Photo Essay: Colourful Yangon, Burma (Myanmar)

Long time readers will recall that I went to Burma in early 2010, and was absolutely blown away by the resilience and beauty of the Burmese people, and inspired by the mountains and rice fields. My initial thoughts about Burma were jumbled but overwhelmingly positive. Overstaying my visa by several weeks, I was able to venture into Kachin territory for the Kachin State Fair and far south into the Mon State to visit the Golden Rock and the lovely city of Hpa-An.

Photos from Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

Though Yangon’s name means “end of strife”, the city has certainly seen its share of it over the years. Conquered in 1755, it was then captured during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824), returned to Burma following the war and then decimated by fire in 1841. Seized by Britain in the Second Angle-Burmese war (1852), the city was occupied by the Japanese from 1942-1945 and damaged by World War II. Following World War II, Yangon’s formidable infrastructure declined markedly (especially in the 1960s) and the city was hit by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Current Yangon, a cross-pollination of ethnicities, foods and colourful buildings in slow decay, remains a wondrous place to discover. Despite its size, I saw few tourists and even fewer nonchalant Burmese: walking down the street inevitably led to a series of smiles, waves and a serious amount of staring. Given the isolation in Burma, its inhabitants were understandably thirsty for interaction. Thus, any given moment turned into a portrait of odds and ends.

Case in point, this was the scene outside my hostel on my first morning:

Typical morning near Motherland 2 hostel in Yangon
Giant cow? Check. Satellite dish? Check. Lifejacket store? Check. Teenage boys catcalling the female tourists? Check.

I started out in Yangon, and then looped back to the former capital as my time in Burma was coming to a close. The first thing that caught my eye was the buildings, slowly losing the fight against the elements but incredibly elegant in their dilapidation:

Light shining on the colourful buildings of Yangon Burma Myanmar
Light shining on the colourful buildings of downtown Yangon

Colorful buildings of Yangon Burma

Lots of yellows and greens in the narrow streets off of Sule Pagoda.

My favourite block of buildings in Yangon

My favourite block of buildings in central Yangon: I love all the colours and styles. (The fact that there are a slew of cheap street food stalls facing these buildings didn’t sway my decision at all).

Streetside barbershop Yangon

Even the barbershops are colourful.

Colourful Bombay Burma Press building in Yangon

Bombay Burma Press Building. In front of it: an impromptu soccer game with the many laughing kids from the street.

Contrasting colours on the streets of Yangon

Contrasting colours on the streets of Yangon.

Myanmar Astro Research Bureau

Even the astro-research bureau’s sign has character.

No visit to Yangon is complete without seeing the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda, 2,500 years old and looming over the downtown core. Adorned in a dizzying amount of gold, the series of zedis that make up Shwedagon remain an active worship site for Burmese. I arrived in late afternoon and sat for hours as floods of Burmese people came through to pay their respects and take in the sun setting behind the pagodas.

Shwedaggon pagodas Yangon Burma
Some of the many pagodas in Shwedagon.

Monk reading at Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon

This monk sat and read until it was too dark to see.

Bird atop a zedi in shwedagon pagoda burma

Bird atop a zedi at Shwedagon Pagoda.


Buddha at dusk in Shwedagon Pagoda Myanmar
Buddha at dusk.

Sun setting behind a zedi at Shwedagon Pagoda

Sunsets and shadows at Shwedagon.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon Myanmar

Of course, Yangon was not all temples and buildings. There was food to be had:

Chicken Biryani from Yangon
Delicious chicken biryani from Anwaratha road.

Snacktime in Yangon Myanmar

Assorted animal parts, a typical afternoon snack.

Another part of what made Myanmar so visually fascinating was the contrast between the monks and nuns, one red the other bright pink and orange:

Monks walking in Yangon
Monks walking in central Yangon.

Nuns on the streets of Yangon

Nuns on the streets of Yangon.

On my final day here, these lovely nuns stopped to talk, offer me food and stare. This was my last picture from Yangon and a scene that remains etched in my head as well:

Nuns waving goodbye Yangon

These photos are a small excerpt of the full set; my next post will feature the beautiful Mingalar market just outside of Central Yangon.


