An Oasis—of Sorts—on the Outskirts of Yangon

By Sean Havey 20 July 2013

Hlawga National Park, located in Mingaladon Township (better known as the home of Yangon International Airport), is Yangon’s answer to all those who seek a quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of a modern metropolis in the making.

Even on the map, this 1,540-acre (623-hectare) green space situated at the northern extremity of Yangon looks inviting. It encompasses the catchment area of Hlawga Lake—for more than a century one of Yangon’s main water supplies—and preserves the natural habitat of nearly 200 indigenous animal species, including 145 distinct species of birds.

Actually getting there, however, is no easy task. Although it is just 22 miles (35 km) from downtown Yangon, transport options are limited. The cheapest is a local bus—for just 300 kyat, you can catch the 124 bus on Anawrahta Road (a short walk north of Sule Pagoda) to within a few kilometers of the entrance to the park, and then, for an additional 1,500 kyat or so, take a motorcycle taxi the rest of the way.

The downside of this is that it will take the better part of two hours to get to your destination. Those with less time and more money to spare can hire a taxi for the day for around 40-50,000 kyat. While this might be a bit pricy for some, you can’t beat it for convenience.

Once there, the entrance fee is a very reasonable 800 kyat, to which you can add another 500 kyat if you opt to hop on a “buggy” that departs every hour on the hour, and does a 30-minute circuit around Hlawga Lake. (Those who come by taxi can get around inside the park that way, since vehicles are also allowed to enter.)

Before deciding how you want to take in the spacious park, however, you might want to visit the six golden sun bears housed in an open enclosure near the entrance (which is clearly marked by four gigantic concrete elephant tusks).

Unlike most zoos, the one at the Hlawga National Park does not have a strict “Do Not Feed” policy, at least for the bears. For 1,000 kyat, visitors can buy a half-loaf of white bread to feed the overweight bears and a can of soda for them to wash it down with.

If this is not exactly your idea of getting closer to nature, don’t worry—there’s no shortage of other wildlife around. The most abundant are the packs of rhesus monkeys that roam the place, but there are also several varieties of deer and more exotic creatures such as pangolins and pythons. And for bird-watchers, you could hardly ask for a better place to spend the day.

But be warned: Mosquitos also thrive in this lush, jungle-like environment, so be sure to bring some bug spray.

Being so close to the city, Hlawga is a popular getaway for Yangon residents, especially on weekends. One such visitor, Raymond Simon, said he began visiting the park with his parents when he was 10.

“This place is good because we can see all kinds of plant species and animals—especially a lot of monkeys,” he said.

Some, however, are not so easily impressed. Kyaw Swar, who lives in Mingaladon Township, said that on the two occasions he’s visited, monkeys are about all he’s seen, apart from the rather sad-looking elephants that appear on weekends for rides and snapshots. He said the only reason he comes is because his daughter likes the elephants.

But such naysayers are in the minority, as the park continues to attract visitors, if only because it gives them a break from the constant din of city life.

“It’s really fun for us here. Yangon is really noisy, but here it’s a very nice, quiet place,” said Su Nandar Hlaing, a university student visiting the park with friends.

So whether it’s just a leafy oasis that you seek, or a chance to catch a glimpse of an elusive jungle beast, Hlawga National Park is worth a visit for residents and tourists alike.

This story first appeared in the July 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.