Despite having been deposed as capital in 2005, Yangon (formerly ‘Rangoon’) is most travellers’ gateway to Myanmar. Its resplendent centrepiece, rising from a hilltop in the centre of the city, is the gold-brick, diamond- and ruby-encrusted Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the world’s most enthralling religious structures. Throughout the day and evening, visitors make offerings of flowers and incense at the complex of ornately decorated, pagoda-roofed shrines below the great stupa, while red-robed monks practice their English with foreign visitors.
It’s also worth setting aside a day or two to take in the city’s other huge gilded stupas – Botataung and Sule – as well as the National Museum, home to King Mindon’s legendary ‘Lion Throne’ and a host of other traditional treasures.
Lining the riverfront, the old British quarter holds a wealth of colonial-era buildings dating from Rangoon’s heyday. The flaking, weed-choked facades of churches, former banks, teak traders and department stores today rise above a charismatically chaotic swirl of street markets, tea shops, beer stations and traffic.
At the far west end of the district lies Bogyoke Aung San Market, Myanmar’s single richest source of souvenirs, with different sections given over to lacquerware, jade jewellery, puppets, woven silk and other typically Burmese merchandise.