The largest city in Myanmar is Yangon (formerly Rangoon). This is an interesting city with a mix of colonial architecture, modern high-rises and many gilded Buddhist pagodas.
Shwedagon Paya is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. This 325 ft. zedi is adorned with 27 meteric tons of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds and other kinds of gems. It is believed that it enshrines eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha and other relics of three former Buddhas. Four entrance stairways lead to the main terrace. The hill upon which this stupa sits is 167 ft. above sea level and the entire complex stretches for 46 hectares, Visitors approach the main terrace along four covered walkways each of them flanked by a pair of 9m tall chinthe (a lion-like creature). If you prefer not to climb you can use the elevators found at the northern, eastern and southern entrances. The western entrance has a set of escalators.
All of the entrances except for the western one are lined with stalls that sell flowers – both real and lovely paper-made ones. You’ll also see fortune tellers and money exchange booths. The terrace has a glittering marble floor and many pavilions and worship halls with Buddha images and two giant cast-iron bells. At the center of the terrace Shwedagon Paya sits on a square plinth that stands 21 ft. above the main platform. Four large stupas (mound-like or hemispherical structures) mark the four cardinal directions, four medium-sized ones mark the four corners of the plinth and 60 small ones run around the perimeter. At the base of the stupa are 12 planetary posts that conform to the days of the week and locals pray at the station that represents the day they were born. As you leave the main terrace you can stop off at the small museum where you’ll find many Buddha statues and religious ornaments. There is also a scale model of the stupa and beautiful paintings of the temple done by MT Hla. A photo gallery displays photos of the stupa.
The primary traffic circle is occupied by the 2000-year old golden temple Sule Paya. This 46m zedi is thought to be older than Shwedagon Paya. The central stupa is known as Kyaik Athok. Translated from the Mon language is means “ the stupa where a Sacred Hair Relic is enshrined”.
The gilded zedi has an octagonal shape and at the north entrance there is a small golden karaweik (royal barge designed in the shape of a mythical bird). Visitors can load it with a prayer card, winch up a chain and then deposit the prayer card in a shrine higher up the stupa. The exterior base of the temple has small shops among them an Internet cafe and a guitar shop.
Botataung has a prominent location at the riverfront. Its most original feature is an amazing zig-zag corridor that has been gilded from floor to ceiling, winding its way around the hollow interior of this 131 ft. golden stupa. You can also see a bronze Buddha that once resided in the royal palace in Mandalay and a large pond that is full of terrapin turtles.
This temple was named after the 1000 military leaders who escorted hair relics of the Buddha from India to Myanmar more then 2000 years ago. In an Allied air raid in 1943 the temple was struck by a bomb but then rebuilt. The only difference was that the Botataung is now hollow and visitors can walk through it. There is a gold leaf-coated maze inside with glass showcases that contain lots of ancient relics and artifacts, including small silver and gold Buddha images, that were sealed inside the earlier stupa.
On the northern side of the stupa is a hall that features a large gilded bronze Buddha, which was cast during the reign of King Mindon Min. In the southwest corner of the temple is a nat (spirit being) pavilion with images of Thurathadi ( the Hindu deity Saraswati, goddess of learning and music) and Thagyamin (Indra king of the nat). For a good view of the Yangon River go to the nearby Botataung Jetty.
The People’s Park offers great views of the west side of Shwedagon Paya. Here you can enjoy flower gardens and ponds, fountains among them one that has concentric rings of white elephants and tree-top observation platforms that are linked by swinging bridges. There is a decommissioned Myanmar Airways Fokker which you can climb inside, a fighter jet and an old steam train.
At the park’s northwest corner is the Natural World Amusement Park with bumper cars and a log flume and there’s also a children’s amusement park Happy Zone.
Chaukhtatgyi Paya is housed in a large metal-roofed shed. It features a lovely 65m long reclining Buddha. The statue’s face is topped by a crown with encrusted diamonds and other precious stones. Close to the Buddha’s feet is a small shrine to Ma Thay, a holy man who had the power to stop rain and grant sailors a safe journey.
Attached to this temple complex is the Shweminwon Sasana Yeiktha Meditation Center, where many locals come to meditate.
Across the street from Chaukhtatgyi Paya is an amazing 46 ft. tall seated Buddha image at the Ngahtatgyi Pya. It is one of the most impressive sitting Buddhas in southern Myanmar.
