, which dates back over 2, 000 years, has a 48-metre high octagonal golden stupa and was also originally founded to house hairs of the Buddha said to have been a gift from Indian missionaries. Kyauktagyi Pagoda on the other hand dates back only to 1966 but is well worth visiting for its enormous 70-metre reclining Buddha.

The National Museum contains some items of interest including the 8 metre-high Lion Throne that was used by Burma’s last monarch, King Thibaw, at the Royal Palace in Mandalay. A stroll along Mahabandoola Street in the small downtown area shows just how diverse the population of Myanmar is. In ‘India town’ you will encounter street-stalls selling pungent Indian spices, mosques and colourful Hindu temples. In nearby ‘China town’ visit the bustling night market, exotic temples scented with incense smoke or shop for souvenirs. For serious souvenir shopping the place to head for is Bogyoke Market, a sprawling mecca for bargain hunters, established by the  British in 1920’s as Scott’s Market. Here you can find a huge selection of Burmese souvenirs including woodcarvings, lacquerware, basketware, Shan shoulder bags, colourful textiles, longyis, monks’ umbrellas, gems, jewellery and cheroots, the famous Burmese cigar. For dining Yangon has a variety of restaurants offering Myanmar, Indian, Chinese, Thai and western cuisine ranging from a simple bowl of mohinga soup to a full blown banquet.

An interesting day trip from Yangon is Bago, 80km to the northwest of the capital. Formerly known as Pegu, Bago was the capital of the Mon Kingdom in the 15th century and its Mon style Shwemawdaw Pagoda with its 114-metre high stupa is one of the most venerated in Myanmar. Bago is perhaps most famous however for its huge 55-metre reclining Buddha, known  as the Shwethalyaung Buddha. Another day trip on the opposite side of Yangon River takes you through rice paddies and small villages to the famous pottery village of Twante, idyllically situated along the river. A six hour drive to the east of Yangon is Mon State home to one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist sites, the magnificent ‘Golden Rock’ at Kyaiktiyo. A huge boulder covered in gold leaf and said to contain a hair of Buddha is perched on a cliff at the peak of Kyaiktiyo Mountain. A breathtaking sight in a beautiful forested area.

 
 
 
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