Saturday, December 5, 2015

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda - the Balancing Rock that is not falling down the Hill

Picture by Arian Zwegers

Only a strand of hair from Buddha are preventing it from falling down the hill, a legend says. On the granite rock covered with thin leaves of gold left by an endless stream of pilgrims and called Golden Rock stands a litte Pagoda, called Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. At the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo - at an elevation of 700 meters - this is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar after the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay. Near the top of the mountain, at Yatetaung, two large lions are guarding the entrance. From here pilgrims and visitors have to climb to the Golden Rock barefoot on a paved track for 1,2 kilometres. The rock is a spectacular sight, especially at sunset.

The town of Kyaiktiyo lies at the foot of the mountain range, between Mawlamyine and Bago.

Nearer to the Golden Rock is the village of Kinpun. From here many pilgrims hike for 11 kilometers to the Golden Rock.
To get from Kinpun to the Golden Rock you can take a truck. The truck stop is to the left of the Sea Sar Hotel.

Buses from Yangon

Buses from Yangon are running to Kyaiktiyo and Kinpun. The trip takes around 5 hours. Start at Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal. Bus company Win Express (one way 700 Kyat, ticket office in Kinput near Sea Sar Guesthouse).

Myanmar National Airlines flies to Mawlamyine daily at 11.45 am. Buses from Mawlamyine take four hours,

Bus from Bago takes 3.5 hours and stops close to the train station.

Trains from Yangon

Trains from Yangon to Kyaiktiyo take four hours, comfort is described by KirstyB.

Guesthouses in Kinpun

Pann Myo Thu

Sea Sar Guest House: A building on the street and bungalows. Small dark rooms for US$ 10 per person with breakfast and rooms with bathroom and balcony for US$ 35 per person accorting to Meets the basic needs, mixed reviews on say.

Picture by Looser Oswald

Hotels on the Mountain Top

Mountain Top Hotel

Golden Rock Hotel

Kyaiktiyo Hotel: USD 45. The closest hotel to the Golden Rock.

Yoe Yoe Lay Guest House

Yoe Yoe Lay Hotel

Kyaw Kyaw Guesthouse

Golden Rock Tours from Yangon by Visit Myanmar from 250 USD/person.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Myanmar Insider News

Behind the Scenes of Myanmar's USD $31 Billion Jade Trade: During the Nov. 8 elections, Khin Maung Myint, 65, won an Upper House parliament seat for the National League for Democracy in Kachin State’s Hpakant District. in November, more than 100 jade miners in Hpakant were killed during a landslide. Later another landslide hit Hpakant. According to Khin Maung Myint a sharp increase in mining activity occurred after the opposition’s election victory. "The companies are getting worried that the new government may restrict the jade mining." Particularly, the companies related to the Wa ethnic group, such as Ever Winner, Myanma Tagaung, 111 and Yarza Htarni have intendified their activities, says Khin Maung Myint. The Global Witness report estimated the value of jade production last year alone exceeded $30 billion, but it is only hundreds of millions of dollars, according to official data. Khin Maung Myint comments: "Jade smuggling is an open secret. Companies bribe military officers in charge of border checkpoints in areas of Kachin State, such as Kampaiti and Nam Sanyam, and have been openly smuggling jade to China." He adds there is a lot of foreign investment from China. "The family members of high-ranking Chinese government officials are shareholders in companies such as Ever Winner and other companies related to the Wa ethnic group." Read more about the consequences of jade mining for environment on Khaosod English. Read also, how Myanmars lawmakers debated about the jade mining in Hpakant on, where 857 companies are operating. Parliament rejected the government measures according to

See Al Jazeera story about jade mining in Myanmar:

Chinese jade miners in overdrive ahead of new Myanmar government: Using heavy earth-excavators and explosives, miners have been tearing into Myanmar's northern hills in recent months, in a rush to excavate more jade from the world's richest deposits of the gemstone before a new government takes office next year, reports Reuters. Nay Win Tun, a flamboyant lawmaker and heavyweight in the jade trade with close links to the Myanmar military, says the Chinese have been flooding the trade with cash and equipment, ramping up production and taking over local miners. "Right now, the market is being ruined by China," he said in a rare interview at one of his mines near Hpakant. Read more.

Thousands of Myanmar's Suu Kyi supporters stage huge pre-election rally: Tens of thousands of red-clad supporters gave Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a rock-star reception, cheering and dancing as she addressed crowds in the country's largest city before an historic election next Sunday. That such a huge gathering could take place peacefully in Myanmar shows the extent to which the country has changed after President Thein Sein's semi-civilian government took power in 2011 following nearly half a century of strict military rule, ushering in a series of democratic reforms. Read more on Reuters.

Still the generals' election: One-quarter of MPs are directly appointed by the head of the armed forces according to the current constitution of Myanmar. The votes of more than three-quarters of MPs are needed to change the constitution. Read more on The Economist.

