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.


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