Yangon is not Myanmar’s most ancient or cultured city and much of it won’t feature on the front of postcards, but it is a vibrant and exciting city with enough history and wonder to delight any visitor. With over four million residents it is also by far the largest city in Myanmar.
For purveyors of food and shopping you will be in Myanmar’s capital (though the actual capital is Naypyidaw) with the country’s best array of food on offer and countless open-air markets you can spend hours getting lost in. Some of these markets are among the last places in the world where genuine bargain antiques on still on offer. Just make sure you have enough space in your suitcase to take them.
Like much of Myanmar, the city is full of gorgeous temples with the shining gem being the Shwedagon Paya: possibly the country’s most revered religious site and something every traveler should make a pilgrimage to while staying here.
For many Yangon is the first port of arrival into Myanmar and most will arrive by plane to the Yangon International Airport which is 30 minutes out of the city center. Getting into the city is best done by taxi and it should cost you around $8.
Within Myanmar you can reach the city by bus, boat or train. From Mandalay it will take you 10 to 13 hours and will leave early and arrive later in the day for $10 to $30. The train will take you straight into the city.
Bus takes a little less time at 8 hours and end up placing a little further outside of the city at a similar distance to the airport. If you are happy to take the long route it will only take you 5 days to go from Yangon to Mandalay and 3 days going the other way. You can go in style with a cruise ship if you prefer.
Where to visit
The biggest stop for most tourists in Yangon will be the Shwedagon Paya or Pagoda. It is a spot considered eternally sacred and is said to be home to several hairs straight off the head of Buddha himself. It is a fascinating site both for its design and the locals and monks you will see mingling there.
The pagoda is open nearly all day (from 6:30 am to 10 pm) and you’d be best advised to visit in the cooler part of the morning or afternoon. You can pay the entry fee at either $8 or K8.000.
The easiest option to get there is by taking the taxi which should cost you about $3 from the city center, it is located at Singuttara Hill and a bus is available but it can be difficult to track down.
Researching the place or buying a proper guide is a must for understanding what you are really looking at. The site has several steep staircases and will take you a few hours to see everything it has to offer. Make sure to take water and snacks with you as there isn’t a huge variety of choice near the Pagoda.
This is one of the cities other large temples and is definitely worth a visit during your stay. You can never get enough of fantastic gold Buddha statues and it has a pond full of turtles. Many appreciate it for having a more tranquil atmosphere than the rest of the city and its excellent riverfront location.
Admission is only $2 and you can reach it cheaply via taxi or consider trying to take the ferry.
This is the last of three big Pagados to visit in the city and it carries an odd distinction of being one of the most holy sites in the world to be surrounded by circles of traffic.
It costs $2 to enter and while here you are close to the Mahabondoola Gardens which are well worth a visit for a moments respite out of the cities chaos.
If you fancy a change of pace from the awe-inspiring religious locations around the city’ the National Museum makes a fascinating stop. It has some very curious pieces in its collection and although it’s far from state of the art you will find enough here to warrant your interest. Admission is $5, it is open between 10am and 3pm and closed Monday and Tuesday.
Where to eat
You can eat almost any type of cuisine you wish in Yangon from burgers and fries, to sushi, to Burmese staples like pickled green tea salad. It is also up to you how much you spend with good food available at all price ranges.
One piece of advice though: street food is not quite the wonder here it is in other South East Asian countries and what you might call a restaurant is not necessarily what is called one here.
Finding your own winning eatery is part of the fun but consider trying out:
999 Shan Noodle Shop on 34th street which will give you a taste of some of the fantastic noodle dishes on offer in Myanmar and at a good price.
Nilar Birani on Anawratha Road which serves an excellent range of traditional Biryani (or Indian food). This is another place offering tasty food at great prices.
Acacia Tea Salon on Sava San Road will give you a better understanding of Myanmar’s love of food and delicious pastries and snacks.
House of Memories is located on Wisara Road near the Shewdagon Paya and offers a solid range of Burmese curries and meat dishes.
Where to stay
There is a huge range of accommodations here for every price range, if you go cheaper you will often find yourself a little further out of the center. Make sure any place you pick has its own generator if having power all day is important to you.
Four Rivers Hostel on 12th Street Lanmadaw is one of the best value hostels in the cities and contains everything you could need and want out of a hostel including breakfast, Wi-Fi and air conditioning. It will come to about $10 a night per person.
Governor’s Residence on Taw Win Street is a higher end hotel and one of the most famous in the city with a good reason. If you really want to see what life was like in British colonial rule and to be pampered this is the place to come to. However, at $200 to $300 you will pay a lot for it.
Three Seasons Hotel on 52nd street is an excellent value guesthouse that is clean and welcoming. Come here if you want an easy and quiet stay for only $20 for a double room.