Despite critics, support for Suu Kyi strong before election: "I've made it quite clear that if the NLD wins the elections and we form a government, I'm going to be the leader of that government whether or not I'm the president," Aung Suu Kyi told Indian television channel India Today in an interview earlier this month. Read more.

After purge, Myanmar's Shwe Mann mounts campaign trail comeback: Ousted Myanmar ruling party chief Shwe Mann is mounting a comeback ahead of the historic election, setting the stage for a likely presidential bid that will add to the unpredictability of the country's transition to democracy. Read more on Reuters. Shwe Mann said during his campaign, he plans to collaborate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyyi. “We pledged to one another that we will work together for our country and its citizens, even though we each will still try to win the election,” he said according to

Myanmar Democracy Icon Finds Herself Assailed as Authoritarian: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is critisized with harsh words by longtime members of the democrazy movement. Read more.

The Purge against Shwe Mann and the comment of Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann has been ousted from his role as chairman of the ruling USDP party on August 12, amid a power struggle, as BBC reports. Until that night Shwe Mann, one of the most capable generals in the old military regime, had been seen as a likely successor to President Thein Sein, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reported. On August 18 Shwe Mann made some comments, when Myanmars parliament started its last session before the elections. Saying he did not “want the problem to escalate,” Shwe Mann shared with parliamentarians a list of accusations leveled against him, including opaque use of party funds, exhibiting undemocratic interparty behavior and failing to abide by the Constitution. The deposed USDP leader said concern over the potential negative impacts of these alleged transgressions to both the party and the country’s Nov. 8 general election had prompted his ouster, as reports. Earlier on Tuesday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi commented the manner in which Shwe Mann was dismissed as chairman, with state security forces surrounding the USDP headquarters in Naypyidaw as the party purge was executed. “With regard to the happenings in the middle of the night, this is not what you expect in a working democracy,” she said.

Myanmar floods: Nearly one million people affected - 99 dead: The number of people affected by flooding across Myanmar was approaching 1 million on Sunday, with waters in the low-lying southwestern delta inundating homes and forcing villagers into temporary shelters, the government said. The death toll was on the verge of topping 100. Read more on

Myanmar floods: Death toll rises to 88 as heavy monsoon devastates South-East Asia: The death toll from severe flooding across Myanmar has risen to 88, officials say, as rising waters swallow more homes in low-lying regions in some of the poorest parts of the country. Read more on

Myanmar gives 153 Chinese life in jail for illegal logging: A court in northern Myanmar sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison on Wednesday after convicting them of illegal logging in a case that has already strained relations with Beijing. Read more.

Myanmar denies reports president won’t run for 2nd term: President's Office denies Thein Sein in poor health, says he will decide to run ‘based on our country’s political situation’. Some media had reported Monday that Thein Sein would not contest his constituency in the Nov. 8 poll due to poor health. However, under Myanmar's constitution the president does not have to be an MP and is chosen by an electoral college. President's Office Director Zaw Htay said, that Thein Sein would decide whether to run for a second term "based on our country’s political situation". Read more.

Profits of Drug Trade Drive Economic Boom in Myanmar: “The seed capital of the Burmese economy is heroin,” said Ronald Findlay, an economist at Columbia University. illicit drug profits have been a major source of investment in rebuilding the country, and companies linked to the drug trade are building new roads and bridges and reshaping the skyline of the biggest city, Yangon. In a country where many business deals and real estate transactions are still done in cash and less than 15 percent of adults have a bank account, it is nearly impossible to trace where all that money goes, writes Thomas Fuller. He writes about the following companies: Asia World, founded by druglord Lo Hsing Han, Shwe Taung Group and Jewellery Luck.

Things fall apart along a violent stretch of the Myanmar-China border: Is the fighting in Kokang finished, as the Myanmar Government says? "The Economist" found a different picture. "Many roads into the region are closed, and villages lie deserted. During the first week of March—long after the government crowed that stability had been restored—Burman refugees from Kokang were still streaming into the Mansu monastery in central Lashio.". Read more. Read also: Kachins are grabbing opportunities for change from a reluctant government. And read: The Kokang conflict causes problems for China, too.

Myanmar says it has found a rare, white elephant in the jungles of the western Ayeyarwaddy region. According to Forestry official Tun Tun Oo the 7-year-old female was captured after it was initially spotted in a forest reserve in Pathein township. White elephants, actually albinos, have for centuries been revered in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and other Asian countries. Myanmar has eight white elephants in captivity — five in Naypyitaw Zoo and three in Yangon Zoo, as Bangkok Post reports.

