Probably founded in the 6th cent., it was until the 18th cent. a small fishing village, dominated—as is the modern city—by the most celebrated temple in Myanmar, the golden-spired Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Alaungapaya, the founder of the last line of Burmese kings, made the town his capital in 1753. Under his rule Yangon was given its present name ("Rangoon" is a less accurate transliteration) and was built up as the chief port of Myanmar. It was held briefly by the British in 1824-26; after it came under British rule in 1852, it was transformed into a modern city. Yangon was heavily damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 1930, and again in World War II. In 2005 the government announced that it was relocating the capital to a compound near Pyinmana in S central Myanmar, and began transferring government offices there. The Univ. of Yangon was founded in 1920 and reorganized in 1948 and again in 1964, when it became the Arts and Science Univ.
City (pop., 2005 prelim.: 4,082,000), principal port, and historical capital of Myanmar (Burma), on the Yangôn River. It was a fishing village until the present city was founded in the mid-1750s by King Alaungpaya; he developed it as a port. The British occupied it 1824–26 during the First Anglo-Burmese War and again took it in 1852 during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. After the British annexation of all of Burma in 1886, Rangoon became the capital city. During World War II the Japanese advanced on and occupied the city, and it suffered considerable damage. It handles more than four-fifths of Myanmar's foreign commerce. In 2005 Myanmar government offices began to be moved to Pyinmana, some 200 mi (320 km) north of Yangôn; subsequently they were transferred to a new city, Naypyidaw, which is located near Pyinmana and was declared the country's official capital in 2006.
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Yangon (also known as Rangoon) is the largest city and a former capital of Burma. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of 6 million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial center.
Yangon's infrastructure is relatively undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia. Yangon has the largest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia today. While many high-rise residential and commercial buildings have been constructed or renovated throughout downtown and Greater Yangon in the past two decades, most satellite towns that ring the city continue to be deeply impoverished.
The British Empire seized Yangon and all of Lower Burma in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, and subsequently transformed Yangon into the commercial and political hub of British Burma. Based on the design by army engineer Lt. Fraser, the British constructed a new city on a grid plan on delta land, bounded to the east by the Pazundaung Creek and to the south and west by the Yangon River. By the 1890s Yangon's increasing population and commerce gave birth to prosperous residential suburbs to the north of Royal Lake (Kandawgyi) and Inya Lake. The British also established hospitals including Rangoon General Hospital and colleges including Rangoon University.
Colonial Yangon, with its spacious parks and lakes and mix of modern buildings and traditional wooden architecture, was known as "the garden city of the East." By the early 20th century, Yangon had public services and infrastructure on par with London.
Soon after Burma's independence in 1948, many colonial names of streets and parks were changed to more nationalistic Burmese names. In 1989, the current military junta changed the city's English name to "Yangon", along with many other changes in English transliteration of Burmese names. (The changes have not been accepted by many Burmese who consider the junta unfit to make such changes, nor by many publications, news bureaus including the BBC and foreign nations including the USA.)
Since independence, Yangon has expanded outwards. Successive governments have built satellite towns such as Thuwana and Okkalapa in the 1950s to Dagon Myothit (New Dagon) in the 1990s. Today, Greater Yangon encompasses an area covering nearly 400 square miles (1000 km²).
During Gen. Ne Win's isolationist rule (1962-1988), Yangon's infrastructure never kept up with its increasing population, and deteriorated severely. In the 1990s, the current military government's relatively more open market policies attracted domestic and foreign investment, bringing a modicum of modernity to the city's infrastructure. Some inner city residents were forcibly relocated to new satellite towns. Many colonial-period buildings were demolished to make way for high-rise hotels, office buildings, and shopping malls, leading the city government to place about 200 notable colonial-period buildings under a "Heritage List. Major road- and bridge-building programs have resulted in six new bridges, and five new highways linking the city to its industrial hinterland. Still, much of Yangon remains without basic municipal services such as 24-hour electricity and regular rubbish collection.
