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Discover Yangon, Myanmar’s Untouched and Charming Cultural City

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Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is Myanmar’s largest city, with a population of over 5 million.  In 2006, the capital of Myanmar was moved to Naypyidaw, but Yangon continues to be the country’s business and cultural center.

Starting from the 1990’s, the city is starting to see a slow increase in high rise buildings as the government started allowing private investment.  However, traditional elements continue to dominate the city, as evident by its colonial buildings (possibly the most out of any Southeast Asian city) and the longyi wearing inhabitants.

Yangon’s most famous structure, Shwedagon Pagoda was built during the time of Buddha’s life, more than 2,500 years ago.  Historians, however, dated the city from the 6th century when a Mon village was located in the premise.  The city was named Yangon (which means end of strife) in 1755 by Shwebo based King Alaungpaya when he captured it from the Mons and realized its importance as a port city.  The city was even more valuable to the British.  They made it the capital of British Burma as well as the trading and commercial center of Myanmar in the mid-19th century.  It was during this time that the city was re-named Rangoon, which was a British mispronunciation of the word Yangon.

One of the must-sees in Yangon is Shwedagon pagoda.  Unlike other religious sites, this one has both a spiritual and relaxed feel to it.  It is common to see teenagers gossiping and children running up and down the area while others are deep in prayer in front of a shrine.  Shwedagon Pagoda truly captures the informal, relaxed and religious nature of the Burmese people into one spot.  However, both foreign local visitors must still wear proper clothing and remove their footwear when entering the pagoda.

There are also several other pagodas to visit in Myanmar.  The Sule Pagoda is a 46 meter high stupa located in the center of downtown Yangon.  It is said to have been built 2,000 years ago and contains a strand of Buddha’s hair.  Another important stupa is Botataung Pagoda, located near the Yangon River.  It is said that the pagoda houses over 1,000 strands of Buddha’s hair.  The pagoda was rebuilt after its destruction during World War 2 and is now hollow inside (making it the only hollow pagoda in the world).  The city also contains several cathedrals which were built during the colonial times.

Yangon is also a city of parks and lakes.  Inya Lake is the city’s largest and one of the most popular recreational areas.  Many, especially young couples enjoy walking around the lake’s shores, which can take as long as 2 hours to circle around.  Kandawgyi Lake is located east of Shwedagon Pagoda.  It is artificial, with the water being channeled from Inya Lake.  The lake is surrounded by Kandawgyi Nature Park and the Zoological Gardens which contain some of the country’s most exotic wild animals as well as a museum, an aquarium and an amusement park.  Mahabandolla Park is known for its rose garden as well as being home to the Independence Monument and colonial buildings.

Yangon is surely one of Southeast Asia’s most charming cities.  Its combination of European structures, religious sites, parks and lakes make it a fascinating city to visit.  The city is also relatively untouched by tourism, ensuring that you are one of the few people in the world to have ever visited the city.

One great way to explore the city and its surroundings is to take Exotissimo’s Yangon Circle Train half-day tour.  You will board the train from Yangon’s main railway station and observe the everyday life of Myanmar’s largest city as well as its various neighborhoods outside of town before looping back to the starting point.  You can also explore the city and its surroundings in depth with our Highlights of Yangon & Surroundings tour.  Explore one of Asia’s most enchanting cities as you tour Yangon’s premier attractions as well as discover its teashops, quiet neighborhoods and enigmatic locals.  See our Myanmar tours page for other interesting ideas into one of the world’s most mysterious destinations.

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