Thursday, February 26: After leaving Sule Paya, I head east where the sprawling bright white colonial City Hall, with its lavender and purple trim, covers an entire city block. It’s adorned with traditional Myanmar motifs such as peacocks, nagas (serpents), and three-tiered turrets.
It’s quite an impressive building and is maintained perfectly, at least on the outside.
On the next corner further east is what is now Aya Bank, but was once Rowe & Co department store, known as “Harrods of the East,” according to Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma).
I can see Sule Paya in the middle of the city’s main traffic circle, with cars and buses whizzing around it.
Across the street from Aya Bank is Immanuel Baptist Church, originally build in 1830, and updated in 1885.
I walk into the Mahabandoola Garden to check out the Independence Monument and enjoy the view of City Hall across the green grass. The Independence Monument is a 165 ft white obelisk that looks vaguely like the Washington Monument. It’s guarded by two circles of chinthe (a half-lion, half dragon deity).
Mahabandoola Garden has gone by several names since it was laid out by the British in 1868. First called Fytche Square after the chief commissioner at the time, it was later named Victoria Park, to commemorate the queen. Her statue has now been replaced by Independence Monument. After Independence, the park was renamed to honor a Burmese hero who died in action in the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824.
At the southern end of the garden is the Queen Anne-style High Court with its bell clock tower.
I continue my walk toward the Strand that runs along Yangon River.
I can see the majestic but faded Yangon Region Court on the corner of Strand Rd. and Pansodan Street. One of Yangon’s oldest masonry buildings, it dates from around 1900. Apparently bomb damage from WWII is still visible on the Bank St side of the building, but I don’t see that today.
Crossing over a pedestrian bridge leading to the waterfront, I can see Yangon’s traffic swirling and buzzing beneath me.
As it’s around noon and I’m hot, tired and hungry, I decide to stop for a light lunch at the Victorian-style Strand Hotel, listed on the Yangon City Heritage List. This 1901 hotel hosted luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and W. Somerset Maugham in its early years. It was run by the famous Sarkies brothers, who owned Raffles in Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang. The Australian Embassy is now housed in an annex. During WWII, the Japanese took over the running of the Strand, renaming it the Yamato Hotel, and using it briefly to house Japanese troops. During a dark stretch of Burmese history, from 1962-1989, the Strand was owned and managed by the Burmese government. After three years of renovations, the Strand reopened in luxurious glory in 1993. (Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma))
As it’s very hot today in Yangon, I’m happy to sit inside for a while in air-conditioning. It’s worth every penny of the $26 it costs me for a Camembert, walnut and toast salad, accompanied by a Perrier and fresh papaya juice.
Leaving the fabulous Strand, and feeling refreshed, I continue my walk up Pansodan Street towards 37th Street’s open air library.