Myanmar declares martial law in troubled Kokang region: Fighting broke out on Feb. 9 between the Myanmar army and an ethnic Kokang force called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), as reports. The MNDAA was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful Chinese-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government before splintering in 1989. Read background of then leader Peng Jiasheng (Pheung Kya-shin) and the role of MNDAA in illicit drug trade. Read report by Kyaw Myo Thun after the fightings this week in the border town of Laokkai, after thousands of people fled the fighting between the Myanmar Army and the MDNAA. Yang Mao-liang is said to be the a leader of MNDAA. Pheung Kya-shin (84) seems to be still active, he gave an interview in December 2014.
See the location on Myanmar Conflicts Google Map

China’s Influence in Myanmar Facing Growing Scrutiny: Mounting local opposition to Chinese-backed infrastructure projects in Myanmar over the past few months has again led to growing scrutiny on Beijing’s influence in the Southeast Asian state. In the Letpadaung copper mine in northwest Myanmar, a joint venture between a Chinese state-owned arms manufacturer and the Myanmar military, dozens of villagers obstructed the erection of a fence in the project area. Myanmar police fired on protesters near the mine, leaving one woman dead and nine other villagers wounded. Read more on


Picture by marhas
Jade and gem market in Mandalay

Searching for Burmese Jade, and Finding Misery: Jade’s journey is marked by drugs and death, writes The New York Times. "Myanmar’s jade industry is booming and should be showering the nation, one of the world’s poorest, with unprecedented prosperity. Instead, much of the wealth it generates remains in control of elite members of the military, the rebel leaders fighting them for greater autonomy and the Chinese financiers with whom both sides collude to smuggle billions of dollars’ worth of the gem into China, according to jade miners, mining companies and international human rights groups." The article highligts heroin use among the poor jade miners in Kachin state with its capital Myitkyina, the Kachin ethnic group, a largely Christian minority, the mining area in Hpakant, which is not accessible to foreigners, the role of Kachin Independence Army and of Myanmars military elite and the role of China. An article by Seamus Martov names Kyaing San Shwe, the son of officially retired head of Burma’s former military regime, General Than Shwe, as involved in the Jade Business in Hpakant. It names also the jade operations of The United Wa State Army. The military-controlled Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL) is also said to be a major player in the jade trade. Another military-owned firm involved in the jade business is the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). According to "The Irrawaddy" the in 2013 government received 250 million euros in revenue from the government’s jade mining joint ventures. "The poor condition of Kachin State’s schools, hospitals and general infrastructure make clear that the vast sums of money generated by the jade trade is not helping the conflict-wracked state much, if at all", notes Semaus Martov.

China's jade obsession drives a multi-billion dollar black market in Myanmar that fuels a drug-infested jade mining industry: At this year's Shanghai World Jewellery Expo jade items realized a price of $160 a gram, exceeding four times the price of gold. Most of Myanmar's raw jade enters a murky black market. Its official revenue from jade exports over from 2011 to 2014 was $1.3bn. But Harvard University's Ash Center estimates total jade sales - including through unofficial channels - were $8bn in 2011 alone. In Kachin State tens of thousands of small time jade pickers have flooded the mines in the town of Hpakant to sift through mine tailings, risking life and limb to toil in harsh conditions, hoping to strike jackpot. Then a smuggling network brings the jade to China. Read more on

Myanmar's main cities are beset by power cuts, prompting several waves of candle-lit street protests, while villagers are forced into debts to finance the grid: Roughly 70 per cent of Myanmar's population still does not have access to power. Myanmar has promised access to electricity for 50 per cent of its population by 2020 and for all by 2030. Read more on The Nation.

Inside the Kachin War Against Burma: Myanmnar's rulers have promised cease-fires with various ethnic groups that have been battling the military, in some cases for decades. But in the hills of Kachin, peace is further away than ever. Read more on

The Life of Burmese Male Sex Workers in Chiang Mai: In the backstreets of Chiang Mai on a small stage, around 20 young men in tight white briefs are dancing under disco lights. They are good looking and appear young; the oldest ones were perhaps 25 years of age, while some of them look like they could be teenagers. The dancers all come from Burma, they are Shan from Panglong, Loilem and Mong Nai townships. And they serve the gay visitors of Chiang Mai. Read more on

Can Coffee Replace Opium in Southern Shan State? In the hills in southern Shan state surrounding Taunggyi, up a tangle of roads barely passable in a Hilux, deep into an ocean of opium poppy fields barely clinging to the hillside, a few islands of other crops have sprung up. They are most prominently coffee and rubber – all part of a UN effort to guide farmers away from drug production with the promise of sustainable crops and stable income. Read more on

Colorful Fields in Shan State Signal Another Bumper Opium Crop: In west-Padaung, a hilly region located on the border of Shan and Karenni states, farmers are hard at work in their fields. It’s harvest season and the ethnic Kayan tribes here are busy tending to their crop: Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy. Read more on

Myanmar names developer for Hanthawaddy International Airport located north of Yangon: A Japanese-Singaporean joint venture has won the contract to build the new USD1.5 billion airport. Part of the joint venture are Yongnam Holdings Ltd. and Changi Airport Planners and Engineers (CAPE), as well as Japan’s JGC Corporation, reports

