For most of the past two decades, the only images and sounds of Myanmar
that have reached the outside world is of its repressive military regime and the heroic resistance of the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. For years, travelers found themselves caught up in the debate over the ethics of traveling to Myanmar resulting in the country becoming more remote and inaccessible.
Now, with extraordinary political changes sweeping the country, Myanmar is once again back on the global stage. There is a near frenzy of who gets there first, to (re)discover this ancient land lodged between India
. Most tourists that arrive will immediately head to Bagan, a dreamland of ruined pagodas, or Inle Lake, to soak in the serenity of its placid waters and photograph the famous leg rowers. That is indeed a great choice if you want to experience picture-perfect Myanmar – the Myanmar of myth and mystique. But if instead you want to feel the pulse of Myanmar as it is today – experience the sounds, sights and smells of a living, breathing city on the move – then stay a while longer in Yangon
, the biggest city and the commercial capital of the country.
10 a.m.: Visit Bogyoke Market
Every great city has a thriving, bustling market to call its own and Bogyoke
is Yangon's. Most still know Bogyoke by its old colonial name – Scotts Market – and come in search of crumbling colonnades and cobblestoned lanes that bulge with an extraordinary variety of Burmese specialities. You could spend your entire day here, so keep your focus. Best buys at Bogyoke: traditional longyis (the Burmese sarong that is the de facto national dress), green tea from the upper Shan States, jade Buddhas, ruby pendants and teakwood shot glasses.