Myanmar, formerly and today also still known as Burma, is rapidly becoming a new travelers hotspot in Southeast Asia. Justly, as I find since the country has a vivid history, which is reflected in its people, architecture, and food. Once the capital of Myanmar, Yangon today is the largest city in the country counting 5.2 million people its inhabitants. No matter where you start your journey through Myanmar, you will surely have to make a stop in Yangon. There are many things you may not know before coming to Myanmar, for example, you may wonder why many streets are scattered with red dots on the ground or why people wear “dirt” in their face.
A Note On Traffic
Traffic can be very heavy around the main arteries of the city, so it’s best to stay either close to Sule Pagoda in the heart of downtown Yangon to be able to easily walk around and take in the main sights. Or if you want to stay a bit away from the hustle bustle, choose to lay down your head near the gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda and People’s Park.
The easiest way to get around town is by taxi. You surely won’t miss them as they are all white and have a sign on top. Normally, Taxi drivers speak some English. Busses are a bigger challenge to take since the city is so big. Another alternative for shorter distances are Trishaws (like Tuk Tuks in Thailand), but be sure to know your rough price or you will easily be ripped off.
Long Distance Out of Yangon
For long distance trips I recommend using JJ Express or Elite Bus as they both are quite comfortable and since there is a new highway through the country, you will have a smooth ride to get to Bagan in the northern part of Myanmar.
US dollar is widely used especially in the tourism industry however now this is cut back more and more and the use of kyat, the local currency, is promoted. It’s smart to come with some US dollar anyways, bring the freshly printed crisp looking ones, for some reason they always favored them more than the ones my grandma duck out of her cupboard from 1968.
Yangon has many things to do and see, even if you stay in town for a few days, you will not get tired of exploring the streets full of life and character.
First things first, you’ll love the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda for it’s impressive size, its hundreds gold plated stupas, temples, and statues and for a vibe that you feel as locals and tourists alike flock to this special place. It’s one of the wonders of the religious world, and you will have an easy time to spend a whole afternoon discovering the nooks and crannies of the pagoda. Sunset is an amazing time to be here too as you will be sucked into the celebratory atmosphere as people worship the statues, make flower offerings or meditate.
Of course, you will have to explore Downtown Yangon. The best way to do that is by foot. Either join one of the Yangon Free Walking Tours or take off on your own. Make sure you stop in at the central Sule Pagoda and take in the busy traffic circling around it, go for a shopping spree at the local Bogyoke Aung San Market, marvel at the old Railway Station, view British Colonial architecture along Strand Road and don’t miss to pay a visit to the rather hidden Pansodan Gallery, where you can see some interesting artwork, and there is always great people to meet and chat with.
A little off the beaten path lies Kandawgyi Lake, a tranquil oasis if you feel like getting out of the chaos of Downtown Yangon. As one of the two major lakes in Yangon, it’s green with trees around it and has a lovely boardwalk to take a walk along. You will spot people working out, and from here you also have a great view of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance, especially cool to view when the sun sets, and the Pagoda is enlightened. Be sure to take a snap of Karawiek Palace looking like a royal barge where you can watch traditional dances and cultural shows. There are a handful of cafés around the lake to have a drink and relax.
The Yangon Circular Train
This slow train takes you around the city in about 3 hours. You’ll not only get to see the city but the surrounding villages and countryside, fresh markets along the way and real Myanmar life. Possibly one of the best ways to meet the locals. In general, the population of Myanmar is very open and curious to learn from foreigners, so they won’t be shy to chat you up.
Where to Eat
With Myanmar being influenced by all its neighbors India, China, and Thailand, the flavors and dishes of their cuisine are almost as diverse and adventurous. The national dish called Mohinga, a bowl of rice noodles tasting like a mild curry, it available almost everywhere and should be on your must dishes to try. Another favorite of mine is tea leaf salad. And of course, you gotta have a cup of tea – one thing that seems to have remained from the British colonization. Hygiene, especially at street stalls, are not always the best, just be aware and look for places where there are many people so food turnover is high and it’s not lying around for a long time but is freshly made and thoroughly cooked.
Your best pick when it comes to trying a huge variety of food for cheap is the area between 18th and 24th Street in Chinatown. It becomes packed at dawn when locals and tourist flock into the streets and food vendors present their fresh vegetables, meat, and fish, ready to cook! You have to try grilled pork skewers. Especially, 19th Street is known for its barbecue. As you arrive in this street lined with Chinese restaurants, you will simply pick your choice of skewers, and your food is freshly cooked for you. This is also where the nightlife is buzzing in Yangon.