Burma’s Story, Told by One Crumbling Building: The little apartment building on 41th street in Yangon was graceful once. The building whispers of a past. Of solid middle-class lives. Of a cosmopolitan, colonial city that was once a great Asian crossroad, the capital of a country once called Burma. But that was a long time ago. How live the inhabitants these days? Why are they still careful, when speeking about politics? Read more on

Myanmar has licensed a few foreign banks. Its financial sector is still broken (The Economist)

Changing Myanmar - a report in German by Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Burmas Wandel - Eine Reportage - Mehr als freie Gedanken and Der Stoff, aus dem die Albträume sind

Sectarian Violence in Myanmar Threatens Livelihood of Muslims: It has been more than a month since Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, was rocked by deadly anti-Muslim riots. Broken windows and large dents in the facades of a dozen small Muslim-run businesses are the only visible reminders of when about 300 radical Buddhists rode into town wielding swords and bricks, killing two people. Read more on It happened in in Chan Aye Thar Zan township, 35th and 84th streets.

Undercover in Myanmar's Sin city where anything goes: The BBC's Myanmar Correspondent Jonah Fisher visited the gambling city Mong La in Shan State. It's a rebel-held territory, where the Myanmar army dares not go, called Special Region Number Four, on the border between China and Myanmar. It has existed entirely outside central government control for more than 25 years. See video. Mong La is also known for illicit Trade in Wild Cats. See pictures of illegal wildlife trade along the Burma-China border. Read also: China's Expanding Middle Class Fuels Poaching, Decadence in Myanmar. And: Dirty Old Town.

Plan for Burma-China Train Link Derailed: In 2011 Burma signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese state-owned enterprise to construct a railway from Kyaukphyu, on the Bay of Bengal, to the Chinese border and on to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, on the route of the Chinese-built oil and gas pipelines. Now this project has been abandoned due to concerns over the potential cost and environmental impact of the project, according to a Myanma Railways official. But there are rumours of China attempting to construct a direct motorway into Myanmar, as Eleven Myanmar reports.

Mandalay’s Chinese Muslims Chilled by Riots: When hundreds of Buddhist men carrying clubs and swords marauded through the streets of this old royal capital earlier this month, the owner of a Muslim-Chinese restaurant took down the Koranic scriptures and the image of Mecca hanging above the cashier and removed the Arabic writing from signs on the street. Read more on Read also

Dragon at the doorstep: The rising Chinese middle class in Myanmar feels the resentment of a wider population left behind by a real estate boom, reports The South China Morning Post. Legal and illegal trade with gems, rice and timber are booming along the porous border with the country’s largest trading partner, China. Corruption in Myanmar has allowed many Chinese migrants to settle in the country, where citizenship is still difficult to obtain. It is estimated, that a half million of Chinese are now living in Mandalay. Chinese dominate the trade. Anti-Chinese sentiment is on the rise. In Myitkyina Chinese Power Investment, a Chinese state-owned company, plans a dam, where the Mayka and Malika Rivers merge to become the mighty Irrawaddy. The Myitsone Dam would flood an area the size of Singapore, displacing an estimated 15,000 people, to provide electricity to China’s Yunnan province. After growing opposition on September 30, 2011, the dam construction was suspended by President Thein Sein. China Power Investment continues to push for its resumption. Another Chinese-backed project is Monywa copper mine in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, operated by Wanbao, a subsidiary of Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco, and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. Locals oppose the expansion into into nearby Letpadaung hills. Read more on South China Morning Post.

Fight against drugs in Myanmar is failing: Every morning, more than 100 heroin and opium addicts descend on the graveyard in Nampatka, the northeastern Myanmar village to get high, reports Associated Press. This report describes a breakdown of law and order since generals from the formerly military-run country handed power to a nominally civilian government three years ago. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the country produced 870 tons of opium last year, a 26 percent increase over 2012 and the highest figure recorded in a decade. The report of AP describes, that the decrease of the fight against drugs ist linked to efforts to forge peace with dozens of ethnic rebel insurgencies that control the vast majority of the poppy growing territory. If President Thein Sein "goes after the rebels' main source of income, the drug trade, he risks alienating them at a delicate time." AP continues: "The No. 123 Infantry army base and several police posts overlook waves of white and pink poppies in full bloom on both sides of the dusty road leading to Nampakta, blanketing the sloping valleys and jagged peaks as far as the eye can see." But: This region is not territory of the rebels, but controlled by government forces.

