Shrieks of glee echo down the narrow alley as children play a game of tag, running past colourful wall murals that depict birds, flowers, elephants and hot air balloons. A group of men perched on stools sip laphet yay (Burmese tea) next to a huge painting of a giraffe. Not long ago, this alley in downtown Yangon was more likely to be used as a dumping ground. But instead of trash, it’s now brimming with activity, thanks to a project to rejuvenate the city’s many alleys.
U Maung Maung Than, a 72-year-old who lives on 42nd Street, home to one of the renovated lanes, recalls, “The alleyway used to be in a filthy condition – garbage, rats and mosquitoes and floods during the rainy season. It has now improved a lot in terms of cleanliness and pests. People can walk along the alleyway and the children can play.”
This particular alley, which reopened on 21 July is the latest to have been renovated by Doh Eain, a Yangon-based urban design firm that concentrates on heritage conservation and urban renewal work. They have also renovated a number of heritage homes in Yangon, allowing the owners to rent them out at a much higher price.
Doh Eain started the alley project in 2016 with financing from crowdfunding, individual donors, private companies and foreign embassies. So far six back streets have been transformed into community-friendly spaces, kitted out with playground equipment, seats and tables, garden plots and whimsical wall murals.
According to Doh Eain’s project and communication officer Kyaw Si Thu – there are plans to expand this project into Yangon’s suburbs.
“Safe, clean places where families can relax and children can play are in short supply,” says Kyaw Si Thu. “Doh Eain is determined to fix this problem.
A fresh start
So far, six individual alleys in downtown Yangon have received colourful makeovers. As well as the addition of vibrant murals, they have been kitted out with everything from gardens and children’s climbing walls to a library and a small outdoor gym.
If you’re travelling to Yangon with kids in tow, you might want to pick up a few of these adorable handmade papier- mâché toys, available outside the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. Choose from gifts like the pyit taing htaung (an egg-shaped face weighted at the bottom), zee kyut (golden owls) and nwar yote (painted oxen). Read more about the fate of this traditional craft here.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of Silkwinds magazine.