Why Yangon Should Be on Your 2020 Wish List
Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and perpetually balmy commercial center, is buzzing. The country’s democratic reforms in 2011 ended five decades of political and economic isolation, prompting a social and cultural blossoming, especially in the former capital. The co-working spaces, designer boutiques, art galleries, and organic eateries popping up here were frankly unimaginable under the previous regime. Travelers are returning, embarking on luxury cruises, and staying in stylish hotels, including the new Rosewood Yangon, which officially opens its doors this month. And by supporting these newly sprouted businesses, visitors are helping provide economic opportunities to people who have lacked it for decades.
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts is thrilled to support Myanmar’s re-emergence. Here are five reasons why you should consider a visit to thriving Yangon now.
1. It’s a Cultural Crossroads
Many of Yangon’s prized attractions showcase the city’s Buddhist heritage: The 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most sacred, glistens with more than 4,500 diamonds, including the largest, a 72-carat sparkler. But the city has a rich history as a melting pot. In 1853, the British transformed what was a small fishing village into Rangoon, Burma’s capital, a role it served until 2006 (the name was officially changed to Yangon in 1989). The international diplomats, merchants, and professionals who settled here left their mark on the cityscape. Fascinating remnants include the 155-year old Armenian Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist on Merchant Street; the imposing Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1880; and Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, consecrated in 1896.
2. Shopping Here Makes a Difference
Yangon is in the midst of a material cultural renaissance. Designers and artisan boutiques are adapting the Burmese heritage of craftsmanship for the international marketplace, while also creating sustainable opportunities for some of Myanmar’s poorest communities. Fair-trade pioneer Pomelo offers charming children’s toys, jewelry, and housewares sourced from dozens of collectives and social enterprises around the country. Some of its alumni have opened Hla Day, a home goods boutique that collaborates with socially-conscious international brands like Pippa Small and Turquoise Mountain, as well as with local artisans in remote villages. Profits from the smile-inducing stuffed animals, tablecloths, and candles in the kaleidoscopic showroom of FXB benefit the NGO’s efforts in fighting poverty, preventing AIDS, and providing vocational training. For museum-quality traditional crafts, seek out the ethnographic textile goods—including vibrant blankets, shawls, and bags—at Yoyamay. Products here are hand-woven by around 200 mostly female artisans from several ethnic communities in western Myanmar.
3. You’ll Eat Well While Doing Good
Social entrepreneurs have also set their sights on Yangon’s dining scene, where some of the city’s top tables seek to maximize their impact on the community. Since 2012, the inspiring staff of women from disadvantaged backgrounds at Yangon Bakehouse have served heartfelt fare like leafy organic salads, chicken pies, and gooey brownies. Shwe Sa Bwe, set amid bucolic tropical gardens, serves exceptional French bistro fare while teaching underprivileged youth how to cook their way towards better lives.
For a taste of local cuisine—like shàn k’auq swèh, noodles bathed in spicy chicken broth—head to 35-year-old Shan 999 Noodle Shop, behind City Hall. Rangoon Tea House, a delightful time warp that honors Yangon’s century-old tea culture, adds a full menu of traditional dishes to its extensive Burmese tea options. Enjoy fresh pennywort salad, zesty curries, and mohinga—a comforting fish and noodle soup considered the national dish of Myanmar—under the hum of whirring ceiling fans. Past meets present at the elegant Le Planteur, where chef Jean-Marc Lemmery’s contemporary interpretations of Indochine cuisine—foie gras is a signature dish—are served in a sprawling, colonial-style manse near Shwedagon Pagoda.
4. The Arts Community Is in Full Bloom
Yangon is home to a thriving community of artists, many of whom find inspiration in Myanmar’s fraught history and uncertain future. Among the top galleries are River Gallery, run by New Zealand–born Gill Pattison in a historic downtown house; it represents some of Myanmar’s most recognizable talents, including Htein Lin, Zaw Win Pe, and Soe Moe. Artist, poet, and entrepreneur Aun Soe Min, a champion of the Myanmar culture scene, showcases works by both emerging and established artists at Pansodan Art Gallery. At his more recent venture, Pansuriya, rare vintage and contemporary photography accompany an ever-expanding menu of Burmese food, along with poetry readings and art talks. At New Treasure Art Gallery, a new space in Yangon’s northern Bahan township, artist Min Wae Aung draws inspiration from Myanmar’s Buddhist heritage for his own works, which he displays alongside more than 300 paintings from 60 fellow artists, many of them promising young talent.
5. Rosewood Yangon Has Opened
The luxury property occupies an impressive former courthouse built in 1932 by architect Thomas Oliphant and engineering firm Dorman Long—the company behind Sydney Harbor Bridge and the colonial railways of India. Renowned Burmese historian Dr. Thant Myint-U and his Yangon Heritage Trust oversaw the meticulous restoration that transformed the building, with its dramatic three-story Ionic columns, into the new 205-room Rosewood.
Guests will enter through a striking single-story colonnade fronting the Yangon River along Pansodan Street, better known as The Strand. The grand lobby is notable for its original bronze elevator doors and teak handrails, while upstairs, the Burmese-influenced guestrooms and suites feature high ceilings and abundant natural light. Five distinct eating establishments include a panoramic rooftop bar with views across the city.
Shwedagon Pagoda: Ar Zar Ni Street
Armenian Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist: 66 Bo Aung Kyaw Street; +95 1-242-318
Methodist Episcopal Church: 63 Alan Pya Pagoda Street; +95 1-379-820
Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue: 85 26th Street; +95 1-252-814
Pomelo: 89 Thein Phyu Road; +95 1-295-358
Hla Day: 81 Pansodan Street, 1st Floor; +95 9-45224-1465
FXB: 294/3 Shwegondine Road; +95 1-556-324
Yoyamay: #20, Main Front Building (Upstairs), Bogyoke Market, Bogyoke Aung San Road; +95 9-45002-9481
Yangon Bakehouse: Pearl Condo, Block C, Ground Floor, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road; +95 9-797-008040
Shwe Sa Bwe: 20 Malikha Street; +95 9-42100-5085
Shan 999 Noodle Shop: 130b 34th Street; +95 1-389-363
Rangoon Tea House: Ground Floor, 77-79, Pansodan Street, Lower Middle Block; +95 9-979-078681
Le Planteur: 80 University Avenue Road; +95 1-514-230
River Gallery: 33/35, 37th and 38th Street; +95 9-783-209485
Pansodan Art Gallery: 1st Floor, 286, Pansodan Street; +95 9-513-0846
Pansuriya: 102 Bogalayzay Street; +95 9-778-949170
New Treasure Art Gallery: 84 Thanlwin Road; +95 9-42107-7040
Yangon Heritage Trust: +95 1-240-544