Myanmar president Thein Sein supports changes of constitution that would make opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi eligible to lead the country: Myanmar's president gave his backing on Thursday for amending a military drafted constitution. Until now, Suu Kyi is ineligible because her two sons are British citizens. Read more on

Ethnic traditions vanishing as Myanmar opens up: Report from the hills of Myanmar’s Chin state. Tribal ways — dress, festivals, even languages — passed down countless generations are vanishing in the course of one as the long-isolated country opens its doors wider to the outside world. Read more on

Bad Medicine and sick System take their Toll: Those streaming across the border to Mae Sot for help illuminate how, despite reformist pledges, Myanmar's hospitals are ailing. Read more by Justin Heifetz on

As Myanmar Modernizes, Old Trades Are Outpaced by New Competitors: For years they poured out their hearts on the broken pavements of Myanmar’s cities and towns, young lovers desperate for privacy yet with no choice but to use what the Burmese call roadside phone shops. But as this country opens to the world, the phone rental business is losing customers quickly, one of a number of antiquated trades that are disappearing from a rapidly modernizing country. Read more by Thomas Fuller on

Dagon: the new darling of Yangon: Expats and professionals are finding a home on the outskirts of Yangon in the new Dahon townships. Read more.

The Road to Mandalay: About Chinese influence and US role in Myanmar. A report beginning with the road from the Chinese border to the Burmese town of Lashio. Read more on

The strange bird behind the '88 coup How Gen Than Shwe consolidated his power after the coup. Read more on

Myanmar pipeline project gives China pause for thought
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) on June 4 announced the completion of its Sino-Myanmar gas pipeline project (Myanmar section), signaling that it is ready to enter trial production. The pipeline is expected to deliver 22 million tons of oil and 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China each year. The pipeline will provide China with another major energy import channel, in addition to the current shipping route through the Strait of Malacca. But doubts have been expressed about the potential profitability of the pipeline. Read more on

"The Face of Terror" was written below an image of Buddhist monk U Wirathu on the cover of "Time" Magazine. This was critizised by many voices in Myanmar

Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists
After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country’s Muslim minority. Read more on

Myanmar constitution likely to dash Suu Kyi's presidential hopes
Suu Kyi's most immediate problem is the constitution. It bars anyone married to a foreigner or who has children who are foreign citizens. Suu Kyi and her husband, the late British academic Michael Aris, had two children who are British. She must convince a military-dominated parliament to amend the constitution. She could then face a voter backlash over her position on a violent and widening rift between her nation's Buddhists and minority Muslims. To win power, she would also have to fend off two former generals who covet the top spot. The first is Shwe Mann, the influential speaker of Myanmar's lower house. The other is the popular incumbent Thein Sein. Read more on

Myanmar: Whose reforms?
Many question, whether economic reforms are taking priority over the political reforms that President Thein Sein promised to implement. "The business community needs to help political reforms," said Zin Mar Aung, a former political prisoner and civil society leader. She would like to see the President giving more attention to democratic reforms, "because without political reforms to guarantee transparency and the rule of law, there will not be businesses return[ing] in Myanmar." Read more on

The Rush to Tap Myanmar's Energy Promise
No one sector is as critical to Myanmar’s growth prospects as energy. The country has 7.8 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, worth about $75 billion at current U.K. benchmark prices. In April, the government commenced an auction for 30 blocks of offshore gas and oil. Read more in BloombergBusinessweek.

How a Myanmar tycoon is profiting from change
Zaw Zaw, a businessman with ties to the old regime reinvents himself to succeed in the new Myanmar. A story of how one man, who remembers being too poor to afford a soccer ball, built an empire by befriending the military government in what was one of the most oppressive and isolated countries on earth; and how, as Myanmar opens up, he is quickly breaking with the past to embrace a prosperous, cosmopolitan future. "I am friends with everybody," Zaw Zaw says. Read a portrait by Erika Kinetz, Associated Press.

Myanmar Struggles to Put Down Buddhist Attack on Muslims
Security forces on struggled to bring peace to Lashio, a northern city in Myanmar after Buddhist mobs set fire to a mosque, a Muslim school and shops, the latest outbreak of religious violence in Myanmar.Read more on

In Myanmar, apartheid tactics against minority Muslims
There are no doctors, painkillers or vaccines in this primitive hospital near Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar. It is a lonely medical outpost that serves about 85,300 displaced people, almost all of them Muslims who lost their homes in fighting with Buddhist mobs last year. Read more on

Myanmar Pipeline Puts China Ahead in Energy Shipping Dilemma
A new crude oil pipeline through Myanmar due to begin operations in September will put China in a favorable position compared to other Asian economic powerhouses challenged by energy security issues. Read more on

China Showers Wary Towns In Myanmar With Gifts
China is spending millions of dollars on schools and health clinics in Myanmar in an attempt to soothe rising resentment against two pipelines it is building through the country. Read more on

Myanmar Pipelines to Benefit China
New Oil, Gas Supply Routes Are Set to Help Slake Nation's Growing Thirst for Energy; Local Tensions Rise. Read more on

Thein Sein Enjoys Myitsone Praise as Dams on Salween Secretly Proceed
President Thein Sein’s surprise suspension of the Chinese-led hydroelectric dam on the Irrawaddy River at Myitsone in northwestern Burma secured him widespread praise. But large hydro dams further east in Burma on the Salween River are quietly going ahead. At the upper end of the Salween in Burma, China could yet get the electricity it needs for Yunnan Province — without the Myitsone dam project. Read more on

