Yangon has been through more in the past 200 years than most cities experience in a millennium. Captured by the British in the 19th century, then city (then known as Rangoon) became the seat of British colonial Burma. It was later here that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi was born into a world that would simultaneously embrace and persecute her ideals on democracy and the Burmese way of life.
In 2006, the military junta shifted capital status from Yangon to the purpose-built Naypyidaw, and then in 2008 Cyclone Nargis struck Yangon and inflicted – if not cataclysmic – damage. But this millennium-old city is resilient, and once the storm lifted reconstruction began.
Today, Yangon serves as the gateway to increasingly popular world travel destination. As democratic reforms move forward in Myanmar, foreign investment has flooded the economy and a new sense of optimism has swept over Yangon. For volunteers in Asia who want to be on the front lines of reform and development, Yangon is the place to be based.
Yangon International Airport serves as gateway to the entire country, and virtually all visitors arrive here in this city of 5 million people before setting out to explore the countryside and ruins of Bagan.
Yangon is a fascinating amalgam of Burmese, British, Indian and Chinese influence. It hosts the most impressive collection of colonial-era architecture in the region, much of which is varying states of disrepair. The following are a few of the key attractions in Yangon:
• Shwedagon Paya: Myanmar’s iconic pagoda is the showpiece of Yangon and is best viewed at sunset when the evening light glimmers off of its massive gold plates and more than 5,000 diamonds.
• National Museum: though the curation leaves something to be desired, this museum is home to spectacular national treasures, including diamond-studded beds and ceremonial costumes that belonged to the last king to reign over Myanmar.
• Kandawgyi Lake: centrally located in Yangon, this lake captures the reflection of Shwedagon Paya and hosts a collection of shrines and monuments.
• Aung San Suu Kyi’s House: while not an outright sightseeing attraction, the residence in which Myanmar’s voice of democracy was held on house arrest is located on Inya Lake in Yangon.
Experience the Real Yangon
Myanmar is only now breaking onto the international tourist scene, and this is sending ripples of investment through Yangon. Time will tell, but it’s likely that this city is going to see a great deal of change over the next few years.
International volunteers in Yangon are on the front lines of this historic city’s development. They’re working with underdeveloped communities to improve sanitation, deliver aid and teach English to those eager to capitalize the burgeoning tourism industry.
Not only are volunteers in Yangon making a difference in Burmese peoples’ lives, they’re also exposed to a side of the city that tourists miss out on complete. While forging friendships with locals and working with ethnic minority communities, they’re essentially paving the way to stronger international relationships with this once-marginalized city. There’s no better way to experience this rising Southeast Asian metropolis.