It’s Myanmar’s moment, and the country’s major city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), is hoping to become Southeast Asia’s next boomtown. Diplomatic missions, business delegations and tourists have filled Yangon’s hotels since the country’s military government began transferring power to civilian leaders in 2011. The spotlight continues this year as Myanmar, also known as Burma, takes on the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. For now, though, as the road map for laws and reforms is being drawn, the city remains in a kind of urban time warp, still awaiting a much-needed capital infusion to fuel what it hopes to be its renaissance. Golden pagodas, colonial-era buildings, traditional shop houses and moldering jazz-age mansions form a low-rise fabric unique to Asia, the whole stitched together by tree-lined avenues swarming with buses and cars. While ethnic and religious tensions simmer along Myanmar’s borderlands, including in remote Rakhine State, where there have been recent outbreaks of religious violence, Yangon is far from these areas. Still, time will tell whether the city will reclaim its former status as a cosmopolitan capital.
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