Yangon has become much more indigenous Burmese in its ethnic makeup since independence. After independence, many South Asians and Anglo-Burmese left. Many more South Asians were forced to leave during the 1960s by Gen. Ne Win's xenophobic government. Nevertheless, sizable South Asian and Chinese communities still exist in Yangon. The Anglo-Burmese have effectively disappeared, having left the country or intermarried with other Burmese groups.
Yangon was the center of major anti-government protests in 1974, 1988 and 2007. The city’s streets saw bloodshed each time as protesters were gunned down by the government. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Yangon. While the city had few human casualties, three quarters of Yangon's industrial infrastructure was destroyed or damaged, with losses estimated at US$800 million.
In November 2005, the military government designated Naypyidaw, north, as the new administrative capital, and subsequently moved much of the government to the newly developed city. At any rate, Yangon remains the largest city, and the most important commercial center of Burma.
Yangon is known for its British colonial architecture. The former British colonial capital has the highest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia. Downtown Yangon is still mainly made up of decaying colonial buildings in woeful condition. The High Court, and the Strand Hotel are two excellent examples of the bygone era.
A latter day hallmark of Yangon is the eight-story apartment building. Found throughout the city in various forms, eight-story apartment buildings provide relatively inexpensive housing for many Yangonites. (In Yangon parlance, a building with no elevators (lifts) is called an apartment building and one with elevators is called a condominium. It means condos which have to invest in a local power generator to ensure 24-hour electricity for the elevators are beyond the reach of most Yangonites. While a few ten-story buildings with no elevators test the resolve and stamina of some Yangonites, walking up eight floors does appear to be the most, which most Yangonites are willing to tolerate.) Although most 8-story buildings were built only within the last 20 years, they look much older and rundown due to shoddy construction and lack of proper maintenance.
Unlike other major Asian cities, Yangon does not have any skyscrapers. Aside from a few high-rise hotels and office towers downtown, most high-rise buildings (usually 10 stories and up) are "condos" scattered across prosperous neighborhoods north of downtown such as Bahan, Dagon, Kamayut and Mayangon. The tallest building in Yangon, Pyay Gardens, is a 25-story condo in the city’s north.
Older satellite towns such as Thaketa, North Okkalapa and South Okkalapa are lined mostly with one to two story detached houses with access to the city's electricity grid. Newer satellite towns such as North Dagon and South Dagon are still essentially slums in a grid layout. The satellite towns--old or new--receive little or no municipal services.
The pattern of south to north roads is as follows: one broad wide broad road, two narrow streets, one mid-size street, two more narrow streets, and then another wide broad road. This order is repeated from west to east. The narrow streets are numbered; the medium and broad roads are named. For example, the Lanmadaw Road is followed by -wide 17th and 18th streets then the medium Sint-Oh-Dan Road, the 30-foot 19th and 20th streets, followed by another wide Latha Road, followed again by the two numbered small roads 21st and 22nd streets, and so on.
The roads running parallel west to east were the Strand Road, Merchant Road, Maha Bandula (nee Dalhousie) Road, Anawrahta (Fraser) Road, and Bogyoke Aung San (Montgomery) Road.
Yangon is administered by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). YCDC also coordinates urban planning. The city is divided into four districts. The districts combined have a total of 32 townships. The mayor of Yangon currently is Brigadier General Aung Thein Lynn. Each township is administered by a committee of township leaders, who make decisions regarding city beautification and infrastructure. Myo-thit (lit. "New Towns", or satellite towns) are not within such jurisdictions.
|Western District (Downtown)||Eastern District||Southern District||Northern District|
Yangon is a member of Asian Network of Major Cities 21.
A decrepit local commuter rail circuit system connects Yangon's satellite towns. The 39-station system is heavily utilized by the local populace, selling about 150,000 tickets daily. The popularity of the commuter line has jumped since the government reduced petrol subsidies in August 2007.
