Yangon Walks 4 Merchant Street

former bank of Bengal

former bank of Bengal

This walk starts where walk 3 finished, at Maha Bandoola Square, where it meets Merchant Street.

Merchant Street, it’s name from colonial times remains unchanged, was the centre of commercial business in pre- war Rangoon. To the west of Pansodan were banks and insurance companies, and to the east mercantile and light manufacturing businesses.  At the end of the 19th century there were also hotels, including the “dreadful” guest house (Kipling’s words), Jordan’s Hotel in which Rudyard Kipling spent his one night in Rangoon.


Standing at the junction of Merchant Street and the Sule Pagoda Road.

To your right are various imposing building,

former commercial bank buildings Yangon, Merchant Street and the Strand.

former commercial bank buildings Yangon, Merchant Street and the Strand.

They are mostly former banks  during the colonial times and many still serve that function but to new owners, and one was the offices of the most successful company in Burma during the colonial era.

The Burma Oil Company.  

former Burmah Oil Company Building  Yangon

former Burmah Oil Company Building Yangon

The company was established in 1886 to exploit the oil fields of Upper Burma. It took over this building, built in 1908, from it’s former agents Findlay, Fleming and Company. Business for the company was particularly successful in the 1920’s  but the advent of the Japanese invasion in 1942 led to the deliberate destruction of the oil fields to deny them fall into enemy hands.

In the 1930’s Burmese nationalist led many protests against British colonisation and the BOC was targeted due to it’s prominence and complaints about bad working conditions. Protester blocked the doors to the building by lying on the footpath, and staff had to steep over the prostrate bodies, the ladies being carried to exit the building. BOC assets in Burma were sold to the Burmese Government in 1963.

If you wish to see these buildings walk to the right, but come back to junction of Merchant Street and Sule Pagoda Road. You will see in front of you

 Central Bank of Myanmar Government

former Reserve Bank of India

former Reserve Bank of India

This was formerly the Reserve Bank of India. The RBI was set up in 1935 and became the Government of India’s bank. It’s task was to regulate the issue of banknotes, maintain reserves and to manage the vast country’s financial system. Until 1937 Burma was governed as a province of India. Burma obtained Dominion status in 1937 and thus Burma became  self- governing, however the Reserve Bank still regulated Burma’s finance and issued currency. During WWII, the Bank’s building was occupied by the Japanese, from where they managed the wartime economy and controlled their currency and  issued banknotes. Upon the return of the allies in 1945 the Japanese hastily retreated, but set fire to parts of the building, damaging it slightly, They also left millions of worthless occupation notes which fluttered into the streets.

Turn left ( east) and walk past the south of Maha Bandoola Park  Next to the former Central  Bank is

former American Embassy Merchant Street Yangon

former American Embassy Merchant Street Yangon

The former United States of America Embassy.  The new embassy is located  on the south bank of Inya Lake, very near the house of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. During colonial times American interest were initially looked after by Bulloch Bros from a building which is now the post office on the Strand. Later a consulate was opened  next door to the Sofaer Building on Pansodan. This embassy was opened when Burma achieved independence in 1948.   Behind the Embassy, accessible to the right of the building  along 33rd Street is the red brick …..     

Balthazar’s Buildings – Rangoon – 1905 Merchant Street and Bank Street (Shafraz Rd).

Balthazar's  Buildings Yangon

Balthazar’s Buildings Yangon

 The Balthazar family were successful  Armenian traders with a firm base in Bombay and Calcutta before they arrived in Rangoon in the 1860’s. This  Edwardian red brick structure was the head office of Messrs Balthazar & Son  – general merchants (import and export), auctioneers, estate and banking agents and investment managers.

The Armenians had enjoyed a niche in British colonial India as reliable and hard-working traders with a social status of being condescendingly “almost British”.

In between the first and second Anglo Burmese wars, Messrs. Crisp & Trill, had their place of business near Balthazar’s Buildings. Mr. May Flower Crisp was instrumental in causing problems between Ava and Britain, contributing to the outbreak of war in 1852. He sold guns the Burmese monarch as he thought that war would soon occur, and when the Burmese refused to pay after delivery he sought redress from the British administration in Calcutta, against whom the arms would be directed!

