I had the pleasure of spending several days in Yangon last week. This city is the old Rangoon in the “old” Burma – renamed Myanmar back in 1989. It is a country rich in oil, gas and precious stones with a long storied history. The people are very friendly and the country is full of temples and pagodas (not the Mercedes type!) with lots of natural vegetation all around.
Last year the country had a general election as the final transfer from military backed rule to an open democracy and last month a new President was sworn in. So to be in the country at the beginning of a new era was pretty special.
My observations are only from a fleeting visit to one city, but did give me a view of the state of the car industry which I’m sure would be replicated in the other larger towns and cities. When we arrived at the airport our guide said that it would take up to an hour to get to the city – it’s only 12 miles (around 20 kms) away! It turned out that it did take an hour – all due to traffic congestion!
Two things really stood out:
1. Over the past ten years or so, the volume of vehicles, mostly cars, has clearly been rapid and the old colonial roads of Yangon were simply not designed for them.
2. Road rules are mostly observed – except for blocking of junctions and lane management is a little dodgy, so the horn is used regularly. Apparently this is illegal but no one cares!
By mid afternoon, the volume of cars had grown on the road and as more junctions were blocked, so too did the city centre. Pedestrians shared the road with vehicles and if you have been to Vietnam, you would understand how to cross the road safely here – by following a local and picking your time well!
Cars are mostly right hand drive and come from Japan – I saw more Toyotas than any other brand on the road with a smattering of new European cars. I really only saw four Euro’s in four days – a Porsche Panamera, a BMW, a Range Rover and a Mini! There were also many old military trucks and old colonial vehicles used as tour buses now.
There are no civilian motorcycles in Yangon – they are banned and the only riders are military or police. The official story is that there were too many road deaths in the city so they were banned outright. Yangon has had a history of protest (especially when the military had full rule) and I wonder if there were other reasons for the ban – perhaps to prevent mobile attacks. Still, there is a benefit: a lack of pollution from two strokes motors! Many cities have thousands of mopeds and scooters that you need to be aware of when out walking – Yangon is completely different.
One special surprise came when we visited Aung San’s house which is now a museum. Aung San was a military officer, a revolutionary and then political leader who worked to gain independence from Britain before his assassination. He is still affectionately remembered in the country and is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is now the State Counsellor for Myanmar. Hidden in the garage of the house was his old car – a Wolseley 18!
This car has been parked there for many years behind a locked gate – hence the photo being quite cramped. It has a 2.5 litre straight 6 motor and was basically a badge engineered Morris 18. Built in the late 1930s, these Morris and Wolseley cars appear to have been shipped around the Empire.
With the changes now taking place in the country, I think you will soon see more luxury cars get shipped in as the economy grows. I would certainly recommend a visit to this country and I’ll be back to see more.