Motor transportation in Yangon is highly expensive for most of its citizens. As the government allows only a few thousand cars to be imported each year in a country with over 50 million people, car prices in Yangon (and in Myanmar) are among the highest in the world. In July 2008, the two most popular cars in Yangon, 1986/87 Nissan Sunny Super Saloon and 1988 Toyota Corolla SE Limited, cost about US$20,000 and US$29,000 respectively. A sports utility vehicle, imported for around US$50,000, goes for US$250,000. Illegally imported unregistered cars are cheaper--typically about half the price of registered cars. Nonetheless, car usage in Yangon is on the rise, and already causes much traffic congestion in highway-less Yangon's streets. As of March 2008, Yangon had over 173,000 registered motor vehicles in addition to an unknown number of unregistered ones.
Since 1970, cars are driven on the right side of the road in Myanmar. However, as the government has not required left hand drive (LHD) cars to accompany the right side road rules, many cars on the road are still right hand drive (RHD) made for driving on the left side. Japanese used cars, which make up most of the country's imports, still arrive with RHD and are never converted to LHD. As a result, Burmese drivers have to rely on their passengers when passing other cars.
Within Yangon, it is illegal to drive trishaws, bicycles, and motorcycles.
All television channels in the country are broadcast from Yangon. TV Myanmar and Myawaddy are the two main channels, providing Burmese language programming in news and entertainment. Other special interest channels are MWD-1 and MWD-2, MRTV3, the English language channel that targets overseas audiences via satellite and via Internet, MRTV4 with a focus on non-formal education programs and movies, and Movie 5, a Pay-TV channel specializing in broadcasting foreign movies.
Yangon has only two radio stations. The Myanmar Radio National Service is the national radio service and broadcasts mostly in Burmese (and in English during specific times.) Pop-culture oriented City FM specializes in Burmese and English pop music, entertainment programs, live celebrity interviews, etc.
Nearly all print media and industries are based out of Yangon. All three national newspapers--two Burmese language dailies Myanma Alin and Kyemon, and the English language The New Light of Myanmar are published by the government. Semi-governmental The Myanmar Times weekly, published in Burmese and in English, is mainly geared for Yangon's expatriate community. Over twenty special interest journals and magazines covering sports, fashion, finance, crime, literature (but never politics) vie for the readership of the general populace.
Access to foreign media is extremely difficult. Satellite television in Yangon (and in Myanmar) is highly expensive as the government imposes an annual registration fee of one million kyats (US$780). Certain foreign newspapers and periodicals such as International Herald Tribune and Straits Times can be found only in a few (mostly downtown) bookstores. Internet access in Yangon, which has the best telecommunication infrastructure in the country, is slow and erratic at best, and the Burmese government implements one of the world's most restrictive regimes of Internet control. International text messaging and voice messaging was permitted only in August 2008.
The majority of Yangonites live outside downtown, and typically spend most of their day commuting to-and-from work. For recreation, Yangonites come out at night when the weather is much cooler. Most men of all ages (and some women) spend their time at ubiquitous tea-shops, found in any corner or street of the city. Watching European football (mostly Premier League with occasional La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga) matches while sipping tea is a favorite pastime of many Yangonites, rich and poor alike. The average person stays close to his or her neighborhood haunts. The well-to-do tend to visit shopping malls and parks on weekends. Some leave the city on weekends for Chaungtha and Ngwesaung beach resorts in Ayeyarwady Division.
Yangon is also home to many paya pwes (pagoda festivals), held during dry-season months (November-March). The most famous of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in March, attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the country.
The city's museums are the domain of tourists and rarely visited by the locals.
Most of Yangon's larger hotels offer some kind of nightlife entertainment, geared towards tourists and the well-to-do Burmese. Some hotels offer traditional Burmese performing arts shows complete with a traditional Burmese orchestra. The pub scene in larger hotels is more or less the same as elsewhere in Asia. Other options include karaoke bars and pub restaurants in Yangon Chinatown.
Common facilities taken for granted elsewhere are luxury prized items in Yangon (and Myanmar). The price of a GSM mobile phone is about K1.1 million (or US$900) in August 2008. In 2007, the country of 55 million had only 775,000 phone lines (including 275,000 mobile phones), and 400,000 computers. Internet penetration rate was only 0.6% of the population in 2005. Even in Yangon, most people cannot afford a computer and have to use the city’s numerous Internet cafes to access a heavily restricted Internet, and a heavily censored local intranet.
