Downtown Yangon

The crowded sidwalk around the corner from TradersWe spent our first night in Myanmar in the Traders Hotel, a very new hotel located in the heart of the city. Reasonably priced and with great service, it was our jumping off point in the country. We spent the first day just taking in the atmosphere in Yangon. While there are new buildings (such as Traders) the A view of the downtown side streets from the hotelgeneral impression of the environs around the hotel is that the buildings from the colonial period remain, with very little alteration or repair. The first morning we headed toward the nearby Bogyoke Aung San Market, just down the street from the hotel. As the photo to the left attests, the sidewalk has been usurped by merchants and the buildings all date from World War II or earlier. The photo to the right, shot from the elevator lobby of our floor, gives some glimpse into the aging and eclectic architecture of the downtown area.

Click here for an aerial view of the train station Directly across the street from the hotel was the picturesque old train station (to the left) which looked as though it could have been built in Surrey or Sussex! Long since abandoned, it was another The decaying evidence of a colonial pastreminder of Myanmar's colonial legacy. It is a legacy which is characterized by neglect. There is little evidence (except at upscale western hotels) that any continuity exists between contemporary life and the culture of the colonial period. Unlike India, for example, there was no admiration or emulation of British culture. The structures remain, but they are largely neglected, valued solely for their utilitarian value as the photo to the right shows.

Farmer's market Myanmar styleThe decaying architecture is a stark contrast to the vibrancy of the downtown area, which is alive with merchants and vendors of every description. The photo to the left shows the makeshift vegetable stalls found on nearly every corner. In addition to fresh vegetables, nearly every sort of fruit, or foodstuffs--fresh, Grasshoppers, anyone?smoked, salted or stewed--could be found along the streets. Although life here is certainly demanding, the visitor is met by smiling faces and enthusiastic service. The picture to the right shows a woman presiding over her stand. The items to the left are varieties of fresh grapes, while to the left are baked grasshoppers, a popular delicacy judging from the number of stands we saw hawking them. Yum Yum.

An unlikely Hindu Temple in this Buddhist landAmidst the street vendors we found the temple on left, which was unusual for two reasons. First, it was a Hindu temple in a land that is predominantly Buddhist. Second, it was the one structure in the Bogyoke Aung San Marketthree block walk to the main market that was in pristine condition. The photo to the right shows our ultimate destination, the Bogyoke Aung San Market. It is a two-storey market that has about anything the visitor to Myanmar would seek--jade of every description, textiles, wood carvings--you name it, they have it. It was also a bargainer's heaven, as Tracy put to work the skills she has honed in her 14 years in Asia as we shopped for gifts for friends and family.

Meet the chef!I don't know about you, but to me shopping ranks a poor second to food. Following our second day of seeing the sights described on subsequent pages, we sought out a good restaurant. Most people recommended L'Opera, an Italian restaurant located near the embassies on the north side of the city. The owner, Maurizio prepares great pasta dishes, and stops by each table soliciting comments. We had an interesting discussion with Maurizio, who is married to a Laotian wife, about the difficulties of procuring the needed ingredients for Italian cuisine in the heart of Asia. He posed for a photo with us before hustling back to his duties in the kitchen.

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