‘Walking the Streets of Yangon’ is a fun and quirky guidebook for the downtown area

Books on Yangon heritage and Yangon life are becoming plentiful.

In the last year or so, we were presented with the oral history in Yangon Echoes, the wide overview of buildings in the Architectural Guide to Yangon, and the photographs of mostly colonial-era structures in Relics of Rangoon.

All are meaty, well-designed volumes packed with interviews and history. Which begs the question: do we need another book about Yangon?

Which begs the answer: Keep’em coming!

And so we have Bob Percival’s Walking the Streets of Yangon, a collection of vignettes on downtown blocks, local restaurants and random shops.

It doesn’t have the design flair or coffee table stature of some of the previous titles, but that’s because it’s made to move.

Percival starts in western downtown on 14th street and make his way east, stopping off for brief history lessons on certain houses with whatever friend accompanied him for the day.

The chapters are broken up into street names, stores, and even some short fiction.

To us, the architectural history was of less interest than the tour of unknown food stalls and shops.

We learn where to buy rice dough balls with jaggery in the middle, fried frog with chili and Rakhine peanut oil, among other products.

This also may be the only book ever written about this country that includes the cell phone number for a betel nut vendor. Take that Trip Advisor!

The book does have some minor flaws. There are one too many grumblings about heritage buildings slated for demolition, and the handful of fictional chapters imagining what some famous writers got up to in old Rangoon were interesting but didn’t seem to fit just right.

That said, Walking the Streets of Yangon is original and creative and quirky and personal, which is what you want out of a guidebook now that all basic travel information is more or less available online.

We particularly liked the way many chapters start, as if he is just setting out on a walk with a companion.

Here is the opening for 28th Street.

“It’s 8:30 in the morning and the sun is just rising above the taller buildings. The cool of the early morning is gently being swept away. I am with my friend San Lin Tun, the writer. We have survived Thyngan and now want to just relax and walk the streets of Yangon. San Lin Tun is also looking out to buy an old C.J. Richards book if possible. He is on a mission to make this little known English poet well known again, if he ever was. It’s hard to know.”

Will they find the book? What else will they do? Where will they eat? There is enjoyment and a little mystery as the reader tags along for a stroll.

You won’t learn the history of Yangon here, but that’s okay. You use it to find the little places forgotten by history and reclaimed in print.

As he writes in the introduction: “It is a book to be used – to be put in your back pocket or backpack and pulled out again, over and over again, as you walk the streets of this wonderful downtown area of the city.”

Sounds like a plan Bob.

Walking the Streets of Yangon costs 12,000 kyats ($10) and can be found at Easy Café, The Rough Cut, Rangoon Tea House and its next door neighboor Hla Day, and the Sharky’s on Inya Road.

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