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Changing Rangoon

Rangoon (Yangon) – the former capital of Burma (Myanmar), the biggest city in the country and its most important business hub is undergoing enormous and fast-paced changes. The best time to visit is now.

One traveller once told us that he visited the city in the 1980s and then again in early 2012. He was surprised to find out that not much has changed over the years. With a few exceptions like the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda or the Colonial Downtown, the place appeared to him as a somewhere stuck in the past. Rangoon seemed to function in slow motion. The motorized traffic was limited. The most important (because the only one!) social event for a few tourists and expats alike was a weekly happy hour at one of the luxury boutique hotels.

Fast-forward three years and it’s clear that this traveller would have trouble to recognize the place. While the main attractions are still here, the city is buzzing with life and activity. Dozens of new restaurants and bars outrace each other in offering sophisticated local and international cuisine, local and imported spirits and themed events literally every night of the week. New hotels of varied standard sprung out like mushrooms after the rain. The city is dotted with construction sites of new shopping malls, serviced apartments and office towers. Hundreds of thousands of newly imported vehicles clogged the roads never prepared for such traffic.

People walk on the streets playing on their brand new smartphones. The prices of sim cards dropped from a few thousand American dollars (!) to just $1.5 making mobile communication affordable for many. Black market moneychangers virtually disappeared from the streets as the era of official exchange rates, ATMs and even payments by credit card is slowly crawling in.

Sometimes it feels almost too overwhelming to take it all in. That’s when it’s good to take a break in one of many new coffee shops occupying now often beautifully renovated colonial buildings, take a walk in the tranquil Kandawgyi Park or pay a morning visit to Sule Pagoda, when still not many tourists are around.

While Rangoon might have lost a bit of its old world charm, it’s nevertheless a fascinating place in the middle of transition. Our Pandaw team members have divided opinions on whether or not we like this Changing Rangoon and if we are going to like it 5, 10 or 15 years from now. One Burmese lady confronted with complaints on this race to modernity answered: “We deserve our chance to catch up with the world as well.” While we can’t deny she had a point, we recommend visiting before that happens!

Marek Lenarcik,
Pandaw Product & Operations Manager,
Rangoon

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