Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a city of four million people but a bit of a contradiction. It sprawls over a large area, but the centre is quite compact. In places it is polluted and cramped, in others broad leafy boulevards provide shade. The main streets in the centre are laid out in a grid system containing many neglected British colonial buildings. The main roads are usually busy with plenty of smoke-belching buses, but also a significant proportion of new cars, horns honking constantly. However there are quiet lanes nearby with old faded five stoey appartment blocks reflecting their colonial heritage with names such as Godwin Mansions. Although many roads have changed names there is still Strand Road containing the famous Strand Hotel, contemporary of Raffles and you will still see faded street signs for the likes of Fraser Street.
The centre reminded me of India, not surprising since the British brought many Indians here - in 1930 half of Yangon's population was Indian. It is much less now but there is still the legacy of Indian restaurants and tea shops. The other striking thing about Yangon is not so surprising - the presence of a number of golden zedis* - often placed within busy intersections. The most notable one of course is the Schwedagon Paya - the most sacred Buddhist site in the country and a magnet for locals and tourists alike. Built on a small hill to the north of the city, it's golden form can be seen shining from some distance. There are four covered walkways going up the small hill, each packed with small stalls selling religious artifacts. But when you emerge into the light you are immediately dazzled not just by the 100m tall zedi but also an assortment of smaller zedis, temples, shrines, statues and pavillions which cluster around its base. A truly majestic place.
* called Dagobas in Sri Lanka, chedis in Thailand, stupas in India, they are essentially large bell shaped structures found at the centre of buddhist temples.
counting the kyats (about $50 worth)