Wa Rebels Caught Up in Regional Chess Match
China did not sell helicopter gunships to ethnic Wa paramilitaries in eastern Burma, Wa sources speaking to The Irrawaddy claimed this week. Read more on

Change the Incentives Behind Burmese Violence
Elites are demonizing Muslims to win Buddhist votes. Smarter election rules can reduce that temptation. Read more on

In Myanmar, Cheap SIM Cards Go for $2 – If You’re Lucky
The long wait for affordable SIM cards for mobile phones is ending for some Myanmar citizens, as a government lottery system slowly kicks in cutting prices from $200 to $2. Read more on

Talking peace, waging war
The Burmese government rakes in more foreign-aid money while its army kills more ethnic Kachin. Read more on

The Kachin dilemma
Over the border, the Kachin conflict causes headaches for China. Read more on

The Race for Rangoon
American investors are lured by the siren call of this newly opened Southeast Asian country. Sanctions, imposed by the U.S. in the late ’90s, have been suspended since U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s December 2011 visit. Luxury hotels today are packed with business delegations from Europe, the U.S., Australia, Japan, and Korea. During a May visit to Thailand — her first trip abroad in 24 years — Aung San Suu Kyi urged investors to be aware of the potential dangers of rushing into Myanmar. These comments upset Myanmar officials and drew a skeptical response from Joseph Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University who is helping the government to further its political and economic reforms. Read more on BloombergBusinessweek.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Yangon Heritage Walking Tour:
See old Rangoon, before too much is lost

See the locations on Yangon Heritage Google Map

The Strand Hotel: The legendary hotel built in 1901 along the promenade of Yangon River by the Sarkies brothers, Armenian hoteliers, is a good starting point for whoever likes to discover the architectural und cultural heritage of Yangon. The hotel stayed open after being nationalized in the 1960’s during Burma’s socialist period. When Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet guidebooks, stayed here in the 1970’s, the hotel was in bad condition. Wheeler wrote, “By 11 p.m. you are likely to be feeling pretty lonely in the lounge area [with] just the occasional Strand rat scampering across the floor to keep you company.” Then, in 1990, a joint venture between the Burmese government and Indonesian hotelier Adrian Zecha led to restoration of the hotel. In 1993 it reopened with 32 fully renovated rooms.

Picture by Kirk Siang

Picture by travfotos
The lobby

Picture by Hella Delicious
The bar

Picture by ronancrowley

From the Strand Hotel in less than an hour's stroll you can discover a mixture of structures and styles from the British colonial era: Victorian, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Art Deco and British-Burmese. Many of the buildings are clustered along streets laid out in a chessboard pattern centered on the Sule Pagoda. The  density of surviving colonial-era structures in Yangon is unparalleled in Southeast Asia. It is possible to walk along the Strand Road and the lower block of Pansodan Street without encountering a single modern structure.

Let's start on Strand road:

Picture by Pigalle
Custom House

Small Causes Court, former Police Commissioners Building: Its planned to turn it into a hotel. The government has leased Yangon Region Small Causes Court to Flying Tiger Engineering and Jewellery Lucky Production. A fence now surrounds it. The plan is a US$50 million five-star hotel with more than 240 rooms. The working name is The State House Hotel. A network of lawyers is opposing these plans. The Rangoon-based Myanmar Lawyers’ Network according to threatens: "If the government fails to take action against those who sold the building, our group will sue." Sai Khan Hlaing, a director of the Flying Tiger Engineering, said MIC had leased the building for 50 years with the possibility of two 10-year extensions. "The terms and conditions do not allow the original structure and architectural features of the buildings to be changed." See picture by Marcus Allender.

Picture by Pigalle

Picture by Alan Cordova
From the left: Law Courts Building (1927), Customs House (1915) and Port Authority Building (1920).

Now we walk back on Strand Road and turn around into Pansodan road:

Accountant General's Office and Currency Department: Clerks in here once oversaw the collection of colonial government revenue that came from opium), salt, custom duties, railways, post offices, telegraphs and major irrigation works.

Picture by Pigalle

Picture by HeyltsWilliam
Inside an ornamented staircase winds its way up.

Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China: Today known as Standard Chartered. The building was completed by a Hong Kong-based architectural firm on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Rangoon in World War II. The pagoda-inspired entrance tower is made of cut stone.

Picture by Pigalle
Chartered Bank of India

Stroll up Pansodan Street and you’ll arrive at Sofaer’s Building at the corner of Merchant Road. Designed by Isaac Sofaer, a Jewish immigrant from Baghdad, the building was a mix of many influences. "Its opulent façade was accented with Italianate flourishes. The floor tiles — a mosaic pattern of green, gold, burnt sienna and lapis lazuli — were shipped from Manchester, England. If visitors weren’t brave enough to enter one of the city’s first electronic lifts, they could ascend sweeping staircases carved from premium teak felled in the jungles of Upper Burma", describes Travel and Leisure. During the building’s heyday around 1910 it was an emporium. Residents of Rangoon came here for Egyptian cigarettes and fine European liqueurs or to enjoy bakery and confectionary at The Vienna Café. And at the Reuters office telegrams brought news from around the world.

