The former capital of Myanmar, Yangon is still the country’s biggest city and a worthwhile stop for any traveller to the country.
The city has a colonial past as Rangoon, when it was the heart of British Colonial rule in Burma, and that legacy visibly remains today. Combined with the many religious sites that serve its devout Buddhist population there are plenty of things to do in Yangon and i’d recommend a couple of days here to see the highlights I list below. The city also has one the 3 International airports in the country. As the newly built capital Naypyidaw isn’t on most travelers to see list, odds are any trip around the country will either start or end here, with Mandalay being at the opposite end.
8 Things To Do In Yangon
1. Visit Shwedagon Paya
This Buddhist pagoda is huge and you can easily spend a few hours here if you enjoy Buddhist culture and/or people watching. It’s been a Pagoda site since the 6th Century and was built by the Mon people, some of whom still reside in Myanmar today. Some people maintain it’s even older than that. The central pagoda is 99-metres tall and the site as a whole is spread out with Buddhist statues, artwork and so forth.
Personally I spent around 3 hours there, though you can whizz round in 1 if your rushed for time. It’s recommended you visit either early morning or late afternoon as the heat of sun can make the ground you walk upon scorching hot, and of course as with any Buddhist temple you are required to go barefoot (and unlike some other countries, in Myanmar you also need to remove your socks). If you visit in the late afternoon then you can hang around until it gets dark, when the temple is lit up in spectacular fashion.
2. Explore the Downtown Streets and spot Colonial Buildings
As mentioned, Yangon (then known as Rangoon) was at the centre of the British Colonial rule in Burma, which lasted from 1824 to 1948. Downtown Yangon is full of old colonial buildings from this time, many of them crumbling with age, which makes for an interesting walk around this part of the city to spot them. The streets are also bustling with life and you’ll find all kinds of street side stalls set up.
I spent a morning wandering around this area and I really enjoyed it. That is ample time to cover downtown.
3. Have a wander around Botataung Paya
Located in downtown near the river, this pagoda was originally said to have built around the time as Shwedagon Paya, though it was destroyed in World War and rebuilt after. As well as interesting Buddhist statues and artwork, such as pictured above, you can also find there a gold covered corridor (well more of a zig zag) containing Buddha’s Sacred Hair Relic. This was discovered when rebuilding in 1948 unearthed a lost chamber and texts in the Mon language describing the Buddha were found along with this preserved hair.
Allow yourself around hour to explore this pagoda, you shouldn’t need much longer unless you are planning to pray.
4. Browse Bogyoke Aung San Market
Also known by the old British colonial name Scott Market, this huge market in the downtown area has over 1600 shops/stalls which a mix of handicrafts, jewelry, clothing, artwork,and foodstuff. You can also find some restaurants there that are a good stop for lunch.
How long you spend here really depends on how interested you are in shopping! As always in Asia, be prepared to barter, be fair but be firm. Note: It is closed on Mondays.
5. Stroll around Kandawgyi lake
Yangon’s dusty city streets can be quite intense, so a trip to Kandawgyi lake is a nice break from that. It was constructed as a reservoir in British colonial times and it’s many tree’s provide good shade against what can be a very hot sun (the average temperature in Yangon is 31°C – it was 40°C when I visited in the month of April!).
The lake is very large, so i’d say 2 hours minimum if you want to have a walk around and chill out for a while. Parts of it (around the restaurant’s areas – you’ll see a giant boat model) cost a small entry fee, but everywhere I walked was free. you enjoyed it you can also visit Inya Lake which is further north in the city.
6. Stop by Sule Paya pagoda
This pagoda is particularly interesting as it’s actually located on the main roundabout in the city, which marks it out as a good landmark! The British colonial rulers used it as a focus point for their city layout grid. It’s said to be over 2000 years old and has some great Buddhist shrines inside.
You won’t need long here, 20 minutes is fine and it can be done as part of a walk around the downtown area. There is a small entrance fee for foreigners.
7. Experience a Burmese restaurant
The first thing you’ll notice in any Burmese restaurant is the kissing noise that people make to call over a waiter/waitress, it’s quite odd to see and hear to begin with! These restaurants will offer you a great variety of dishes, as you can see from the photo they will include rice, salad, soup and then several other small dishes of your choice. They are a really good pace to people watch too!
2 ones i’d recommend are Aung Thukha Myanmar restaurant and Feel Myanmar Food restaurant. Both were very busy when I visited, which was great as there was a nice local atmosphere! There was no problem finding somewhere to sit and the staff were awesome at both.
8. Say hi to the locals
The Burmese people are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet and as you walk around the city and it’s tourist sites you’ll find many stop to say ‘Mingalabar’ (a Burmese greeting) and they’ll often ask for a photograph with you, or even to be photographed themselves (like the couple above!). Many of them will be wearing Thanaka, which is a sunscreen paste made from ground bark.
Myanmar is a great place to get real interaction with local people and to experience different culture firsthand, so don’t be afraid to smile and say hello!
To get around the city use the many taxi’s that roam the cities streets. Always agree a price before you get in the car.
I’ve listed a few Buddhist temples here, so if interested you can see my advice on how to behave in them here.
Accommodation wise I stayed in the Pickled Tea Hostel when I visited Yangon and really liked it there. Its within walking distance of Shwedagon Paya too, and as it’s a little bit away from downtown in a more residential area it’s interesting to see the locals going about their daily business.