The name ‘Yangon’ is a combination of the words yan [enemies] and koun [run out of]. It has also been translated as ‘the end of strife’. The name Rangoon came from the British pronunciation of Yangon.
In the early 11th century (1028–1043CE) the Mon dominated Lower Burma. Yangon was a small Mon fishing village centred on the Shwedagon Paya, and was called Dagon. However, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon in 1755, renamed it Yangon. The British captured Yangon during the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–26, but it was returned to Burmese administration after the war.
Then the British again seized Yangon, and all of Lower Burma in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, and established Yangon as the political and commercial center of British Burma. The British laid out the new city on a grid plan constructed on a delta, with the Pazundaung Creek on the east, and the Yangon River on the west.
In the 1890s, the increasing population and flourishing commerce gave rise to the affluent residential suburbs to the north of Royal Lake Kandawgyi and around Inya Lake.
During the colonial period, the British also established hospitals and universities, and Yangon was a mix of colonial buildings and traditional Burmese wooden architecture, with spacious parks with lakes. It is said that by the early 20th century, the infrastructure and public services of Yangon were comparable to those of London. Yangon was known as ‘the garden city of the East.’
After World War I, Yangon became the centre of the Burmese independence movement. In 1920, 1936 and 1938 there were nationwide strikes protesting against British colonial rule which started in Yangon. During World War II, Yangon was under Japanese occupation, and was heavily damaged during the war. The city was retaken by the Allies in May 1945 at the end of the war.
Yangon became the capital of the Union of Burma on January 4, 1948 when the country became independent from the British. In the 1990s as the government began to allow private investment, and there was a construction boom with new high-rise buildings being constructed in the city. In 2005 the political capital of Myanmar was moved to Naypyidaw about 230 miles north of Yangon.
Yangon is a pleasant city with wide, tree-lined avenues. It is the largest city in Myanmar, and is the country's spiritual, cultural, and business centre, and is where many of the country’s pagodas and temples can be found. The city is a mix of diverse peoples, cultures, and religions, and is a blend of British, Burmese, Chinese and South Asian influences.
The atmosphere of Yangon is that of a typical Southeast Asian city, but unlike other Asian capitals, it has not yet been overtaken by rampant development. Due to its slow growth, it still retains much of its colonial architecture, although much of it has fallen into disrepair, and is decaying due to lack of upkeep.
Yangon is a unique example of a 19th-century British colonial capital where men and women still wear the traditional lon-gyi, and street vendors, and the sights and sounds evoke an Asian city of the past. It is a city with a population of over five million people, but it is developing slowly. Even though it is a busy and bustling city, it still retains some of the charm of a bygone era.