Picture by Mark Abel

Lokanat Gallery in a yellow colonial-style building at 62 Pansodan street has showcased the works of contemporary Burmese artists for four decades now. In an exhibition opened in December 2013 the member artists show 100 pictures. One of them, Pe Nyunt Way, painted Rangoon’s changing urban landscape. "Each painting shows a panorama view of the skyline in downtown Rangoon, with the city’s landmark Shwedagon Pagoda featured in the center. As the paintings progress through the years, high-rise buildings gradually encroach upon the religious monument", writes

The crossing of Pansodan with Maha Bandulan road:

Picture by eyes on Myanmar

Picture by eyes on Myanmar

General Post Office: The large maroon building at the corner of Bo Aung Kyaw Street was the headquarters of Bulloch Brothers & Co. Two Scottish brothers from Glasgow established here a very successful rice-milling firm. Today the building is used as the Central Post Office. Read

Picture by Hella Delicious

Railways Headquarters: Constructed in 1896 of laterite stone and brick. "The need for such a grand headquarters came from the amalgamation in that year of the three competing railway companies in Burma at that time, the Irrawaddy Valley State Railway (1877), the Sittang Valley State Railway (1884) and the Mu Valley State Railway (1889)", knows James Weir.

Picture by marhas
Laterite stone and brick: The railways headquarter

Picture by HeyltsWilliam

Picture by HeyltsWilliam

In Mai 2013 it was announced that Hong Kong-based Peninsula Group wants to transform the old building into a 5-Star-Hotel. It will be surrounded by new scyscrapers planned by Yoma Strategic Holding. See pictures by staryangon and DiyDetour. In October 2013 it was announced, that Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation has teamed up with Yoma Strategic Holdings. The project includes four glass and steel high-rise towers in a large complex connected to the red-brick colonial building.

Picture by Yoma Strategic Holdings
Visualization of the project: Four high-rise towers beneath the old railways headquarter.

Ministers' Office, als called The Secretariat: Located on 300 Theinbyu Road. This Victorian building, which housed the parliament from 1948-1962, was the place, where Aung San, father of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was assassinated in 1947. The building has been closed to the public behind razor wire for more than half a century and few have ever seen inside it. Then The Secretariat was offered to a local company that wanted to turn it into a vast hotel, prompting a passionate public outcry. So instead Anawmar Art Group was awarded the lease on the building in 2012. The Singapore educated Le Yee Soe and her husband Soe Thwin Tun are directors of what is potentially one of the largest historic restoration projects. Their plan is to turn the grand building into museums, galleries and a cultural centre. But the 400,000 square foot building is two-thirds the size of the exhibition halls of the Louvre in Paris, what shows that this project will need enormous sums of money not available right now to the group. Al Jazeera found that Soe Thwin Tun’s grandfather is a former general in the military government, U Tun Gyi, who was ousted in the Khin Nyunt purge of 1997. Another board member of the Anawma group is Myanmar artist Nay Myo Say who has a good reputation as a restaurant owner. Not much has happened since these announcements, as Amaury Lorin has discovered during a visit at The Secretariat.

Picture by mckaysavage

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

High Court Building: The highest seat of justice during the British colonial rule. A red and white brick extravaganza by the architect John Ransome (built in 1911), with a clock tower whose four faces are lighted at night. Myanmar Investment Commission plans to hire the High Court building to Tun Foundation Bank Ltd for K 240 million per year. The building will be converted into a museum and a national cultural theatre will be built in for Thabin (Theatrical art) and puppet art.

Picture by mikecogh

Rowe & Co Building: Rowe&Co was known as the Harrods of the East. The steamers brought European goods to be sold in Rangoon's No 1 emporium. Later the building with the central tower was the office for the Myanmar government's immigration department. In 2005 it was moved to Myanmar's new capital in Naypyidaw. Now jade mining and construction magnate Zaw Zaw plans its transformation into a luxury hotel.

Picture by travfotos

Maha Bandula Garden: A green oasis in the city of Rangoon. The park was named after General Maha Bandula who fought against the British. You find here the the Independence Monument (Burmese independence from the British in 1948). It is popular with Tai-Chi practitioners.

Picture by Alan Cordova

Yangon City Hall: Designed in syncretic Burmese style by Burmese architect U Tin, with traditional tiered roofs, completed in 1936. You discover details like the green peacock ornamentation above the central doorway and Burmese artistic elements on the pillars and the roof.

