Accessibility Myanmar

Yangon, religious traditions in the heart of an everchanging city

1 December 2017

Yangon, a continuously evolving city

After a week in the country, here we are in Yangon for our last stop on our Myanmar journey, but also our last stop of our 4 months long sout-east Asia trip. Counting 4.5 millions inhabitants, Yangon is the country’s biggest city. Although we are far from Jakarta metropolis and its 30 millions inhabitants, there is still as many people as the entire New Zealand!
With all these people Yangon is a lively and evolving city. Walking from a neighbourhood to another we quickly notice the different changes made through the years. Colonial buildings stand alongside modern malls and dilapidated apartments. In many streets those apartments are placed on the top of each others and cars fill the main arteries of this congested city with traffic. Moreover, motorbikes are not allowed in Yangon so that doesn’t help!
No need to be in a pagoda to be surrounded by locals.

No need to be in a pagoda to be surrounded by locals.

In spite of this bustle, inhabitants can easily find some tranquility in one of the city’s many parks. Our guide had a good idea: he took us to Theingottara park. It is a short walk but strolling around the park is enjoyable and wheelchair accessible. We can even see a golden building sheltering a shining golden statue. No doubts we are in Myanmar! There is only one limit: it is impossible to get in the building as there are steps.
And here we are, almost alone in the park.

And here we are, almost alone in the park.

A few days later, during the evening, the feeling is completely different. The light festival, also known as Thadingyut festival, just started and Yangon city centre is crowded. During several days, every years, buddhists Burmese celebrate Buddha’s return on Earth after many months spent in heaven to teach the buddism philosophy to his mother. But we are leaving tomorrow so we will only attend at one part of the events. However we can already feel the Burmese People enthusiasm: they are gathering together, lighting candles in pagodas and on their balconies. We can see them having fun going on the merry-go-round and eating street food.
We don't know it yet but in a few minutes we will be soaked by a rain shower. Time to go back to the hotel!

We don’t know it yet but in a few minutes we will be soaked by a rain shower. Time to go back to the hotel!

Yangon or the heritage of Buddhism

At first sight, Yangon might look like one ordinary big city but its Burmese identity is quite strong. Like everywhere in the country, we can see in Yangon temples and other buddhist places of worship. So we start this new day by discovering the Chaukhtatgyi lying Buddha. It is absolutely gigantic! It is 66 metres long and largely covered by gold. The place is fully wheelchair accessible.

This statue is so huge!

This statue is so huge!

Many Burmese come here to pray, to meditate or just to escape the heat. Indeed it is cooler here than inside houses. Some of them are praying facing this huge Buddha whereas others choose a quieter place in front of one of the many small statues aligned behind the Buddha. By the way, whatever the place or the subject of the prayer, buddhists are not supposed to pray for themselves nor they relatives first. They must be altruistic and pray first for other people like for an city inhabitants for example.
There are also beautiful frescos illustrating Buddha's life.

There are also beautiful frescos illustrating Buddha’s life.

After visiting the Chaukhtatgyi we head to Shwedagon pagoda, a must-do in Yangon. Unsurprisingly it is golden like many other pagodas in Myanmar. But this one is not covered by golden leaves but by golden tiles: a thicker and more expensive form of gold. So shiny!
The main pagoda is surrounded by many others.

The main pagoda is surrounded by many others.

Of course, the main pagoda is the highlight but don’t forget to walk around as there are a lot of other pagodas to discover. Plus, it is a very lively place. Many people are praying on their knees, others are meditating and some monks are up high on the main pagoda to clean it. We even attend to the Sunday cleaning: women line up equipped with brooms and move forward together, going around the pagoda. It is quite funny!
It's time to clean!

It’s time to clean!

The Shwedagon pagoda is easy to visit in a wheelchair. They are lifts at three different places to access the pagoda level. I took the one located between the east and south stairs. Once up there, there are restrooms but they are not especially designed for disabled people. However they are large enough to roll in with a wheelchair and transfer side to side from it to the toilet but there is no grab bar and you will need a transportable ramp to enter in the restrooms.

A weekend at Ngwe Saung beach from Yangon

After a few days visiting Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon and before going back to Paris’ effervescence, here we are on our way to a relaxing beach. But before reaching Ngwe Saung beach let’s hit the road! This six hours drive is a perfect opportunity to have a glimpse at the Burmese life outside the cities. As we are leaving Yangon, we are discovering another aspect of the country. Development is slower and poverty is more visible. Houses are very basic and most of them are simply made of wooden logs. The buses leaving and coming to town are crowded with people. Further away we get we come across less villages and see more cows and goats than people.

Rain season is almost done but some lands are still soaked.

Rain season is almost done but some lands are still soaked.

The last hour of our drive was on twisty roads, so we were glad to be warmly welcomed at the “Central Hotel“. The hotel is not wheelchair accessible at all but the staff is very kind. From our room we can see the sea calling us for swim. So even if the weather is cloudy it is too hard to resist. With such a warm sea we don’t need much sun! We try to enjoy as much as we can: in two days we will be back in Paris in fall and this magnificent sunset will only be a beautiful memory. We silently remember all the incredible moments we had lived since we left France in June 2016 and relish this last sunset on an asian beach. Soon we will live a new and emotional experience: our return in France and the reunion with our friends and family. But this is the start of another story!
Sunset at Ngwe Saung Beach.

Sunset at Ngwe Saung Beach.

Accessibility in Yangon

  • At some places of Yangon sidewalks are wide enough and there are curb-cuts at their ends, in every junction. However zebra crossings end directely on sidewalks without curb-cuts. In other places of the city sidewalks are not even lowered.
  • Regarding the accomodation, we stayed at the Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel, built in an unmotorised liner anchored in the river. It made us feel like we were travelling back in the 1920’s! Accessing to the boat is easy via a long alley. It is steep at some parts but this is not a problem as a staff member is always there to help. Inside the boat there are lifts to go to every floor, to the restaurant and to the bar. Still, you might need help from a staff member to handle the corridors doors because they are too heavy to open them and handle the wheelchair at the same time. The room was spacious enough to roll in with a wheelchair. However there are edges to enter the room, to go in the patio and to enter the bathroom which is not wheelchair accessible anyway. Rooms doors are not wide. I was able to enter with my wheelchair but it is quite small and some wheelchairs will not fit.
And here is the cabin.

And here is the cabin.

  • Yangon airport terminals are wheelchair accessible. There are lifts at the arrivals and departures international terminals. There are also wheelchair friendly toilets in where it is possible to transfer side to side from a wheelchair to toilets. At the domestic terminal there is a lift and a ramp to reach the tarmac. Once on the tarmac a bus, equipped with a ramp, will take you to the airplane. An airport crew member is here to help. Unfortunately internal flights use small airplanes and you will have to get onboard by climbing stairs from the tarmac to the plane. Regarding international flights I never had to get onboard from the tarmac so I didn’t face any issue.

If you would like to have more information about travelling in Myanmar you can read about our discoveries in Mandalay and the few days we spent in Bagan.

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This post has been sponsored by Myanmar Accessible Tourism Center and Mira Travels agency, as they invited me over. However, opinions expressed here are my own.



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