The Irrawaddy

A Cat’s World

YANGON — A woman shares her table with a cat that stares at her french fries. A couple takes a selfie with a kitten that wears its gray stripes beautifully. While some cats roam freely about the space, others lounge in the windows. The place is full of cat shelves and playhouses. It is a cats’ world, and humans pay to visit.

Yangon opened its first cat café in June, offering residents the chance to cozy up to some furry friends while enjoying a cup of coffee, and joining a global trend. As a country, Myanmar opened up after 2012, and it not only began attracting investments, but also Asian trends – like the cat café.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

The first cat café is believed to have opened in Taiwan in 1998, and then spread to Japan where a café opened in Osaka in 2004.  Now there are dozens in Tokyo, according to Japan’s Nikkei Trendy newspaper.

Even though Yangon has not yet reached Japan’s levels of stressful and sometimes lonely urban life, Myanmar’s cat lovers have lined up for cuddles and coffee.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

The owner of Freedom Cafe, Ma Pearl, repatriated to Myanmar in 2014 and brought back the concept of the cat café, an idea that she became familiar with after living in Thailand for 20 years, she told The Irrawaddy.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

There are 25 quarantined cats and more than 10 different feline breeds at Freedom Café, including Persian, Chinchilla, Scottish Fold, Maine Coon and Exotic. All of the cats, along with their pedigree papers, were brought from Russia via Thailand, Ma Pearl said.

Having owned 10 cats when she was a child, the 30-year-old Ma Pearl says she can decode cats’ behaviors and understand their attitudes. To this end, she explains that she signed up for memberships at pet care and health associations in Thailand in order to study animal behavior.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

After coming back to Myanmar, she wanted to bring something new to the country and teamed up with her older sister who had already planned to open an extended café on the second floor of her old location, Ma Pearl said of how the idea began.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

“When I researched the pet market in Myanmar, the only exotic feline species that most people knew was Persian,” she recalled. “They could not distinguish different kinds of cat species,” she added.

“One of the reasons why I opened this cat café is that I want people here to understand more about cat species and interact with them,” she said. “Seeing them on the Internet is not the same as being able touch them in person.”

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

“Cats are clean, independent, easy to tame and most importantly, they don’t fake it. It’s difficult to get their affection and love. You have to earn it,” she explained why she prefers cats to dogs.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

Ma Pearl has multiple employees supervising and assisting customers so that both the customers and cats are stress-free, she said.

“Some customers who come here have their targeted cat. They come specifically to pet their favorite cat,” she said.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

Visitors pay 5,000 kyats to visit the café and they can buy treats for their “purrfect” and “fluffy” friends.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

Arkar, who recently visited the café, said that he had to compete with other visitors for the cats’ attention and that he would like to visit at a less crowded time next time. He also suggested that the café expand the space and increase the number of cats.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

“I just love cats. I’d adopt one but I don’t have enough time to take care of them. A cat café is the perfect solution,” Arkar told The Irrawaddy.

Ma Pearl said she has arranged to house more cats in the café and is planning to open another one close to the downtown area as the current one is in Sanchaung Township—approximately one hour from the heart of the city in heavy traffic.

(Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)