Picture by Mike Cogh

Fytche Square Building, later: Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Office: A three storey of brick and mortar buolding with teak floors and staircases. It was also known as the Sharraz Building. The building is three storey of brick and mortar with teak floors and staircases. In 1918 U Nyunt expanded his business (Myanmar A Swe Company/Burma Favourite Company - the first Burmese owned department store) to this building. He competed with foreign department stores – Rowe & Co., Whiteaway, Laidlaw, Watson and TE Jamal. Today the ground floor is used as a tourist information centre. Now the Myanmar Investment Commission has announced that the building will be put up for tender. Local and foreign companies have been invited to bid on the property and convert it into a hotel on long-term lease. See picture by DBHKer.

Sule Paya Pagoda:

Picture by mckaysavage

Picture by Travel Aficionado

Picture by Travel Aficionado

Picture by Alan Cordova

Turn round into Sule Pagoda road:

Picture by mangostani
Sula Pagoda road with Bengali Sunni Jamai Mosque

Theingyi Market: All sorts of goods, such as food, clothes, cosmetics, perfumes, herbal medicines and toys.

Picture by gforbes
Street life in front of Theingyi Market

Sri Kali Temple: "Kali is praised as the greatest of all deities, the fundamental power, raw energy, the ultimate reality. She is the mysterious, powerful goddess of transformation, time and change, representing the wholeness of life, a spectrum of opposites—light and dark, life and death, beauty and ugliness, motherliness and destructiveness", writes The Hindu Sri Kali Temple was built by Tamil migrants in 1871 and has been restored during 2011-12. Worth a visit every day, but specially during Diwali festival of lights on Nov. 3-7.

Picture by isriya

Picture by Jason Eppink

Bogyoke Aung San Market: Bogyoke Market was initially called Scott's Market. You find here a great variety of products: jewellery, antiques, handicrafts and clothing, but also medicine, garments and all kinds of food.

Picture by DerFussi

Picture by ronancrowley

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by Pigalle

Picture by mckaysavage
Art shop in the stairwell in Bogyoke Aung San Market

Picture by isriya

Yangon Railway Station: Rangoon Central Railway Station was initially built in 1877 but destroyed in World War II, and rebuilt from 1947-1954 in traditional Burmese style.

Picture by mikecogh

Theim Phyu Market: The market offers fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, clothes and more.

Shwe Kyin Monastery: Shwe Kyin is a monastery in eastern Rangoon. Every day before sunset the monks line up for prayer. The monastery is popular for its old meditation caves.

Yangon’s architectural heritage of the 19th century has now been documented in a book by The Association of Myanmar Architects: 30 Heritage Buildings of Yangon.

In one of these buildings: Monsoon Restaurant&Bar.

Picture by travfotos

Moe Kya mosque on Shwebonthar Street:
Picture by mckaysavage

Kyi Myin Daing Night Market:

Picture by kozeyar

Picture by kozeyar

Botahtaung Pagoda:

Picture by Mat Maessen

Picture by Travel Aficionado
Bronze Buddha

Picture by Travel Aficionado

Pegu Club: Pegu Club, where British officers once sipped gin with lime (Pegu Cocktail), was the most famous men only club in British Burma and birthplace of the Pegu Cocktail. The Victorian-style teak building was constructed in 1882. Kipling spent an evening here in 1889 and was inspired to write the poem “Mandalay” after listening to accounts of British officers. These days it’s abandoned and in a broken down state. "You can wander through the two-storey club and adjoining former residences – generally no-one will stop you – though some parts of it are boarded up. Exercise caution, however: one of the staircases inside the club and parts of the verandah are verging on unsafe" notes "The building is visibly derelict and crying out for renovation, but it has not been ignored completely", notes See Pegu Club gallery by Andreas Sigurdsson, picture by Jacques Maudy and picture by Andrew Rowat and picture by CiSmith.

Picture by theburmasideoflife

Bogyoke Aung San Museum: The home of General Aung San between the end of World War II and his assassination two years later. The museum was closed between 1999 and 2007, and then opened only once a year, on July 19, the anniversary of his murder. But the government lifted the restriction in March 2012. The two storey wooden house dates from 1921 and has circular verandas and elaborate turrets. "Here was the dining room table where the general’s family gathered, upstairs the chamber with three cots where the toddler Aung San Suu Kyi and her two brothers slept", describes A black 1946 Wolseley sedan is parked in the garage. Read Discover Burma's Hero.

Picture by Zaw Zaw Aung

See movie:
Restoring Rangoon: Unique Heritage is under threat

A great Photobook ayout Yangons Heritage has been published by Jacques maudy and Jimi Casaccia and can be ordered here: Yangon a City to Rescue.

Read more:
Shwedagon Pagoda Impressions
Yangon Hotel Picks
Yangon Restaurant Picks
Chinatown in Yangon: Temples and a Nightmarket full of flavours
Myanmars ex Spy Chief opens an Art Gallery
From Yangon a Sunset Cruise or by ferry to Twante
Yangon, Myanmar: A 'City That Captured Time'
Rangoon’s Tourism Boom Risks Heritage
Yangon City Heritage List Eastern Rangoon Walking Tour, Rangoon
Yangon, A City of Reticent Hope
Burma, by Paul Theroux, a visit in 1971