No matter if your favorite meal is breakfast, lunch or dinner, touring around Yangon will give you the opportunity to get to know the local food and culture first hand. And you are supporting a great cause two by joining a tour as it’s a social company aiming to reduce poverty. Curries, noodles, bread buns, Burmese salads, there is so much to try. If you feel like get cooking yourself, join their cooking class where you also visit the local market to pick your ingredients freshly.
If you happen to be on Inya Lake, another big lake in Yangon, and you enjoy healthy, non-oily food, your best pick is the Green Elephant Restaurant. On the menu, you find mainly Burmese and Thai food, but be careful to order little or non-spicy. There is a nice terrace to site quietly and enjoy the food.
Everyone knows the Strand Hotel in Yangon, a place where the past and present meet and one of the most luxurious hotels in town. You can, of course, dine here finely, but it’s almost even better to come here for a drink instead. The cocktail menu is huge and happy hour is every Friday until 10 pm which means cocktails are half price!
Where to Stay in Yangon, Myanmar
Best Budget Hostel in Yangon, Myanmar – Pickled Tea
There are some great budget places in Yangon with many more popping up every month as the tourist stream seems to grow. My favourite one is the beautiful boutique hostel called Pickled Tea in Sanchaung Township near the Shwedagon Pagoda. They offer comfy bunk beds with enough space, personal power socket, lights, lockers and even have rain showers. Great area with some wonderful cafés and restaurants around.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar – Merchant Art Boutique Hotel
Merchant Art Boutique Hotel is green, full of unique art and only five short minutes walk from Shwedagon Pagoda.
Or the Loft Hotel in Downtown near the Central Railway Station
Best Luxury Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar – Sule Shangri – La, Yangon
Sule Shangri-La Yangon is located a 7-minute walk from Bogyoke Aung San Market and Sule Pagoda. It offers an outdoor pool, fitness center and sauna. Free parking is provided. Guests also enjoy complimentary WiFi access in hotel limousines.
Sule Shangri-La Yangon is a 10-minute drive from Shwedagon Pagoda, National Museum, and China Town. Yangon International Airport is a 30-minute drive away.
Modern rooms are fitted with a cable/satellite TV, minibar and tea/coffee-making facilities. Ironing amenities and a personal safe are provided.
Three days is plenty of time to explore Yangon to it’s fullest. If you have more time, there are still things to see a little outside the city or take a deeper dive into the architecture and history without rushing around
Arrive in Yangon and check into your hotel. The ride from the airport into town will take a while, especially since traffic is dense around Downtown. Put your comfy shoes on and go on a walk around the city in the afternoon. Marvel at the colonial architecture, visit Sule Pagoda, take in the views of City Hall and Yangon Region Court, pass by Yangon Central Railway Station, and check the offers at Bogyoke Aung San Market, visit the National Museum, stop for hot tea or tea leaf salad at one of the street stalls. Finish off your day with a fresh barbecue at 19th Street in Chinatown.
Take the circular train to see a little more of Yangon than just the city center. This is a great start to the day when markets and life are buzzing, and the daily commuters join the train to transport their wares. Start at 9.30am, and you’ll be back for lunch in the city. After lunch takes off to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Walking around exploring the many temples will fill all your afternoon, stay until sunset to feel the special vibe and see the Pagoda alight with the dark sky at the backdrop.
Enjoy your morning with a walk around Kandawgyi or Inya Lake, have a coffee or some traditional snacks before you take off to your next destination.
To enter Myanmar, you need a passport, which is at least valid for six more months beyond your stay in the country. Most nations have to apply for a Tourist visa which is valid for 90 days from the issue date and allows you to stay 28 days (single entry) from the date of arrival. You can easily apply online for the visa. It costs US$50, and you are only allowed to stay at registered hotel and accommodation providers. Not all boarder points in Myanmar allow people to enter on eVisas so check ahead before you apply. If you fly in you will have fewer troubles especially when arriving in the main hubs of either Yangon or Mandalay.
About the Writer
Originally from Germany, Carolin is today traveling the world for a living. Since becoming a digital nomad two years ago, she has called many places home: Chiang Mai, Sydney, Bali, Barcelona, and Brisbane. Carolin works entirely location independent as a social media specialist and content creator while doing the odd web design project and running her travel blog breathingtravel.com. Ask her anything about house sitting, Instagram (!!!), being a digital nomad and Australia, her favorite country in the world. Follow along on Instagram for daily wanderlust inspiration @breathingtravel.