Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, was the capital city of Myanmar (Burma) until 2006. With 7 million inhabitants, Yangon remains as the largest city in Myanmar. Because of our tight schedule, we only had a day to explore the downtown where decaying colonial buildings from the British era mingled with bustling daily activities of the locals, and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the religious heart and biggest tourist draw of the city. Before that, we decided to first get a taste of the Burmese culture through sampling the local cuisine. We weren’t particularly hungry, but would want to try out a well known noodle shop: 999 Shan Noodle House. It was a half-hour walk to the noodle shop. What’s better to get a quick Yangon impression than wandering its lively streets?
Venturing out of the Loft Hotel, we headed east towards the north-south thoroughfare Alan Pya Pagoda Street. Local shops lined along one side of the street, while the opposite side was dominated by the large Park Royal Hotel.
One of the first building we encountered on Alan Pya Pagoda Street was Thamada (President) Cinema and Hotel. Opened its door in 1958, Thamada was Rangoon’s most prominent cinema with a fully air-conditioned hall and a great example of the cuty’s Modernist architecture.
A number of snack vending carts were stationed in front of Thamada Cinema.
Other than skewers or salad, fruit is also common snacks in Yangon.
Renovated a few years ago, Thamada Cinema remains as a popular cinema in the present, drawing sell out shows from time to time.
Further down the road we reached the intersection of Sakura Tower. Built in 1999, Sakura is a 20 storey building built by Japanese investors and architects. It offers office spaces up to international standards, with a restaurant at the top floor. While the top floors struggled to find tenants in the first several years, Sakura is now totally full as Myanmar opens up in recent years.
Next to Sakura Tower, the 1910 Bible Society of Myanmar (British and Foreign Bible Society) was the heart of Christian evangelical society in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, the foreign missionaries were expelled from the country, and was restructured in 1964 under national organization.
The strip of Bogyoke Road at Sakura Tower was known as Rangoon’s “Cinema Row” in the past, a designated entertainment district. The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre with its iconic patterned facade was built in 1961. Movie was and still remains big in Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The modernist patterned facade was popular back in late 1950s and early 1960s in Southeast Asia.
Further down we reached a busy intersection of Sule Road and Anawratha Road where a network of pedestrian overpass allowed us to gain a raised overview of this part of Downtown Yangon.
The overpass was occupied with vendors. Pedestrians loved to stop by the railing for a look at the changing surrounding skyline. Looking north, the top of Sakura Tower perched over the tree crown in the middle, and the Sule Shangri-La (Trader Hotel) dominates the the left side with its 500 rooms. Built by Japanese and Singaporean architects, the hotel never really fulfilled its tourist potentials due to the West’s boycott on the junta government. Rooms were sold at discounted prices. interestingly, it did attract a number of NGOs and UN agencies to set ups their offices here, and so as foreign journalists and some tourists.
At the southwest corner of the pedestrian overpass, a new 20 storey office building was under construction.
Further south we could see one of the city’s most important monument, the Sule Pagoda. It is known to be one of the oldest monument site in Yangon, some said around 2600 years old. Sule Pagoda has been and still is considered to be the heart of Downtown Yangon.
After a moment above the streets, it was time for us to return to the busy street scenes.
As we approached 999 Shan Noodle House, we began to explore the network of small side streets behind Yangon City Hall.
All side streets were flanked by buildings dated back to British Rangoon.
It took us several minutes to reach the right side street of the noodle house. It was fortunate that we had portable wifi device and mobile phone which we could get on Google Map.
Food vendors could be seen on many of these side streets. Groups of children monks were also a common sight.
After a little over half an hour of walk, we finally reached our destination – 999 Shan Noodle House. 999 is a famous restaurant in Yangon specialized in dishes from the Shan and Kachin States at Northern Myanmar. These states border with Yunnan Province of China, which is also popular with rice noodle dishes.
The pig knuckle noodle soup was tasty, and the pork texture was just right.
Stir fry rice noodle with local spices was also a popular dish at 999 Shan Noodle House.
After lunch, we continued to walk down the side street towards Yangon City Hall.
At the end of the street we again passed by a food vendor. They seemed to be everywhere in Downtown Yangon, especially at the end of side streets.
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Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR
After a simple noodle lunch, we hopped on a taxi for Sera Monastery ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺). At the northern suburb of Lhasa, Sera is a popular destination among foreign tourists where its famous debate sessions usually take place in the afternoon. Unlike Drepung where reaching the monastery required ascending the Mount Gephel, accessing Sera Monastery from the main road was just a few minutes’ walk. There weren’t too many tourists around. As one of the three main Gelug university monasteries in Tibet, Sera is consisted of a series of colleges, residences, and assembly halls on its 28 acres of land. Once with a monastic population of about 5000, the current monastery is a shadow of its past. Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, Sera Monastery has gone through ups and downs in history. Fortunately, the monastery was left relatively undamaged during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.
