Tourism sector urges protection of colonial sites

Text and photos from Myanmar Times (www.mmtimes.com)
By Aye Sapay Phyu
Volume 31, No. 619
March 19 – 25, 2012
Yangon’s historic buildings.
Pics: Boothee, Yadanar
Yangon: COLONIAL-ERA buildings are a valuable resource for the tourism sector and a major attraction for visitors to the city, tourism experts said last week.

Many in the industry are supportive of the push for preservation but also point out the need for regulations that ensure renovation work on historical sites is tasteful.

Freelance tour guide U Zaw Lynn said he believed that preserving neighbourhoods, rather than just individual buildings, was important and that any preservation strategy would have to fit into a viable city-wide development plan to be effective.

“Although colonial buildings have great architectural value, their appearance can be diminished by nearby buildings that do not reflect the historical value of the building,” he said.

“Areas such as downtown, where there many historical building are existed, should be preserved as special tourist destination areas and left alone from modern development. It is the way, I think, to conserve our treasure effectively and develop a proper city plan.

“When we ride the boat to Dala on the opposite bank of Yangon and look back to the city, we can still see the magnificent view of Yangon that existed 100 years ago. It is a resource for the tourism sector, and we can get many benefits from preservation. That opportunity shouldn’t be wasted as a result of unwise development decisions,” he said.

U Zaw Lynn said his clients often expressed sadness at the lack of maintenance of historic buildings and the frequency that these sites were being demolished.

“We should conserve colonial-era buildings because they say much about our country’s history, not only about how we were colonised but also how we got back our independence. They tell us our history,” he said.

U Aung Tun Lin, a tourist guide from Orchestra Travel in Yangon, said his clients often expressed concern about the management of the buildings and some of the maintenance the had been carried out.

“They suggested that maintenance work on colonial buildings should not affect their historical value. Some buildings are renovated with bright paint and modern materials that are not in keeping with the original style. Some guests point out that good management is needed for these national treasures and to create opportunities to raise the country’s income,” he said.

Nevertheless, the city’s heritage buildings are one of main points of interest in Yangon for his clients. Popular sites include St Mary’s Cathedral on Bo Aung Kyaw Street, Yangon’s Children’s Hospital in Dagon township and the State Secretariat at the corner of Bo Aung Kyaw and Mahabandoola streets.

“They usually like to walk and take photographs along Pansodan road and Sule Pagoda Road between Mahabandoola and Strand roads, where there are many colonial buildings. They like the High Court building, Inland Water Transport Offices on Strand Road, and buildings such as the Myawaddy Bank branch on the lower block of Sule Pagoda Road,” he said.

“Some guests want to visit into the State Secretariat but it is not allowed. I think it should be renovated to something like museum so that it can be looked after and at the same time become a tourist destination. The building also has significant historical value because it is where Bogyoke Aung San and other independence leaders were assassinated.”

Key to a viable preservation strategy will be support from the private sector, and there are already a few examples where creative proprietors have been able to establish successful businesses in renovate colonial-era buildings, such as Strand Hotel, Gallery 65 and Monsoon restaurant.

Monsoon owner Daw Phyu Phyu Tin said customers regularly commented favourably on her restaurant’s “grand” building, a renovated three-storey structure on Theinbyu Road.

“Tourists, especially from European countries, appreciate the colonial buildings. That is an advantage for our business. We have customers who visit again and again because they love the atmosphere,” she said.

She said that she wanted to see the “very beautiful” buildings along Strand Road protected for the benefit of future generations.

“If we don’t maintain the colonial building with great architecture, especially in the area along Strand road, I think it will affect the essence of the city. In my opinion, about 25 percent of the attraction of Yangon is in its colonial buildings. There’s no other city in Southeast Asia that is as grand as Yangon,” she said.

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