Yangon, Myanmar: A 'City That Captured Time'

Yangon, Myanmar's largest city and the country's former capital, has been bypassed by the rapid modernization that has bulldozed the past in virtually every other Asian metropolis. Once known as Rangoon, Yangon is being described as "a city that captured time."

Now, as Myanmar opens its long-closed doors to the outside world, including a rapidly growing number of tourists, a major effort has been launched to preserve both Yangon's architecture and enchanting atmosphere from rampant development and decay.

"We have a gift in Yangon but we need to act urgently or it will be lost forever," Zin Nwe Myint, an expert on urban issues, told a recent conference of foreign and local conservationists. It was organized by the newly founded Yangon Heritage Trust.

Just what a gift it is became evident as soon as participants stepped out of the conference site, The Strand, a legendary hotel built in 1901 along the riverside promenade and near jetties where tourists disembarked to enter a land once known as Burma.

From there, in less than an hour's stroll, visitors are treated to a smorgasbord of structures and styles from the British colonial era: Victorian, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Art Deco and an amalgam of British and Burmese. Many of the buildings are clustered along streets laid out in a chessboard pattern centered on the Sule Pagoda, with its soaring, golden spire.

Sarah Rooney, author of the just published "30 Heritage Buildings of Yangon," says her favorites include the Pegu Club and the Lokanat Gallery Building.

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