Rabngoon Corporation railings Yangon

Rangoon Corporation railings Yangon

Messrs. Carrapiett and Samuel Balthazar offered to present a statue of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to be erected in Fytche Square ( Maha Bandoola Square if the Municipal Committee would put a decent railing round the garden in place of the then disreputable fence. The committee agreed to this. The statue was removed by the Japanese during the war.

 Keep walking east. Cross Maha Bandula Garden Street ..

On the other side of the road heading east is    

former Myanma Export Import Enterprise government office

former HSBC Bank Merchant Street

former HSBC Bank Merchant Street

formerly Hongkong & Shanghai Bank – Rangoon – 1901 The building originally was designed with Venetian Gothic extrusions and a spired tower. It was altered in the mid 1920’s with the removal of the extrusions to make a cleaned lined building. The bank was established 1892 and this building was erected in 1901. HK&S Bank was present in all major British ports and in the Far East, as well as Tokyo, Shanghai, the Dutch East Indies and the American Philippine islands. In  between the first and second Anglo Burmese wars here, stood the British Residency, once occupied by Colonel Burney, the novelist Fanny Burney’s nephew,  who removed himself here from Amarapura, the capital of the erratic and brutal Pagan Min, who like his father Tharrawaddy became increasingly deranged after the loss of the first and second Anglo Burmese War.

Keep heading east: Keep heading east:

former Oppenheimer and Co. Merchant Street

former Mercntile Bank of India next to the former Oppenheimer and Co. Merchant Street

The former Mercantile Bank of India  

Next to it is

The Innwa Bank 

formerly M.S. Oppenheimer & Co. The building was built by Sigmund and his nephew Maurice Oppenheimer as a trading company. They represented many leading brands including typewriters. The also supplied police uniforms and working elephant harness.

Keep walking East. on the left you will pass the

former Randeria House

The former Randeria House

The former Randeria House

After Independence the Indian Embassy was located here.

On the right of the road is the present location of the

Indian Embassy

(originally the Oriental Life Assurance Building) – Rangoon –  built 1914 .

Indian Embassy Merchant Street Yangon

Indian Embassy Merchant Street Yangon

This company was originally established in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1818 by Anita Bhavsar to cater to the needs of European community. It did offer insurance to Indian and Burman nationals, but at higher premiums because their life expectancy was lower. However it is often opinioned that this was another way to prevent equality of the races under colonialism. Indeed, in 1870 a group of mostly foreign educated Indians set up the Bombay Mutual Life Assurance Society, which became the first organization to charge a similar premium from all individuals irrespective of their origin or nationality.

Once you reach Pansodan, cross it heading east. 

On the right is the Lokanat Gallery Building

Sofaer's Building Merchant Street

Sofaer’s Building Merchant Street

formerly Sofaer & Co’s Building 1906 . Built by Isaac Sofaer, a rich Baghdadi Jew who emigrated to Burma as a child, and was one of some 2,000 Jews in Rangoon at this time. The building was opened by the Governor General of Burma with a golden key. The floor tiles came from Manchester, England. Like many Jews in Rangoon, the Sofaer family contributed to the construction and upkeep of the Musmeah Yeshua synogague,  and the Sofaer family donated the gates to the Rangoon Zoo.download movie The Fate of the Furious 2017 now

Futher east on the opposite side to the road

Myanmar Agricultural and Village Tract Development Bank

former A. Scott & Co. Yangon

former A. Scott & Co. Yangon

formerly the A. Scott & Company Building, built in 1902. This colonial trading company, like many of the British trading houses in Rangoon was run by Scotsmen. This building was used by A Scott & Co to manufacture bottled Aerated Waters as recently as 1950’s.   Next door was the  building containing offices of the booksellers Miles Standish. Today booksellers are to be found on the streets outside.

Your walk ends here

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