Meilamu Paya is located next to the Nga Moe Yeik creek. Here you’ll find larger than life 3D stucco depictions of the Buddha’s life and practice. There is a giant crocodile housing a gallery depicting the legend of Mei La Mu, the girl born from a mangrove fruit, after whom this temple is named.
There are tea houses in the complex that overlook the creek and visitors can take a boat across the water to another cluster of stupas.
The highlight of the National Museum is an impressive 26 ft. high jewel encrusted Sihasana (Lion Throne) that belonged to King Thibaw Min, the last king of Myanmar. You can see ornate beds and silver and gold rugs. There are kitchen chairs made of ivory, ceremonial dresses and a large collection of betel-nut holders and spittoons. The upper floors offer a look into natural history, pre-history and an art gallery. The permanent exhibition offer the Vanishing Tribes of Burma, 70 photographic images of Richard K. Diran, who spent 17 years documenting around 40 ethnic groups, some of whose way of life had been practically unchanged for centuries.
The Ministers Office is a spectacular red-brick complex that takes up 6.5 hectares. It is a sight to see from the outside but has been off limits to the public since 1962. It was built in stages between 1889 and 1905, the Secretariat was the British seat of government for Burma. When the capital was moved to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005 the building was renamed the Ministers Office but stayed mostly abandoned. Then in 2011 the Ministry of Construction chose it as one of five key Yangon heritage buildings to be reconstructed. Once it is finally all done there will be a culture center and a historical museum. For now it can only be viewed from the outside and no one can enter the grounds.
The Strand Hotel opened its doors in 1901. It is a historic hotel and in its early years hosted such well-known people like Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and W. Somerset Maugham. The hotel was built by Turkish-American contractor Tigran Nierces Joseph Catchatoor. An annex was built next door in 1913 and now is home to the Australian Embassy. The hotel went through some rough times but after three years of renovation it was restored to its original luxurious state and reopened in 1993.
A walk through Mahabandoola Garden right in the heart of the downtown area offers great views of the surrounding heritage buildings such as the City Hall.
The highlight of the park is the Independence Monument, a 165 ft. white obelisk that is surrounded by two concentric circles of chinthe (half lion/half dragon deity). There is also a playground for children to enjoy. The park has been named in honor of General Thado Mahabandoola, a Burmese hero who conquered Assam and died in action in the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824.
Inya Lake was created by the British as a reservoir in 1883. The area in which the lake is located counts as one of the most exclusive areas of the city in which to live. The best places from which to view the lake are the parks running along part of Pyay Rd. and Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. If you prefer to go sailing stop by the Yangon Sailing Club. It is open to non-members on Friday nights. You can have drinks while enjoying the beautiful lakeside setting.
The Yangon Zoological Gardens is a vintage zoo that dates back to 1901. Visitors can view 45 species of mammals and 68 species of birds up close. The leafy grounds have been nicely landscaped and the King Edward VII 1915 Carnivore House has impressive architectural features. The zoo is located right in the heart of Yangon and is both a recreation center and a center for Zoological and Botanical researchers. The zoo takes up 69.25 acres. It is noted for its collection of wild animals, flora and fauna. Shows were animals perform are staged on public holidays. Visitors can take a look around the zoo while riding an elephant or a horse. There are restaurants at the zoo and The Natural History Museum.
Hlawga National Park is located in Taukkyan Village, Mingaladon Township, Yangon division. The park consists of a wildlife park, a mini-zoo and a buffer zone. It is located about 22 miles north of Yangon. One of the reasons it was created was to protect the forests and vegetative cover in the catchment of Hlawga Lake. Here you’ll find a collection of Myanmar indigenous wildlife species of mammals, reptiles and birds. The park has a mix of semi-evergreen forests, mixed deciduous forests and swamp forests.
The wildlife you’ll meet here includes Thamin, hog deer, barking deer, Sambar deer, rhesus monkey, pythons, pangolin, mythun, all in the fenced wildlife park. In the mini-zoo are small mammals, birds, tigers, leopards, bears and estuarine crocodiles that live in large spacious cages, aviaries and enclosures with moats.
In the buffer zone of the park you’ll find an 18-hole golf course created according to international standards.