Yangonites carry stashes of cash to go on shopping. Credit cards are accepted only in a few high end hotels.
Yangon is also home to annual the Myanmar Open golf tournament, and the Myanmar Open tennis tournament. The city hosted 1961 and 1969 South East Asian Games.
Yangon is the country’s main center for trade, industry, real estate, media, entertainment and tourism. According to official government statistics, the city’s nominal GDP is K2.38 trillion (~US$2 billion) in 2007, about 15% of the country’s GDP of US$13.5 billion.
The city is Lower Myanmar’s main trading hub for all kinds of merchandise—from basic food stuffs to used cars. Bayintnaung Market is the largest wholesale center in the country for rice, beans and pulses, and other agricultural commodities. Much of the country’s legal imports and exports go through Thilawa port, the largest and busiest port in Myanmar. Yangon’s external trade continues to be hampered by its severely underdeveloped banking industry and communication infrastructure.
Manufacturing accounts for a sizable share of employment. The city’s industrial zones, which specialize mostly in light industry and textiles suffer from both structural problems (e.g., chronic power shortages) and political problems (i.e. Western economic sanctions). While Yangon's 2500 factories alone need about 120 MW of power, the entire city receives only about 250 MW of the 530 MW needed. Chronic power shortages limit the factories' operating hours between 8 am and 6 pm.
Construction is a major source of employment in this city of six million. Construction industry has been negatively affected by the move of state apparatus and civil servants to Naypyidaw. New construction activity has declined markedly since. Yangon’s property market is the most expensive in the country and beyond the reach of most Yangonites. The apartments priced between K6 million (US$5000) and K10 million (US$8300), and houses priced between K20 million (US$16,600) and K50 million (US$41,600) show the highest demand. Most people rent though few could afford downtown area apartments. Rents for a typical 650-to-750 square foot apartments in downtown and vicinity range between K70,000 (US$60) and K150,000 (US$125) and those for high end condos between K200,000 (US$165) and K500,000 (US$415).
Tourism represents a major source of foreign currency for the city although by Southeast Asian standards the actual number of foreign visitors to Yangon has always been quite low (about 250,000 before Saffron Revolution). Yangon's international standard hotels, built with foreign investment in the 1990s, still await the influx of tourists for which they were built.
Yangon has the best educational facilities and the highest number of qualified teachers in Myanmar where state spending on education is among the lowest in the world. The disparity in educational opportunities and achievement between rich and poor schools is quite stark even within the city. With little or no state support forthcoming, schools have to rely on forced "donations" and various fees from parents for nearly everything--school maintenance to teachers' salaries, forcing many poor students to drop out.
While many students in poor districts fail to reach high school, a handful of Yangon high schools in wealthier districts like TTC, Dagon 1 and Latha 2 regularly send the bulk of the students entering the most selective universities in the country. The wealthy bypass the Burmese education system altogether, sending their children to private English language instruction schools like the YIEC for primary and secondary education, and abroad (typically Singapore or Australia) for university education.
With over 13,000 undergraduate students and 1000 graduate students, University of Yangon, the oldest university in Myanmar, is also its largest. The city's University of Medicine 1, University of Medicine 2, Yangon Technological University, Yangon University of Computer Studies and Yangon Institute of Marine Technology are the most selective in the country. Yangon also attracts many students from around the country as many majors are offered only in its universities.
The general state of health care in Yangon is poor. The military government spends anywhere from 0.5% to 3% of its GDP on health care. Although health care is nominally free, the reality is that patients have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals including the flagship Yangon General Hospital lack many of the basic facilities and equipment.
To be sure, wealthier Yangonites still have access to country's best medical facilities and internationally qualified physicians and surgeons in all branches of medicine. (As many Burmese physicians have emigrated abroad, only do Yangon and Mandalay have any sizable number of physicians left.) The well-to-do go to private clinics or hospitals like Pun Hlaing International Hospital and Bahosi Medical Clinic. A routine ten-day private hospital stay reportedly costs about K2.5 million (US$2300). The rich and top military brass routinely go abroad (usually Bangkok or Singapore) for treatment.