Whether defying male power structures or helping each other advance, Myanmar’s women have bucked authority or taken matters into their own hands throughout Myanmar’s history – and today.
To better experience a more feminist version of our history and encourage support for the women helping make change today, we’ve compiled a short, day tour of Yangon highlighting places around the city.
Consider this your introduction to Yangon’s feminine side, and know that new events, exhibitions and discussion panels led by or featuring strong Myanmar women are always taking place in Yangon, and we highly encourage you to do some digging around online for things that pique your interest – especially now that everything is a click away.
Start your tour off by having breakfast/brunch at Yangon Bakehouse (might we suggest a slice of the best apple pie in the city?). Established in 2012, Yangon Bakehouse provides culinary training for women from rural areas and disadvantaged backgrounds, and then places them in internship and apprenticeship programs around the city, including at the Bakehouse itself. They’re one of the few places in town that offer sandwiches on freshly baked bread, so make sure you fill up and leave a large tip if you can before you set off on the rest of our tour.
Ground floor, Block C, Pearl Condo, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road
54 University Avenue
Take a cab or walk over to 54 University Avenue, more famously known as Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence where “The Lady” was placed under house arrest for nearly 15 years. While in recent years her legacy and role as a feminist icon have become more complex, this lakeside villa played such a huge role in her story that for 2011’s The Lady, director Luc Besson went to great lengths to replicate a 1:1 scale model of the house. Just as an FYI, it’s set behind some very high iron gates that block most of the view – and Aung San Suu Kyi herself now resides in Naypyidaw. To see the actual building, your best shot is to go on the other side of Inya Lake and try to spot it there (Kai Li restaurant has very good hot pot and a large outdoor seating area).
Amazing Grace Souvenir Shop
Hop into a taxi and go to Yankin to get some handcrafted accessories at Amazing Grace. Originally starting out as a social enterprise, Amazing Grace works with women with a range of disabilities and trains them in jewelry and craft production. Their products can be found in a range of shops around the city, but they opened this brick-and-mortar location in 2014. Using only ethical and environmentally sustainable materials and processes, the handcrafted nature of their products means that no two items are exactly alike. Pick up some of their signature colorful tassel earrings, a couple of fabric tote bags for your next supermarket shop, or a fabric-woven postcard that’s much cooler than the generic ones you find at any ol’ souvenir shop.
26 Maggin Street, near corner with Min Ye Kyaw Swar Street, Yankin Township
Kandawmin Garden Mausolea
Take a taxi downtown to the Kandawmin Garden Mausolea located near the southern entrance of Shwedagon Pagoda. This mausoleum complex is actually the final resting place for several well-known Myanmar figures and as such, contains many separate memorial monuments.
One memorial belongs to the Myanmar politician Khin Kyi, who was also the wife of Bogyoke Aung San and mother to Aung San Suu Kyi. Although originally a teacher, Khin Kyi moved to Yangon to become a nurse, which was how she met Aung San. Following Aung San’s assasination, Khin Kyi assumed the role of director of the National Women and Children’s Welfare Board, and dedicated two decades of her life to public service. In May 1960, she became the first woman in Myanmar to be made the head of a diplomatic mission when she was appointed as the ambassador to India. Khin Kyi suffered a stroke in 1988, which prompted her daughter to fly to then-Rangoon from London to tend to her; even though Khin Kyi died later that year, Aung San Suu Kyi decided to remain in Yangon and help establish and lead the new National League for Democracy. In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi established the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation — a non-profit organization that aims to “promote the health, education and living standards of the people of the country, focusing its attention especially on the needs of Burma’s least developed areas.”
Another significant tomb in Kandawmin Garden is the tomb of Queen Supalayat, the last queen of Burma (if you’ve watched Crazy Rich Asians, Astrid is presented with a pair of earrings that once belonged to the Queen of Myanmar, aka Supalayat). In 1885, 26-year-old Supalayat and her husband King Thibaw were forced to abdicate by the British, and transported from their palace in Mandalay to the Indian city of Ratnagiri. The couple spent 30 years in exile before Thibaw died in 1916 and Supalayat was allowed back in Rangoon (but not Mandalay) in 1919. When she died in 1925, the colonial government refused to allow her to be buried in Mandalay for fear that it would embolden anti-colonialist sentiments in the public.
Optional: Hla Day
If you feel like doing a bit more shopping, particularly for souvenirs, grab another taxi to Hla Day. All of their products are made by Myanmar artisans and small local businesses, including women from rural or disadvantaged backgrounds. If you need to get a gift for a young niece or nephew or a family friend’s cousin’s child’s third birthday, the hand-stitched Thida and Nilar dolls (they’re sisters!) are adorable classics and a refreshing change from the eurocentric dolls that permeate even the local toy stores, and you can even throw in a copy of Alyson Curro’s illustrated Girl Power in Myanmar.
81 Pansodan Street, Lower Middle Block, on top of Rangoon Tea House
Finally, walk over and wind down at Pansuriya restaurant (be warned, the food falls more on the pricey end). In 2018, the restaurant was the site of Myanmar’s first production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. The performance sold out in a few days and was a hit among attendees, although unsurprisingly, a performance about women’s vaginas in a still-conservative country like Myanmar was initially met with reactions ranging from hesitancy to disgust (when the organizers called up a local bakery to place an order for vagina-shaped lollipops, the shop hung up). Nevertheless, they persisted, and in both 2019 and 2020, The Vagina Monologues returned with multiple-day performances in English and Myanmar. Fun fact: one of the head organizers, Nanda, is also the woman behind the first Myanmar translation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.
102 Bogalayzay Street
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