Downtown Yangon for me starts from the famous Bogyoke Aung San Market and continues all the way past the Sule Pagoda to the sluggish Yangon river. The area has a severe Calcutta throwback especially of the Dalhousie and B.B.D.Bag areas and it is chaotic, busy, and photogenic. Old colonial buildings line the broken sidewalks which are peppered with typists, poster sellers, government postage stamps and bondsmen, street food stalls and people hawking quirky old-fashioned bric a brac from wicker baskets. Large, heavy wooden doors lead up to dingy old-fashioned broad wooden steps and these open into offices with high ceilings and slow rotating fans. Clickety-clack of typewriters matches with the constant shuffling of feet and traffic noises overpower them all. The roads get more and more commercial as the river approaches and in the midst of all the chaos, Sule Pagoda glistens like a silent meditating monk.
Visit the vibrant Theingyi Zay at downtown Yangon
Occupying an important traffic juncture, Sule Pagoda is surrounded by bird feed and temple offering sellers. They squat on the pavement circling the pagoda and the seeds scattered by the pious faithful attract pigeons in hordes. The birds coo and peck all over the place, while splattering droppings on every inch of exposed space and often drowning the pavements with the frantic flapping of their wings. All this action happens, while busy vehicular traffic swarms the pagoda from every side and with the deepening dusk, the whole area gets more atmospheric. Sule Pagoda, being an important site of worship always draws crowds of worshipers and perhaps, for this reason, one of Yangon’s most colorful quarters, the Theingyi Zay too is located here. Touted as one of the most interesting markets of Asia, Theingyi Zay is a giant of a commercial hub with nearly every possible consumer product for sale. The market which was first built in 1905, has more than 1,100 shops and these spill over the existing building into the surrounding streets and blocks. The result is the biggest local market of the city of Yangon and an impossibly tangled web of shops selling rice, fish paste, clothing, cosmetics, raw herbal medicines, beeswax, toys etc.
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Downtown Yangon comes alive after sunset
Smells, sounds and sights bombard Theingyi Zay’s visitor, even before they reach the actual market building and it is definitely not a place for the squeamish. Surging sweating crowd graze past your body all the time and the locals’ busy movements result in humid pushes, shoves and jostle. The effect, however, is highly photogenic and the Burmese are genuinely gentle friendly folks. Despite their busy day, they take time to look at you, sometimes smile and nearly always charmingly pose for photos upon request. With the setting sun, the busy area gets even more hectic and Yangon’s central night market comes alive with fluorescent lights, gas lamps and flickering candles. Footfall increases as people stop by after work for shopping and the sidewalks nearly burst the seams with colourful piles of fresh exotic fruits, vegetables, flowers and meat products. Street food sellers also get busy as hungry shoppers gather around for quick bites and the strong odour of char-grilled, barbecued, smoked and fried meats thicken the air. Dust also rises with the constant flow of footfall and the Yangon river kindly wafts occasional cool breeze to avoid stifling the city.
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Downtown Yangon is a doppelgänger of Calcutta’s Dalhousie area
These are my favourite places in Yangon and I spent all my evenings in the city wandering along the mesh of lanes. The gritty network of people, buildings and shops hold my favourite Rangoon Tea House and I shop for cheap eats there. The crumbling mansions of pastel shades and in various stages of decay constantly remind me of Calcutta and many signboards proudly display in Bengali and Hindi dialects, along with the local Burmese language. Old brick walls with their entwined gnarly banyan trees, fluttering lines of drying laundry and tangled mess of electrical wires all remind me of home, which was not too far away and I find a lot of solace amidst their colourful photogenic grime. The following photo series is dedicated to Yangon, its colourful chaos, photogenic bustle and the surreal doppelgänger quality of Calcutta.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE