If you visit any market in Yangon, make it the almost-century old Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you’ll find slowly dying black market money exchanges, a growing art scene and rows of rare gems and jewellery shops. Towering ceilings, clean floors and semi-orderly shops make for a relatively serene experience by Southeast Asia market standards, but nevertheless, go before the day heats up and take plenty of breaks for the best experience.
Bogyoke has long been a centre for selling jade, rubies and other rare gems that come straight from Myanmar’s mines, while paintings and tailored fabrics spill into the stairways that lead to the tiny workshops where jewellery is crafted. The main walkway can be a bit unexciting, but is scented from sandalwood crafters and features plenty of art works.
Exploring the fringe of the market you’ll find clothing stores selling ethnic minority outfits as well as mainstream items, and the antique stores have such a plethora of odds and ends that you half-expect to find a mogwai-gremlin hiding within. Whole areas become claustrophobic labyrinths of head-high stacked fabrics in the east wing, and the west wing holds a warehouse of tailors who can fix almost anything on the spot for less than 1,000 kyat or copy your best fitting shirt or blouse within a week for 10,000 to 15,000 kyat.
Part of having a good experience here involves taking breaks. Slurp on an avocado or durian shake or sip on an orange juice from one of the stalls lining the street near the east wing, while teashops in the west wing offer front-row seats to the gem dealers and shop owners haggling over small piles of jewels. If you need a cup of actual coffee and maybe some Western food, the FMI Parkson centre is next door, with several air-con coffee shops, WiFi and a modern-item shopping centre.
Either way, our advice is this: take your time. And bring your camera, as this is a real photographer’s playground.
Some people still call Bogyoke “Scott market” as it was named during colonial times, but after independence in 1948, the market was renamed in honour of General Aung San. The entrance sits just off of Shwedagon Pagoda Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road and every taxi driver should know it. The market is free, with no camera fees, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.