Beyond the main entrance, we passed by the large stupa Tsangba Kangtsang and a row of prayer wheels circled by several devoted pilgrims. We turned left into a small alleyway between several small buildings and continued to the courtyard of Sera Me College. We entered the main hall and visited the upper deck of the building. There were hardly any tourists around, except a few prostrating pilgrims at the front veranda. We then headed over to Sera Je College, the largest college in Sera, and Tsogchen, the Main Assemble Hall, before finding our way to the famous debate courtyard. Many visitors had already gathered at the perimeter of the courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard sat a large group of monks all dressed in red robes. Full of anticipation, we sat down on the pavement curb behind the monks, hoping to witness their unique exchange despite we knew we couldn’t understand the Tibetan language. We soon realized that the particular day of our visit was an exam day for the young learners instead of a regular debate session. Instead of forming small debate groups, each young monk were given a brief time to perform his speeches and gestures in front of a panel of two teachers. It was interesting to watch how the young monks perform their hand clapping and speeches in attempt to win over the crowds and the teachers. We stayed for about half an hour before heading back to the monastery entrance and quickly hopped on a taxi returning to the Barkhor Old City of Lhasa.
There were more lamas than tourists at the entrance when we arrived at Sera Monastery.
The first thing in Sera Monastery we encountered was a large stupa and a row of prayer wheels.
We walked into a lane left of the entrance attempting to find Sera Me College.
The colourful monastery buildings were quite eye catching. We wandered into different empty courtyards before reaching Sera Me College.
The Sera Me College dates back to the earliest years of the monastery.
Like many other monasteries, the stair at Sera Me College was really steep.
The front veranda of Sera Me College were occupied by prostrating pilgrims.
We had seen this checker pattern several times at different Tibetan monasteries.
Next we walked over to the largest college at Sera Monastery: the Sera Je College.
We had a peaceful moment at the upper level of Sera Je College.
The flat roof of Sera Je College was also accessible, but we couldn’t stay for long because of the strong afternoon sun.
It was fortunate that most buildings at Sera Monastery escaped damages from the Cultural Revolution.
We then returned to the maze of alleyways and headed towards the Main Assembly Hall.
Dated back to 1710, the Tsogchen (Main Assembly Hall) is the largest buildings in Sera Monastery.
We rested a bit under the shade on the upper level of the Main Assembly Hall.
After Main Assembly Hall, we returned to the main path and walked to the Debate Courtyard at the far end.
Through the doorway, we could see the courtyard was already filled up with spectators.
The young monks walked out one by one to perform their debate speech and body gestures.
We sat down behind a group of monks for a while and watched the performances by several monks.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet
Our first monastery of the day along the Srinagar-Leh highway was Lamayuru Gompa. Lamayuru is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh. Apart from Thiksey Gompa, Lamayuru was the monastery in Ladakh that we enjoyed visiting the most. Affiliated with Drikung Kagyu, Lamayuru Gompa is founded in the 11th century. We spent half of our time indoor checking out various prayer and assembly halls, and the other half walking around the exterior of the compound along a prayer route lined with prayer wheels and stupas.
Our driver Tachi was kind enough to accompany us at Lamayuru. In simple English, Tachi told us stories about the monastery and the statues in the prayer halls, and taught us about the six Tibetan Buddhist syllable mantra “om mani padme hum” (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པདྨེ་ཧཱུྃ) while we examined the inscriptions on the prayer wheels. Each time we turned a prayer wheel one cycle we were actually reading the six syllable mantra once. The six syllable mantra is often associated with Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Under the crisp air of Ladakh highland and the shadows of ancient stupas, Tachi gave us a brief lesson of scattered information on Tibetan Buddhism. As we chatted and laughed, a few elderly pilgrims passed by, nodded and smiled to us.
Lamayuru Gompa from a distance.
Ticket office at the entrance of Lamayuru.
The first prayer hall that we entered at Lamayuru.
A window lama seat near the front altar.
Butter sculpture is a common handcraft for Tibetan lamas.
The prayer hall was vividly decorated with Tibetan textiles and furniture.
Ancient Buddhist statues at the back of the Prayer Hall.
The Cave of Meditation where Naropa, the founder of Lamayuru meditated in the 11th century.
Ancient stupas of jewels, gold and silver at the altar of a prayer hall.
Prayer oil lamps in a glass chamber is a common sight at a Tibetan lamasery.
One of the 150 monks residing at Lamayuru.
A cluster of vernacular dwellings below the Lamayuru Gompa.
Route of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.
Route of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.
One of the main buildings of Lamayuru Gompa.
Stupas of various sizes mushroomed around the lamasery compound.
Pilgrim and the old prayer wheels.
The Snow Lion is the emblem of Tibet.
Many mani stones were placed around the ancient stupas.
River valley and arid mountains dominate the surrounding landscape at Lamayuru.
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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi