Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, is green and cool with lush tropical trees, shady parks, and beautiful lakes. As it rapidly develops it has also acquired traffic jams, poverty, and signs of international commerce. On first sight, it is a typical Asian city, but you quickly realize that it is less modern than its Asian peers and it has its own calm culture. Being the principle air and seaport, it is home to many of the country’s most important organizations.
The city right now feels like a frontier town in transition. The locals still dress in traditional longyi and only a small percentage own a mobile phone, yet shiny new apartment blocks are springing up between the peeling colonial facades, traffic jams have become common in some areas, and pizza and donut shops are appearing.
Despite the changes, the glistening golden stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda continues to dominate the city’s skyline. The details as to exactly when the construction of the pagoda began are somewhat sketchy, but writings document that it was well-known by the 11th century.
Over the years, the structure was increased in grandeur and enlarged in height. Today’s massive pagoda is not only a remarkable architectural achievement but it symbolizes how Buddhism pervades every aspect of life in the city.
There are many other attractions, however. It is a pleasure to wander the tree-lined avenues and narrow backstreets of the downtown colonial area, with its British-style buildings. There are other pagodas to visit, including the majestic Botataung Pava near the riverside.
You can stop for refreshments in a traditional Burmese teahouse before enjoying the priceless treasures at the impressive National Museum and it can be fun to join the crowds milling around Bogyoke Aung San market or the various ferry jetties.
The city’s street life always makes an impression on me. I find the street-side stalls, where diners tuck into bowls of steaming noodles; the ancient, overloaded, buses jostling for space at junctions with trishaws, trucks, and taxis; and the open-air markets, where traders squat beside piles of fresh produce, to be quite fascinating. It is not just the scene but also the color the noise, the smells and the action. Home is never like this.
It is clear the city is on the brink of rapid economic change. Around the striking Side Pagoda, in central downtown, building activity has started on high-rise apartments and offices. New modern hotels are opening their doors while travel agents are offering city tours. Despite this, I feel that Yangon has changed less than other southeast Asian cities in the past 50 years and for this I am grateful.
Legend says that there was a small settlement here from about 600BC and that the Shwedagon Pagoda was established at that time by King Okkalapa who was ruler of Suvannabhumi (Lower Burma). Little is known of these people and it is common to lump then together with Mons but some authorities claim they were a different race.
Whether there was continuous settlement here for the next 1600 years is unknown but it is said that the pagoda survived and was maintained by a succession of kings. It is known that a small fishing village called Dagon was established near the Shwedagon Pagoda in the early 11th century by the Mon civilization, who dominated much of southern Myanmar and Thailand at that time.
When King Alaungpaya conquered lower Myanmar in 1755, he changed the settlement’s name to Yangon and significantly enlarged it into a town.
Three wars were fought between the British and the Burmese Empire in the 19th century. The first war (1824-1826), was primarily over the control of north-eastern India, and it ended in a decisive British victory, Yangon was captured but was returned to the Burmese after the war. This didn’t save the city because it was destroyed by a massive fire in 1841.
The British seized a partially rebuilt Yangon in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, and made it the commercial and political hub of British Burma. A new city- was built on a grid plan on delta land, adjoining the Yangon River and this became the capital after the British captured Upper Burma in the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885. The name was anglicized to Rangoon and this is how the world knew the city for the nexti20 years.
The colonial buildings in and around Yangon
Quite a number of old public buildings built in the time of the British occupation still remain although many are presently empty and are rotting away. For many visitors, they are one of the major attractions of the city and it is hoped that most or all can be saved and recycled in the near future.
Unfortunately, there seems little action on this at present and many Western architects and scholars are appealing to the government to do something to save them. Most were constructed in the early part of the 20th century.
The Yangon City Hall, next to Side Pagoda, is one that is being used and it appears to be in reasonable condition. The old Supreme Court (1910) to the southeast is painted in red and yellow but it is looking rather sad. A short distance to the south is the famous Strand Hotel which was constructed in 1901 and was among the best hotels in Asia when it opened.
Fortunately, it has been restored and furnished with modern facilities and is again one of the best hotels in the city. Next door is the Office of the Myanmar Harbor Authority with its interesting tower and then there is the old Yangon Division Court building with its Queen-Ann-Style architecture. Further west is the impressive old Customs House building.
Other grand colonial style buildings are the Yangon Railway Station, which is decorated with Myanmar traditional arts, the imposing red brick Myanmar Railway office building now derelict but under negotiation with international interests, the Bogyoke Aung San Market, and the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral.
Just to the west is the enormous red brick Yangon General Hospital, with its arches and turrets, which was the first public hospital in Myanmar and was constructed in 1911. All these structures are on Bogyoke Aung San Street.
Perhaps the most impressive building of all is the old Ministers* Office, which occupies the whole block of land surrounded by Anawrahta, Them Ryu, Mahabandoola and Bo Aung Kyaw streets. This was the government headquarters for many years and it housed the Myanmar parliament from 1948-1962.
It was also the site of the assassination in 1947 of General Aung San and other members of his interim government. The Anawmar Gallery has been awarded the rights to create a museum in the building but this will be a gigantic task and nothing seems to have been done yet.
All these public buildings can be seen on a central city walking tour but unfortunately many cannot be entered and at some, aggressive security guards advise that no photographs are to be taken. Perhaps there is some embarrassment at the state they are in!
Apart from these and other public, buildings in other parts of the city, there are many substantial colonial residences built of brick, masonry, and wood with multi-gabled roofs, verandas, and porches. Some of these English-style houses have been restored and are offices or residences but many more are in a poor state of repair. I hope the value of these is recognized before they are beyond repair.
While central Yangon is built to a British- designed grid, other areas are not so well defined. One day I found myself befuddled by twisting laneways that become indistinguishable from every other nearby. As I yielded to disorientation in the maze-like chaos, I realized that this was an adventure in itself and there were discoveries to be made around every one of the dusty, well-worn corners. Fortunately, there will always be a taxi or bus to get you back to civilization.
Top places to visit in Yangon
Any list will always be subjective and will depend on the individual’s interests but if you manage to see all of the following you can consider yourself well versed in Yangon’s attractions. Visitor accommodation is scattered around the downtown area and the suburbs and it is not possible to walk to all these no matter where you stay. I have, however, grouped the attractions into different areas to help reduce the need to travel too far. Fortunately, taxis are fairly easy to find in Yangon so this is the best way to travel between most of them.
Let’s start in the downtown area.
(Corner of Strand Road and Botahtaung Pagoda Road.)
This is a famous pagoda located in downtown Yangon near the Yangon River. The origins of the pagoda are not clear but we know that the structure was completely destroyed by a bomb in 1943 and what we see today is a reconstruction.
During the clean-up work, a golden casket and about 700 gold, silver and bronze statues were uncovered, as well as a number of terracotta tablets, one of which is inscribed both in Pali and in the south Indian Brahmi script. Part of the discovery is displayed in the pagoda, but the more valuable objects are locked away.
The bell-shaped stupa is hollow, and visitors can walk around the interior, which has a mirrored maze-like walkway lined with glass showcases, and many small alcoves for private meditation. The small lake outside is home to thousands of terrapin turtles, and if you feed them it is believed you will acquire merit for a future existence. The golden pagoda spire rises 40 meters. A covered bridge leads visitors to a shrine of a few resident nats (guardian spirits).
It is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily with an admission charge for foreigners of $3. From here we walk west along the river.
The jetty is situated in front of the famous Strand Hotel on the Yangon River. It is a great place to watch people who come across the river from the other side of the city. You can cross the river by ferry boat, which leave regularly and take about 10 minutes for the journey. On board, there are vendors selling freshly sliced watermelon, cigarettes, tea, food, and various other things. The foreign price to travel is many multiples of the local price but still won’t break the bank. It’s inland now to the next point of interest.
St Mary’s Cathedral
(Bo Aung Kyaw Road)
This Catholic cathedral is the largest cathedral in Myanmar. Designed by Dutch architect Jos Cuypers, it has a red brick exterior, two spires, and a bell tower. The interior has some nice stained glass windows, however, most of the originals were destroyed during World War II. Masses are held at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sundays.
Independence Monument and Mahabandoola Garden
The garden is downtown, southeast of the Side Pagoda, and the Independence Monument is located inside the gardens. The obelisk, which has a height of 46 meters and which is surrounded by five 9 m pillars, was erected to commemorate Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948.
The park was originally established in 1867 as Fytche Square, had a name change in 1935 to Bandula Square and was renamed again after independence. Known for its rose gardens, the park provides good views of City Hall and other colonial buildings. People come to practice tai chi in the park early in the morning.
Immanuel Baptist Church
(Maha Bandula Park St.)
The church is on one side of the park It was founded in 1885 but destroyed during World War II; the present church was rebuilt in 1952. A Sunday service is held at 8.30 a.m.
The Sule Pagoda is the shining stupa at the heart of the downtown area. The richly gilded monument rises from the middle of a busy intersection, surrounded on all sides by shops, swirling traffic and a growing number of high-rise hotels and office buildings.
Its origins are debated but it is believed to be been originally constructed by the Mons as it is a Mon-style chedi, about 46 m high. Except for the chedi itself, enlarged to its present size by Queen Shin SawTbu in the 15th century, nothing at the pagoda is more than a little over a century old.
The golden pagoda is unusual in that its octagonal shape continues right up to the bell and inverted bowl. Inside, the pagodas shrines and images include four colorful Buddhas with neon halos behind their heads. As with all stupas, visitors should walk around it in a clockwise direction.
As well as its religious significance, the Sule Pagoda has seen several famous political demonstrations over the past three decades. In 1988 the military opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing and injuring dozens and during the Saffron Revolution of 2007, the monument was the focal point of mass gatherings.
It opens daily from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. and there is a $5 admission fee for foreigners. Now walk westwards to the next attraction.
Kheng Hock Keong Temple
(Corner of Sintodan Street and Strand Road)
This is the oldest Chinese Buddhist and Taoist temple in Yangon being founded in 1861. The temple is full of statues, flowers and other decorations in colorful red. In the early morning and evening, it is often thronged with worshippers offering candles, flowers, and incense.
This is probably the busiest area of Yangon. It is centered on Latha Road in the western part of downtown but it spreads across several blocks in each direction. The shops, with their bright neon lights and garish advertising, are a seething mass of people during both daytime and evening, and restaurants abound. It is an extremely important commercial center especially for gold, jewelry, electronics, mobile phones, consumer goods and groceries.
19th Street between Anawrahtha and Maha Bandoola roads is packed with restaurants and roadside barbeque vendors selling all manner of dishes. Aging buses run on the east-west streets while pedestrians and vendors cram the north- south streets seeking and selling fruit, vegetables, fried snacks and more.
There are also pockets of quiet, such as the Guang Dong Kwan Yin Temple between Latha Road and 20th Street. The temple is about 170 years old but was rebuilt in 1868 after a fire. There are several smaller Chinese temples on the other side of Latha Road.
This is a really authentic Yangon market experience, where the customers are almost entirely locals. It is a huge place that takes up four downtown blocks around Shwedagon Pagoda Road, and is housed in a mixture of buildings. Here you can experience the hustle and bustle of Yangon and see an array of products, including a wide selection of herbs and medicines.
In the center of this area, you find the 26 Street Market and Shri Kali Temple. The morning market (from about 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) is in full swing every day rain or shine. Vendors line both the sides and center of 26 Street.
Shri Kali Temple is a Hindu temple which was built by Tamil migrants in 1871, when Burma was part of British India. The temple is noted for its colorful architecture, especially its roof, which contains images and stone carvings of many Hindu gods.
Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
(Corner of Anawrahta road and 26th street)
This is Myanmar’s only Jewish house of worship. It is on the busy lane off 26th Street in central Yangon, and it is a reminder of the once thriving and influential Jewish community who lived here during the first half of the 20th century. It was constructed in the 1890s to serve several thousand Jews, who migrated here from the Middle East.
The Japanese invasion during World War II, forced most Jews to escape and the community never became vibrant again. There are very few Jews in Yangon today.
The synagogue has kept its blue colonial-style facade and it has a spacious interior with simple decor while the adjacent cemetery housing more than 600 gravestones is a little run-down. It is open to visitors from 9 a.m. until noon daily, and on Saturdays and other holy days it opens until the evening. A service is held every Friday. Immediately north of here is the famous market.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
The market on Bogyoke Aung San Road in the heart of the city was built in 1926 and was originally named Scott Market. Nowadays, it is called Bogyoke Aung San Market in honor of General Aung San who was assassinated in 1947. It is a very large beautifully ragged old colonial building with nooks and crannies filled with trinkets. It is the most famous shopping place in Yangon.
Myanmar arts and handicrafts are popular buys with visitors and they are available at reasonable prices. There are over 1.600 shops selling handicrafts, food, clothing, jewelry, fashion and consumer goods. Most of the vendors are willing to negotiate a price and they are not overly aggressive. There is free wifi and traditional Myanmar and Chinese food within the market.
The market has four wings but specific items are not confined to just one area so it can be difficult to make a good comparison between different stores. It is perhaps a little more expensive than some other markets as it targets the tourist trade but the range is unsurpassed and it is the easiest for a tourist to negotiate. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but is closed Monday, full moon days and public holidays.
Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral
This is the primary Anglican cathedral in Myanmar. Construction began in 1886 to a design by an architect based in India. It is a quiet oasis in the heat, hustle, and bustle of the busy city. It is usually empty and very peaceful except for the services at 7 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. on Sunday. I am told that it served as a brewery during the Japanese invasion of Myanmar in World War II. The next point of interest is north-east from here.
National Theatre of Yangon
This theater on Myoma Kyoung Road, Dagon Township was financed by the Chinese and was completed in 1990, and some refurbishment has just been undertaken. It is used for cultural exchange programs with foreign countries, workshops, religious ceremonies, performing arts competitions, and for musical stage shows. You need to be lucky to arrive when something interesting is happening because the building does not get great use.
From here on it becomes more difficult to walk from the downtown area so a taxi would be useful to start the next series of attractions which are north of downtown.
(66/74 Pyay Road)
The National Museum, on four floors at Pyay Rd., has much of interest. It covers artifacts from pre-history through ethnic group costumes, rural life, royal regalia and history, art, jewelry, toys, early transportation, ancient musical instruments and so on.
The museum’s highlight is probably King Thibaw’s Lion Throne, originally from Mandalay Palace. The 8m-tall wooden throne, covered with gold and lacquer work, is a particularly striking example of the Burmese art of woodcarving.
In the Hall of Myanmar History, there are the pagodas, temples, monasteries and ordination halls of the Bagan Period and the marvelous murals of the Pinya, Inwa, Toungoo, and Konbaung Eras.
In the Hall of Prehistoric Times, there is a model of the Padah-Lin Cave where Stone Age men once dwelt and etched drawings on its walls over 10,000 years ago. Other highlights are the Mandalay Regalia which include gem-studded arms, swords, jewelry and serving dishes.
Cameras are not allowed and, along with bags, need to be stored in a locker at the entrance. The museum opens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but is not open on Mondays and there is a $5 entry fee for foreigners. Although there are some English signs, they are not detailed enough for foreigners to understand the full picture.
The museum has an air-conditioning problem and some sections seem to have no ventilation at all. Equally frustrating in the unfriendly attitude of the reception staff who seem to think they are doing you a favor by allowing you to visit, but despite all this, a visit is recommended.
Yangon Regional Parliament Building
The Yangon Region Hluttaw, the legislature of the Yangon Region, convenes at the Yangon Region Hluttaw building on Pyay Road which formerly housed the national parliament before this was moved to Naypyidaw. Now go just a little to the north.
(Corner of West Shwegontaing Road and Arzarni Street)
This memorial mausoleum at Ar Zar Street, north of the Slwvedagon Pagoda, is dedicated to Aung San and the six cabinet members who were assassinated with him in 1947. It is now open to the public daily except on Mondays and public holidays, after two decades of tightly restricted access. Entry is $3 for foreigners but is free for everyone on July 19.
This mausoleum was destroyed by a North Korean bomb during a ceremony in 1983 in an attempt to assassinate the visiting South Korean president. The president escaped, but 21 others were killed in the blast. It has since been rebuilt.
(Between Pyay Road and Uwizara Road)
This large park, with a lake and areas of grass and trees, is immediately west of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The area used to be part of the palace grounds 600 years ago during the reign of Queen Shin Sawbu. During the colonial period it was a golf course.
A little over half of the complex is called Peoples Square, a flower and tree-lined socialist- style marble esplanade. There is a small museum in the park with life-size models of ethnic groups in their colorful dress, and a beautiful fountain with white elephants.
Other attractions are a planetarium and an amusement park with swimming pools, water slides, rides and a water fountain garden. A handicrafts center and art gallery adds to the appeal for some. The restaurant serves Myanmar and European Food. Opening hours are 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and there is a $3 entrance fee and a $3 camera fee for foreigners.
Few religious monuments in the world are as impressive as Shwedagon Pagoda, with its gigantic 99 m golden stupa, which is on Singuttara Hill to the north of the downtown area. This is a very holy place for Myanmar Buddhists and has become a potent symbol of national identity. Buddhists believe that the stupa enshrines relics not merely of the historical Buddha, Gautama, but also those of three of his predecessors.
The pagoda can be visited at any time during the day but early evening is best when the sunset light has a transformative effect on the gold- encrusted stupa and the many subsidiary shrines. It opens from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. but entrance tickets are not sold to foreign visitors until 6 am. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Visitors must wear trousers or at least knee length shorts or skirt, and shirts with elbow length sleeves and you must be barefooted when entering.
A $8 entrance fee is levied on foreigners.
While its exact origins are unknown there is little doubt that the stupa and surrounds have been expanded, decorated, and plundered many times over the centuries. Locals say it was commenced about 600BC but it is more likely to have been in about the 9th century AD. We do know that major work was undertaken on the pagoda in 1453AD by Queen Shin Saw Pu, and King Sinbyushin had it rebuilt to a new height in 1774.
Today the stupa is surrounded by a wide tiled platform and it is a much utilized religious center of great beauty. The pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with a collection of diamonds and rubies and other precious gems, 1065 golden bells and a 72 carat diamond at the very top. The whole compound is huge and glorious, with an astonishing array of carvings, statues, parks and gardens, ponds and devotional spaces.
There are four entrances to the compound. From the south, east and north entrances you can climb to the stupa platform by stairway or go by elevator. From the west, there is a stairway and escalator. The stairways have many small stores selling souvenirs and religious paraphernalia. When you emerge at the top you are on the enormous tiled platform covering hectares that surrounds the main stupa.
Here there are glittering, colorful smaller stupas, prayer halls, sculptures, and shrines. A number of these are associated with the eight days of the week (Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon). Devotees pray to images, based on the day they were born. Note that you should always walk around stupas in a clockwise direction.
Taxis from the Shwedagon to the center of Yangon should not cost more than 3000 kyats (around $3 USD). Bus no 204 also stops next to the pagoda.
Maha Wizaya Pagoda
This is a relatively new construction on U Htaung Bo Road and is connected to the Shwedagon Pagoda by a pedestrian bridge. It was built in 1980 when the various Buddhist sects came under one government supervisory body. It is a well-proportioned paya that combines modern and traditional styles, and it houses sacred relics, which were contributed by the King of Nepal. It opens from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. but receives few foreign visitors. The next series of attractions are due east of here.
Yangon Zoological Gardens
(Kanyeiktha Street – between Upper Pansodan Street and Zoological Garden Street)
I had little enthusiasm for going here but it is actually not a bad zoo with the animals apparently treated better than you might expect. You can see hippos, rhinoceros, elephants, lions, tigers and red pandas. The Entrance Fee is 10 kyats (Adults ) and 5 kyats (Children) for locals and $5 for foreigners.
National History Museum (Kan Yeik Thar Street)
This interesting but under-recognized museum displays many fossils from Burmese prehistory eras and has a notable collection of Myanmar’s geographical, biological and archaeological diversity including flora and fauna, forest products, minerals, and rocks. The entrance fee for foreigners is $4
This is a very attractive artificial lake, located east of the Shwedagon Pagoda and north of the zoo, which is surrounded by the Kandawgyi Nature Park, and the Yangon Zoological Gardens. The lake and the surrounds provide a quiet, quite beautiful environment and great photographic opportunities. There are long wooden walkways built over the lake which provide nice views.
From a certain vantage point, a reflection of the nearby Shwedagon Pagoda can be seen. There is an annual regatta of traditional boat races in November which brings competitors from all over the country. In January a seven-day festival is held to celebrate independence from British rule.
There are several lakeside restaurants serving local and some Western food at reasonable prices which are very popular with locals. A small admission charge is made for entry to the lake area.
This is a major landmark within Kandawgyi Lake. It was built in the 1970s and the design is based on a royal barge. The restaurant is definitely a tourist attraction with hotel staff in traditional costumes and with some exhibits that appeal to international visitors.
Since mid-2015 the restaurant has offered a multi-cuisine a la carte lunch menu with live Myanmar classical music and a puppet show. At night there is an international buffet, music and traditional dance performances. It is extremely popular so at certain times you must book weeks ahead to get in. Even if you are not interested in dinner, the building makes a good photograph.
Bogyoke Aung San Museum
This museum at 15 Bogyoke Aung San Lane, Bahan township is dedicated to the man who was the architect of Myanmar’s independence, as well as being the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. Because of the popularity of Aung San and his daughter, the military government until recently, only allowed the museum to open on one day a year: Martyr’s Day (July 19). Now it can be visited year-round and tourists are finding it of considerable interest.
The museum is in the two-storey colonial house where Aung San lived at the time of his assassination. It is also where Aung Sun Suu Kyi spent her childhood and there are several photographs downstairs showing her as a small child. The General’s car is still kept here.
The house is in a big, lush compound and it has a bronze statue of Aung San wielding a hoe with a sign saying, “the plantation where Aung San cultivated himself’. Another sign near a small pond indicates where Aung San’s middle son, Aung San Lin, drowned in 1953. Inside, the house contains living rooms on the ground floor and a library and bedrooms on the first level.
Located on Shwe Gon Taing Street in the Tamwe township, 10 minutes away from downtown and 3 km from the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, the 66 m reclining Buddha image is one of the biggest reclining Buddha images in Myanmar. Originally built in 1907, it was demolished and rebuilt in the 1960s. It is housed in a large metal-roofed shed.
The Buddha image is wearing a golden robe and has a white face, red lips, blue eye shadow, and red finger nails. The soles of the feet contain 108 segments in red and gold. Buddhist people burn incense sticks and offer flowers to the Buddha then pray to the shrine belonging to the day of their birth. The pagoda opens daily from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. the entrance fee is $5 for foreigners.
Just across the street is another temple, the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda that contains a huge seated Buddha image wearing a golden robe. There is also an interesting artwork of the Buddha followed by a long line of disciples, which starts as a few sculptures and slowly changes and blends into the painting behind.
We are again moving further north now and further away from the downtown area.
Drug Elimination Museum
This is a bizarre must-visit museum for anyone interested in the history of Myanmar’s drug wars. Founded in 2001, the exhibitions traverse war scenes, political history and artwork about the horrors of drug-induced insanity.
The highlight is probably the “Effects of Drug Abuse” room and getting a museum attendant to give you a tour through the room with photos of actual victims, black light murals and party-animal figurines, is highly recommended.
The museum is just south of Junction Square, close to Pyay Road. Opening Hours are Tuesday- Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s house
(54 University Avenue)
While she was under house arrest, you couldn’t see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house because the front of the house on University Avenue was barricaded and guarded by security police. The police no longer guard the house, but in place of the barricade, a high wall has been erected, meaning the house can still not be seen from the street. It is very common for visitors to want to see her house but most are disappointed when they get there.
This huge artificial lake is located in the north of the city and has become a major recreational area since it was created in 1883. You can walk around the lake in about two hours and enjoy the landscaping which has been developed. It is a popular place for local people to hang out especially in the evening.
On the eastern shore is the famous Inya Lake Hotel, and the University of Yangon is southwest of the lake. Swimming, sailing and rowing are available for visitors. Around the lake there are many expensive houses, and some upscale restaurantsand this is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Yangon.
Myanmar Gems Museum and Mart
(66, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road)
This, consisting of three floors of gem shops topped by a single-storey museum, is worth a look if you have any interest in gemstones. While the country’s largest sapphire and ruby has been transferred to the capital Naypyidaw, what’s for sale here should keep bargain jewel hunters very happy.
You’ll find everything from $1 jade bracelets multi-colored necklaces through to ruby and white gold rings and sapphire earrings. Government- approved certificates of authenticity are given with purchases and most stalls accept credit cards.
The museum on the top floor is an interesting, if kitsch, place with polished, refined, carved, rough and “in the matrix” stones and minerals. A four- meter long topographic map of Burma shows mine and rare stone locations. There is a $5 admission fee and no cameras, mobile phones or bags are allowed inside the museum.
Kaba Aye Pagoda and Great Cave
The 35 m-high pagoda was built in 1954 in dedication to the 1954-56 Sixth Buddhist Council. There are many Buddha Images on five entrances and within the complex. The entrance to the pagoda is swamped with small shops offering Buddhist trinkets, books, souvenirs and even palm and feet readings. The pagoda shares an entrance with the State Pariyatti Sasana University, Maha Pasana Cave and a large lake.
Inside giant trees shield monasteries and shrines along the pathway to the lake, where worshippers and couples can feed fish. The Buddhist Art Museum has a wide collection of religious paraphernalia and Buddhist texts. The large teashop adjacent to the entrance is often packed with pilgrims and monks and is a great spot to take a break.
The Maha Pasana Cave is a man-made cave built to mimic the “Sattapani Grotto” cave in India where the first council was held.
National Races Village
(Chin Kat Street, Near Thanlyin Bridge)
This is situated in Tharketa Township, near the Yangon-Thanlyin Bridge. The village has been built to showcase the various races such as the Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan who live in Myanmar. You can see buildings from each group.
Mai-Lamu Pagoda is a wonderland of spired pagodas and sculptured figures located in North Okkalapa, a satellite town about 20 minutes’ drive from the city center. The pagoda is famous for the giant images depicting Buddha’s earlier lives.
There are several meditation centers in Yangon that teach the art of Buddhist meditation. Everyone is welcome, however men and women are usually taught separately.
- The following have facilities for full- time meditation:
- The Mahasi Meditation Center at 16, Thathana Yeiktha Road, Bahan Township (phone: 95-1-550392),
- The International Meditation Center at 31-A, Inva Myaing Road, Bahan Township (phone: 95-1-5331549),
- Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Center at 55/A, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, Mayangon Township (phone: 95-1-661479),
- Panditarama Meditation Center at 80/A, Thanlwin Road, Bahan Township (phone: 95-1- 5331448)
- Society for Propagation of Vipassana Mogoke Sayadaw’s Way at 82. Natmauk Road. Bahan Townships (Phone: 95-1-550184)
Thiri Mingalar Market
This is a massive, bustling produce market on the banks of the Hlaing River to the west of Inva Lake which is seldom visited by foreigners. It is open 24 hours, but is an especially interesting place to visit in the early hours of the morning to see the produce under lights. Thiri Mingalar Market also has stalls selling general merchandise and a number of 24-hour teas shops and beer stations.
A sunset boat cruise on the Rangoon River can be enjoyable even though there are no really spectacular sights to see. It does give a different vantage point over downtown Yangon and the waterfront area.
Several companies offer similar cruises. You board a boat at the Botataung Jetty (not far from the Strand Hotel) at around 4:30 p.m. and do a leisurely return voyage up and down the river, dodging the commuter boats and water-taxis, for a couple of hours or so before returning to your point of departure. All will sell cold drinks and bags of bird food for the gulls who follow’ the boats.
The Thaketa Crocodile Farm
(Mya Kwar Nyo Street, Industrial ward, Thaketa)
This has a huge range of crocodiles up to 5m in length. A rather scary walkway leads over the main ‘lake’, less than a meter above more than 100 crocs. Fish can be purchased to feed them and you can hold baby crocodiles and see demonstrations. Admission for foreigners is 1000 kyat.
Getting to Yangon
There are increasing air services by many carriers from Bangkok, Singapore, Chiang Mai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, and new services have started from other ports such as Dubai and Ho Chi Minh City. Bangkok to Yangon is the most popular route with many visitors combining a Thailand visit with their Myanmar trip. Seven airlines serve this route with Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and Air Asia having several flights a day.
The best way to get around is to walk then take one of the city’s cheap and plentiful taxis to more distant attractions. Some taxis have meters but drivers usually won’t use them. In this case, you will need to negotiate a fare before traveling. This is difficult if you don’t know how far away your destination is. Prices increase during the tourist season (November to February) and for routes with traffic jams.
Many drivers are not familiar with the city so it is a good idea to have your destination address written down in the Myanmar language to show the driver. Many taxis are in poor condition without seatbelts, air-conditioning or good suspension.
Buses are the most common form of transport for the locals but they are often crowded and it is difficult for visitors to work out routes. While traffic drives on the right (since 1979), most buses (and cars) are right-hand drive so passengers often need to board and alight on the left side into the traffic.
There is a fascinating very slow circle train which travels around Yangon and takes about 2.5 hours to complete the 46 km trip through 38 stations. Trains go in both directions approximately every hour. Most have wooden seats and no airconditioning and visitors are encouraged to use one particular carriage which is slightly more comfortable than the others.
Locals are also allowed to use this car provided they have few parcels. The rest of the train becomes very crowded but this can provide an insight into local life. Vendors hop on and off between stops selling boiled peanuts, fruits and Myanmar traditional food and your ticket also allows you to alight where you please and catch a later train.
The train starts running at 6:10 a.m. with the last departure at 10 p.m. but the full-circle line stops with the 5:10 p.m. departure. The best time to ride is early as Yangon life is most active just after dawn. One thing worth seeing is the massive ‘car cemetery’ where cars from the government’s car substitution program are stacked about 20 meters high, for over a kilometer.
There is now a train with an air-conditioned carriage but this seems to miss the point of the trip which is to ‘people watch’ and see local lives along the line. The cost is ioo-20okyat.
A ferry brings commuters from Dala across the Yangon River and visitors can take a ride across to Dala. The trip is interesting and takes about 10 minutes but there is little of particular interest once you get there. The ferry leaves from Pansodan Wharf opposite the Strand Hotel.
It should be noted that bicycles and motor cycles are officially banned on Yangon streets and you will not see any in the downtown area.
While Yangon may not be a world-class shopping destination, it does have some shopping opportunities for visitors. The most interesting products for visitors include textiles, clothes, silverware, lacquerware, jewelry, and handicrafts.
Myanmar is also well-known for its precious gem production (in particular rubies, sapphires, and jade), and there are many gem and jewelry shops where you can find stones either loose or in settings. A word of caution, though! Unless you know something about gemstones, you could end up buying some that are worth much less than you paid for them.
The budget minded will find the best bargains at the Bogvoke Aung San Market and smaller local markets. You need to bargain at these markets, and also when buying from street vendors. Be aware that starting prices will be higher for tourists and you will not get as good a deal as the locals. Some brand-name products are at slightly lower prices here than in developed countries and can be found in larger and newer shopping centers.
Apart from the Bogyoke Aung San Market and some specialist shops listed later, shopping centers are probably the best source of goods for visitors and prices are generally fixed. The major centers are:
The Taw Win Centre at 45 Pyay Road, Dagon is the largest and probably most up-market center in the city. It comprises five floors of brand-name shops selling clothes, electronics, jewelry, furniture, and much more and it also has restaurants, a supermarket, game center, and a 3D Cineplex. It is said to have the largest book store in Yangon.
The Sein Gay Har at 44 Pyay Rd. opposite the Taw Win Centre is a smaller center with cheaper goods. It has shops selling clothes, electronic goods, cosmetics, shoes, stationary, and mobile phones. There is also a supermarket, a food court, a Burger Star, an ice cream shop, a Donut King, fried chicken shops, and an excellent liquor section.
The North Point Ocean Super Centre is on Pyay Road and Taw Win Rd, Mayangone out towards the airport. It is a large center with shops selling computers, electrical appliances, furniture, household utensils, fashion wear and accessories, toys and sporting equipment. The cafes and restaurants in the center’s basement food court offer different kinds of Asian and Western dishes.
The Parkson FMI Centre is conveniently situated beside the Bogyoke Aung San Market at 380 Bogyoke Aung San Rd. This mall is a good place to buy fashion items for both men and women. The modern department store has three levels of mainly international fashion and cosmetic brands, including Van Heusen and Quicksilver. The ground level has a comprehensive City Mart.
The Dagon Shopping Centre at 262 Pyay Rd, Sanchaung has a rare internet cafe inside together with shops selling branded shoes, handbags, and fabric. There are numerous places to eat and the beauty salon inside is currently a local in-place for haircuts.
The Blazon Shopping Centre at 72, U Wisara Road, Kamayut Township, has a large department store with a range of high-end goods on offer. The layout of the center is open plan making it easier to navigate. The shops on the ground floor sell the latest fashionable clothing, branded cosmetics and sportswear including from Adidas and FILA, so it has many young customers. There is a supermarket inside.
Junction Square Shopping Centre on Kyun Taw Road is one of the newer places selling branded products and other goods. There is a playground, water fountain, and cinema together with around 250 shops.
Citymart Marketplace on Dhamazedi Road is Yangon’s best supermarket with an impressive range and it has specific areas for foods from Australia, Italy, Japan, Korea, and so forth. Other shopping opportunities can be found in these specialty shops.
Pomelo at 85-87 Theinphyu Road is a fair trade marketplace for small Myanmar producers. Goods are made from local materials by local artisans and many are quality, handmade products with a contemporary twist.
J’s Irrawaddy Dream at 92 Strand Road, on the 2nd floor of the Strand Hotel, is for those who are looking for locally made and dyed silk fabrics. They also have a good selection of clothes, lacquerware, handicrafts, Buddhist statues, jewelry, books, and more. J’s sells mostly new products but has some old items as well.
Treasure Land Gems & Jewelry Souvenirs at 11 Ma Kyee Kyee Street, Sanchaung Township has a good selection of handicrafts, souvenirs, gems and precious stones, jewelry, tapestry, and traditional puppets. This shop is a reliable source of high-quality gemstones and fine jewelry but is tourist oriented and perhaps higher priced than some.
Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Myanmar is an NGO that employs and trains former sex workers. It has excellent hand-woven cotton fabrics, napkins, cushions, toys, and homemade paper etc. The outlet is inside the Hnin Si Ghone old age home compound, Kabar Aye Pagoda Rd. Bahan.
Bagan Book House is a small shop with a very good selection of new and second-hand English-language books on Myanmar and southeast Asia. You can also photocopy some rare and out-of-print books about Myanmar. The shop is at No.100 37th St. (between Merchant Rd. & Mahabandoola Rd.), Kyauktada Township.
Augustine’s at 23A Thiri Mingalar Rd, Kamayut has a selection of old Burmese items, including a room stocked full of Buddha statues and a wide selection of wood carvings and furniture. The shop will arrange to have your treasures packed and shipped.
Van Heusen Men’s Wear in the Parkson Department Store, 380 Bogyoke Aung San Road sells genuine shirts from this popular brand. All shirts feature premium high-tech fabrics suited for hot and humid weather.
Pansodan Art Gallery (286 Pansodan St.) This downtown art gallery has an ever-changing selection of Burmese art. It is also well-known for its Tuesday night gatherings which attract a good crowd of expats and locals.
The Lokanat Galleries (62 Pansodan St.) hosts rolling exhibitions by Myanmar artists. There’s generally a new exhibition every week. This historical building which during colonial times was a high-class department store is worth having a wander through when you visit the gallery.
The Golden Valley Art Centre at 54 Golden Valley Road, Bahan is a large gallery representing a selection of local artists.
The Wahso Art Gallery is a large three storey gallery operated by female artist Chin Chin located at 81/C, Mahasi Sasana Yeik Than Road, Bahan Township (near the reclining Buddha).
The country’s contemporary art scene is buzzing. Next to Yangon’s waterfront Strand Hotel is River Gallery II, where contemporary art lights up the walls. River Gallery is around the corner on 38th Street. It’s a bigger space and hosts performance art, sculpture, and installation as well as paintings.
Thiri Mingalar market is a crazy, messy, packed local market. The main building has 4 stories of clothes, toys, fabrics, umbrellas, shoes and anything else you can think of. There is also a hidden underground area, which sells household goods and has a nice local food court. Recent additions to the area have increased both shopping and parking facilities but the area is still quite crowded and rather chaotic.
There are many Buddhist meditation centers as well as Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh places of worship. Some of the places of worship of interest to visitors are:
- Cathedral of Holy Trinity (Anglican), 446 Bogyoke Aung San Road, Pabedan
- St Mary’s Cathedral (Catholic), 372 Bo Aung Gyaw Street, Botahtaung
- English Church (Methodist), 63 Alan Pya Pagoda Road, Dagon
- Yangon Evangelical Free Church, Sedona Hotel 1 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. Yankin
- Narsapuri Mosque, 289 Shwe Bon Tha Street, Pabedan
- Cholia Jama Mosque, 114 Bo Soon Pat Street, Botahtaung
- Hanuman Temple (Hindu), Thein Phyu Road
- Musmeah Yeshna (Jewish), 85, 26th Street, Downtown
- Sikh Temple, 256 Thein Phyu Road, Botahtaung
- Golf. There are many gold courses in Yangon which are open to members and guests. The Myanmar Golf Club (Tel: 95-1-661702) at Pyay Road, 9th Mile, Mayangone and the Yangon Golf Club (Tel: 95-i-635563).on Lower Mingalardon Road, Danyin Gone, Insein are two. There are driving ranges at Bayint Naung Road (Tel: 95-1- 683460) and at the corner of Nanataw and Kvuntaw St. Sanchaung.
- Horseback Riding. The Yangon Equestrian Club, Parami Road, and Pyi Daung Su Rd. North Dagon has opportunities for riding and riding lessons.
- Sailing. The Yangon Sailing Club, 132 Inya Rd., Kamavut offers hospitality to those interested in sailing.
- Swimming. The Kokkine Swimming Club, 23 Sava San Rd., Bahan provides opportunity for swimming.
- Ten Pin Bowling. Right Track Bowling, U Ba Kyaw St., near Tamwe Bridge is the place to go.
- Hash. Yangon Hash House Harriers meets Saturdays at University Avenue at 2.45pm for a 45- do minute walk or run.
Eating, Drinking, and Where to Stay
See this post for detailed information about eating and drinking in Mandalay.
See this post for detailed information about where to stay in Mandalay.
Visit Areas Around Yangon
Taukkyan War Cemetery
Located in Taukkyan, about 32 km from Yangon on the road to Bago, this is a memorial cemetery of Allied soldiers who died in the Burma Campaign during World War II. The cemetery’s beautifully kept compound has 6,374 graves and a further 27,000 names of fallen soldiers with no known graves are engraved on the Rangoon Memorial, an imposing and somber memorial pillar.
A sign reads “They died for all free men”. Also on the site is the Taukkyan Cremation Memorial, which commemorates more than 1,000 soldiers who were cremated according to their faith.
Hlawga Wildlife Park
This is about 35 km north of the city. The park includes Hlawga Lake, which is the permanent home to many birds and animals as well as flocks of migratory birds. There is a safari-style bus ride, or you can ride an elephant, hike on jungle trails, boat on the lake, and bird watch. There is a timber display centre, a butterfly park, an insect kingdom, a reptile park, eco-lodges, and a health spa resort.
It has a museum of the replica of Myanmar traditional buildings and a small zoo with rock garden.
The small city of Bago is about 80 km northeast of Yangon. Pegu and its rulers, the Mon Kings, amassed wealth that attracted traders from all over the world but inspired envy among its poorer
Burmese neighbors. Wars between the two erupted repeatedly between the 16th and 18th centuries, resulting in the eventual destruction of Pegu and the dispersal of the Mon across southern Burma.
There are three notable pagodas worth visiting: Shwemawdaw Pagoda, which is sometimes referred to as the Golden God Temple and is the tallest pagoda in the country; Shwetharlyaung Pagoda, which has a very large reclining Buddha, believed to have been built in 994, during the reign of Mon King Migadepa; and the Kyaik Pun Pagoda, which houses the Four Seated Buddha shrine, a 27 m statue depicting the Buddha seated in four positions, back to back.
Shwemawdaw’s main terrace can be approached from four directions by covered stairways. There is a small museum here containing some ancient wooden and bronze Buddha figures salvaged from the ruins of the 1930 earthquake. The terrace also features the pagoda’s eight planetary prayer posts, as well as a number of statues honoring some nats.
The Shwetharlyaung Buddha was left to decay for many years until it was restored during Dhammazedi’s reign. In the centuries that followed, Bago was destroyed twice, and by the 18th century, the statue had become lost beneath countless layers of tropical vegetation. In 1881 some railway contractors stumbled across it and in 1906, a covering was erected to protect it from the elements.
Kanbawzathadi Palace is also worth seeing. The original palace, built in 1556, burned down in 1599 but part of it was reconstructed in the 1990s and is now a museum. A couple of blocks southwest is the Snake Monastery devoted to a Buddhist abbot who was supposedly reborn in the form of a giant Burmese python. You can pay your respects to the 9-meter snake, which is now thought to be well over a century old.
Bago can easily be visited as a day trip or as a stopover on the longer haul north to Mandalay. There is enough interest to keep you there one night so fortunately there is reasonable accommodation and eating facilities in the town. See chapters 9 and 10.
This is about 40 minutes across the river from Yangon and was once the center of foreign trade for all of lower Myanmar. In the 16th century, Syrium was home to Portuguese, Dutch, French and British merchants. Later the Portuguese adventure de Brito established his own private kingdom here. Syrium still has a large Indian population who are Hindus.
There are three religious structures to see. One is the ruins of an 18th century Portuguese church. Another is sparkling Ye Le Pava which is on an island in the middle of the river and can only be reached by boat. The third is the large, golden Kyaik-khauk Paya. a short bus ride out of town on a hill with lovely views.
You may also observe the local ways of making ceramic products at Bogvoke Village
The town is 24 km from Yangon and is reachable by road or by boat along the Twantay Canal. The boat trip provides a good view of life along the canal while Twante itself has interest as a center of pottery (there are over fifty pottery works) and hand-woven cotton cloth. You might like to take a motorbike or taxi for the return trip and stop at some of the sights along the road, such as the snake temple.
The Mon-built 76 m tall Shwesantaw Pava is not far from town and there are some interesting bronze Buddhas to see. You can see potters at work and completed pieces being fired in old-fashioned kilns. For lunch, there is reasonable food at a restaurant opposite the local market.
The RV Mahaythi has daily (guarantee minimum 2 persons departure) river cruises to Twante. Pick-up from your hotel is at 7 a.m. and you will be back in Yangon at approximately. 3 p.m.
Myanmar has a few nice beaches but the best are remote from Yangon. The easiest beach to get to is Chaung Tha, about six hours by direct bus from the city. Buses typically leave Yangon late at night, cross the river then drive at full speed to Nyaungtone. Here you are encouraged to disembark, stretch your legs and use the bathroom. There are many huge teashop/eateries here and most passengers partake.
A stop is then made at Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwaddy Region and Myanmar’s fourth largest city. There is a significant pagoda here and a couple of markets but you won’t see anything at this time of night. Pathein’s other claim to fame is its traditional parasol workshops.
The road which has been relatively flat until here now crosses the mountains and there are many narrow bridges, switchbacks, and blind corners so it is best to close the eyes and hope for the best. All being well you arrive at Chaung Tha around 4 a.m. This may mean there is a six-hour wait until a hotel room is available so do like most others do and eat then shop. Probably the only thing you need to buy is a woven palm leaf hat.
The beach area is relatively quiet on weekdays but can be busy at weekends. You can take a boat to the small island at the far end of the beach, rent a one, two or three-person bicycle and ride along the sand, or ride a pony. At night visitors often set off fireworks on the beach which seems rather unsafe but no-one else seems to care. There’s plenty of accommodation in different price ranges, including many simple tiled bungalows right behind the beach, and some reasonable places to eat, including plenty of seafood restaurants (see chapters 9 and 10).
Ngwe Saung Beach
This is south of Chaung Tha and it has a completely different vibe as it is designed to attract people with larger holiday budgets. There is an unspoiled 13 km stretch of silvery sand and some of the better resorts in the country all equipped with pools, spas and water-sports facilities.
A short wade at low tide takes you to Lovers’ Island, just off the center of the bay, which is often surrounded by translucent water. Activities outside the resorts are limited although you can take a boat to Bird Island or visit an elephant training camp, (see chapter 10 for accommodation suggestions).
The Kyaiktiyo “Golden Rock’* Pagoda sits precariously on a ridge of forested hills 200 km east of Yangon around the Gulf of Mottama. Between November and March, tens of thousands of devotees climb daily to the shrine, for a glimpse of a modest, 7.3-meter stupa mounted atop a lavishly gilded boulder.
There are a few hotels at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo, but many people stay in the ‘base camp’ village of Kinpun, which has a lively atmosphere and a good range of places to eat. If you are staying in Kinpun, it makes most sense to arrive in the late afternoon or evening, and then ascend the mountain the following morning.
The 8 km journey from Kinpun to and from the starting point of a walk to the top in an open- topped truck is less than comfortable and the 45-minute climb to the hilltop temple can be arduous in the heat. While most people walk it is possible to go the whole way to the top by truck at additional cost.
The effort is rewarded with the chance to see the magical boulder bathed in the delicate, light of dawn or the afterglow of sunset, when crowds of pilgrims and monks light flickering candles and incense sticks as offerings. Note there are no trucks from Kinpun before dawn or after dark.
It is possible to hike to the top of the mountain from Kinpun, in about five hours. The walk is mostly covered by the jungle canopy and gives the chance to see some lovely views and stupas along the way. The path is straightforward to the top and is well paved.