Yangon is like a piece of jade. For the first-time visitor, it’s strikingly beautiful, albeit with a few rough edges, but it’s bound to a complex history that needs a keen mind to understand its genesis and formation. Now, thanks to a million-dollar polish courtesy of investment from beyond Myanmar’s borders, the city’s fortunes have sky-rocketed. From the gilded stupas to the spruced up downtown facades, it sparkles like an coveted gem and can justly claim to being considered an equal to the likes of Luang Prabang, Hanoi and Penang, the other colonial jewels of South-east Asia. Put simply, Yangon is having a bit of a moment.
Yet locked away and isolated from the greater world for several decades, Yangon has also become something that the region’s other metropolises have not. It remains untamed and elusive – its citizens are far more enigmatic than their Thai or Chinese neighbours. Despite this, the former capital’s intrinsic value hasn’t diminished in the years of crippling military junta rule that overshadowed its development – it remains rich with glorious tourist sights, bustling markets and serene, tranquil parks and lakes.
The ornamental Shwedagon Pagoda is the city’s prize asset, a series of golden Buddhist temples, crowned by an eye-popping 325ft-tall stupa, painted with 27 metric tons of gold leaf and adorned with thousands of diamonds and gems. It is still just as beautiful in the eye of the beholder as it was when it was first created more than 2,500 years ago.