25 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Colourful Yangon, Burma (Myanmar)”

  1. I’ve read so very little on Myanmar as a travel destination that it’s nice to see this glimpse from your trip!

    Though funny enough, my husband and I were in Borneo for our honeymoon earlier this summer, and right before we left, we were discussing our trip with my editor at Frommer’s. He told us that back in his days as a dive instructor in Thailand, he *thought* he booked a month-long trip to Borneo to dive, only he got to the airport and it turned out his ticket was to Burma instead. (How an educated man, and travel writer at that, could make such a glaring error is beyond me!) So he went with it and wound up in Burma for a month, which I imagine was a drastically different experience than the one he was expecting to have in Borneo =)

  2. Gorgeous photos yet again, Jodi! Not visiting Burma is probably my biggest regret of my Southeast Asian adventures. Oh well, until next time.

    Can’t wait to see/read more!

  3. Nice photos. That barber shop looks like the one I had my hair cut at. He got the cut throat razor out for my beard and didn’t leave a mark! Also the Chicken Biriyani looks good! I had one somewhere in Yangon and the chicken was so succulent.

  4. Jodi, these pictures are exquisite. So much personality!

    Burma has been calling my name for a while now, and I’d planned to spend four weeks there later this year as part of a seven week SE Asia adventure. Turns out there’s an election planned for the very week I’d be arriving, so it seems that even if I managed to get a visa, it wouldn’t be the smartest time to be there. Sad face. (Plan B is looking mighty fine, though – Vietnam, baby!)

    Your posts about your travels in Burma have been so helpful and inspiring, and it’s been reassuring to know that traveling there as a solo female isn’t as completely bonkers as some might have us believe. Thank you!

  5. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Myanmar: Photo essay on Yangon

  6. Thanks everyone!

    @Kirstin: Swapping Borneo for Burma must have been quite a shock. How did he enjoy his month in Burma?

    @Adam: the biriyani was from Nilar Biryani at 216 Anawrahta Rd. There’s another one right next store, but Nilar was the best – wonder if we went to the same shop?

    @Lisa: election time would likely mean restricted tourism and I agree that it might not be the best date to visit. Hopefully you’ll get to visit on your next SEA adventure.

  7. Nilar sounds very familiar. I went to the one with more people in it and I think it was the most westerly one. :) Whatever the case, it was so nice. Funnily, no other tourists were in there when I was there. In fact, no other tourists seemed to be eating out at all – they all just stuck to the guesthouse where the food was very ordinary.

    1. Yes, that sounds about right. Definitely the only tourists in the place, with its huge vats of biriyani on the sidewalk (at $1 a plate, they were well more expensive than the streetfood, but too good to pass up!). Same thing happened to me: of the people I met at the guest houses ate there or at the more expensive restos, missing out on 30 cent mohinga, chickpea fries and this delicious ricefest. Glad you enjoyed as well!

  8. Looking at these photos yesterday brought a smile to my face, especially that last one of the nuns looking over their shoulder down the street at you. Such a fascinating a special place.

  9. You and Aye from GotPassport are really skewing our perception of Burma, in the best way possible. Can Burma possibly have the world’s best food, with Indian and Thai influences?

  10. Thanks for the amazing photos and reflections! I’ve been following you for more than a year and you have given me some great ideas for my own trip, thanks!!!

  11. Beautiful pictures. But one thing to note, there are no Buddhist nuns in Burma, technically speaking, because there’s no tradition of ordaining nuns anymore in the country, since the lineage died out long ago. The women wearing the pink robes are “thilashin.”

  12. amazing pictures, its like time stopped in those areas. id love to see yangon in the future… thanks for sharing jodi…

  13. @AK I was aware that the thilashin in Burma were not considered equal to monks in status, however they called themselves nuns to me (and the monks there referred to them as nuns). For simplicity’s sake, I will stick to that terminology, but understand that they are not the same as the historical lineage and have not been technically ordained as nuns. Thank you for your comment and for reading!

  14. Pingback: Climbing Mandalay Hill in Burma (Myanmar) | Legal Nomads

    1. Hi Jon, I stayed at Golden Smile (which I really enjoyed) near Sule Pagoda and Motherland 2 (which I would not recommend). Okinawa also gets excellent feedback from other travelers.

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