Map app of­fers lo­cal take to trav­ellers

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - NYO ME ny­ome@mm­times.com

WITH tourist sea­son in full bloom, trav­ellers have be­come an in­creas­ingly com­mon sight around down­town Yan­gon – of­ten with sun­burned noses buried in city maps.

But for those look­ing for more than the clas­sic pic­ture of street names and must-see spots, a newly launched smart­phone app called iDis­cover Ci­tyWalks hopes to of­fer a com­mu­nity-cen­tric al­ter­na­tive.

The Hong Kong-based de­vel­oper, Ur­ban Dis­cov­ery, de­scribes it­self as a so­cial en­ter­prise “keep­ing her­itage alive for a vi­brant and vi­able ur­ban fu­ture”.

Launched on Novem­ber 20 at Hla Day and in con­junc­tion with 57Below res­tau­rant group, the Yan­gon ver­sion of the app of­fers four in­ter­ac­tive maps of the city. Each map is de­vel­oped by lo­cal artists and en­cour­ages users to visit 20-30 cul­tural her­itage sites, with sto­ries, ur­ban leg­ends and de­tailed photos di­vided into five cat­e­gories: iSee, iDrink, iEat, iShop and iSur­prise.

Ur­ban Dis­cov­ery’s founder Ester van Steeke­len­burg said at the launch that pre­serv­ing cul­tural her­itage in South­east Asia is cru­cial to the health of its cities.

“Her­itage is dis­ap­pear­ing very quickly,” she said, “as well as build­ings and in­tan­gi­bles. It’s not just Yan­gon – it’s hap­pen­ing in many Asian cities.”

She cited her home­town of Hong Kong as a prime ex­am­ple. Hav­ing lived in the city for nearly 20 years, she saw the need for lo­cal NGOs and city gov­ern­ments to en­gage with trav­ellers and show­case each neigh­bour­hood’s unique­ness. So far, Ur­ban Dis­cov­ery has de­vel­oped five iDis­cover city walks in Hong Kong, as well ad­di­tional walks in Bali, Java and Ma­cau. Yan­gon’s app has four walks, cov­er­ing the Sec­re­tar­iat district, the In­dian quar­ter, down­town Yan­gon and Chi­na­town.

Ryan Pyae, the de­signer of the “Sec­re­tar­iat and Be­yond” map, said he had about six weeks to de­sign his as­sign­ment.

“In the map, I put small hints in cer­tain places that point to hid­den gems of the area,” he said. “It is mainly fo­cused on creativity.”

Other de­sign­ers in­clude Trang Nguyen (who de­signed the Down­town Yan­gon map), Monika Traikov (In­dian quar­ter) and Mekong Kyaw Swar (Chi­na­town).

Each hard copy of the maps looks like a work of art, but van Steeke­len­burg said us­ing the app ver­sions pro­vides ex­tra lit­tle de­tails that can make a trip truly spe­cial.

“The app is­sues tips on what you should order in the lo­cal restau­rants, some­thing that trav­ellers might find a bit dif­fi­cult in [for­eign] places,” she said. “We also ex­press the back­ground sto­ries of the fam­ily [run­ning the res­tau­rant] or the se­cret of the recipes.”

An­other ob­vi­ous benefit of us­ing the app is its GPS com­pat­i­bil­ity – al­low­ing you to, as the Ur­ban Dis­cov­ery tagline says,” “get lost with­out get­ting lost”.

Vic­to­ria Cook, the founder of the Myan­mar Women’s Men­tor­ing Net­work, at­tended the launch and said even Yan­gon-ites should con­sider down­load­ing the app.

“Though I have lived here for a year and a half – I walk th­ese streets ev­ery day – I usu­ally don’t take the time to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of her­itage build­ings. To­day, I had an ex­cuse to stop and re­ally look,” she said.

Van Steeke­len­burg said the com­pany hopes to dis­cover more beau­ti­ful cities in Myan­mar and men­tioned Man­dalay and Mawlamyaing specif­i­cally.

Grab a map at Hla Day for US$2 per copy – pro­ceeds sup­port the so­cial en­ter­prise. The app is free for down­load on iOS and An­droid de­vices.

Photos: Nyo Me

The maps are de­signed by lo­cal artists, and the app ver­sion in­cludes GPS track­ing and ex­tra de­tails to make your ex­plo­ration more in­ter­est­ing.

A group of iDis­cov­er­ers use one of the “City Walk” maps to ex­plore down­town Yan­gon on Novem­ber 20.

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