YANGON – Five million people smashed into 605 square kilometers of deliciously inexpensive noodle soup and fried rice, traffic anarchy, golden pagodas and cawing street hawkers. The biggest city in Myanmar will have you on a busy street raging with sardine can packed buses one second, then lost in the middle of an old wood house village just a couple of dirt roads later. Once known as Rangoon and the home of the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda, 2 or 3 days is all you need here.
Where to Go:
Most of the places of interest in Yangon are located at the most, 3.5 km from the downtown core and should cost 1,500 ks. by taxi (unless otherwise indicated). Don’t be afraid to haggle! If you’re feeling sprite, you can walk it or rent a bicycle for 3,000 ks. from your lodging.
The golden center of a busy roundabout at the very center of the downtown core, it is a prominent landmark for navigating in the city and very easy to access on foot.
Maha Wizaya Pagoda
A medium sized golden pagoda guarded by two giant lion statues, it’s a peaceful place with very few people and offers a fantastic sunset glow.
People’s Park / Nature World
Located within the same enclosed area, the former is a large ecological park with wide trunked grandfather trees, bamboo, art exhibition halls, flowers and even a 5 storey tall treehouse. The latter is a small amusement park with rides like a spinning rollercoaster and bumper cars, which, at 1,000 ks. a ride, is a fun way to pass an afternoon.
One of the more unique sights to behold is a massive golden palace restaurant floating on a lake in the middle of the city. You won’t regret visiting this. Get a full side view for free from the boardwalk that encircles the lake, which offers striking illuminated night views, too. You can also get right up close – and even inside – from its rear by paying a 300 ks. entrance fee into the Karaweik Park Grounds. If you have a camera, hide it before you get to the gate or else you’ll be asked to pay an extra 500 ks. There is a dinner and traditional Burmese marionette show between 6 and 9pm, but with food priced 2 to 3 times the average.
Chauk Htat Gyi (Reclining Buddha) Pagoda (2,000 ks. by taxi)
The furthest structure we walked to (7km!), it definitely was worth it as it features an impressive reclining Buddha that is among the largest in the world.
Sri Kaali Amman Temple (downtown core)
Modeled after South Indian Hindu temples with its tall steeple lined with various figurines, this place of worship houses all the major Hindu deities in all their ornate glory, including Shiva, Ganesha and Lakshmi.
Perhaps one of the first things we suggest doing in the city in order to give you a chance to get a look into a world that is still half a century behind. Opt for the open air train to get a close up look at not only the land but the everyday people on the train. Hop off at Danyingon station to wander through the local village market – just make sure to check at the station what time the next train is so you don’t get stranded for ages like we were. The whole circuit is 3 hours.
Suggested to us by local friends, this is a good hotel-top spot to chill during a hot afternoon and even take advantage of their 1 + 1 Happy Hour Special.
We suggest saving this for last, because it’s the biggest pagoda in the entire country – so once you see the biggest, the rest can’t really compare! Legend is that it is 2,600 years old, when its construction was commissioned by King Okkalapa in order to house 8 hairs from Gautama Buddha gifted to two travelers. After facing a number of reconstructions throughout the centuries, it now stands as a massive 99 meter high pagoda completely covered in gold leaf. Besides the pagoda itself, it is surrounded by numerous towering pagodas of various colours. Also, gigantic ‘chinthes’ (in Burmese) or leogryphs, mythical guardian lions, are found at the four gates marking North, South, East and West are regal attractions on their own. We suggest arriving late afternoon and sticking around so you can get photos of day, dusk and night, all of which are spectacular in their own rights.
Where to Stay:
20th Street Hostel
We and other travlers’ reviews recommend “20th Street Hostel.” Operating since 2014, it’s conveniently located in the heart of downtown & next to the very popular 19th street/Chinatown district. Our private room clocked in at just 22 USD total, with a comfortable queen size bed, minifridge and cold A/C. The shared bath was always clean and stocked with liquid bath soaps. Best of all was the service. The manager and supervisor were both well-versed in English and extremely helpful and friendly. I had a chat with the manager and of the 3 places he manages, said he puts his best trained staff here – and it shows. They even allowed us to use the shared bathrooms and treated us to breakfast both before we checked in and after we checked out. Plenty of travelers kept their bags at reception outside of their stay period as well.
Where to Eat:
999 Shan Noodle Shop
Clean, extensive English menu and friendly English speaking staff. Decent prices, too. From the Sule Pagoda roundabout, go north and take the first right turn, then 2nd left turn and it will be on your left.
19th Street / Chinatown
At night, this turns into a florescent-lit full of life and is a great place get a kitchen-cooked meal, a few drinks and to meet fellow travelers, since having to share tables is often a common practice. The BBQ skewers is what will be promoted the most here, but, we’d suggest avoiding it since it’s quite pricey (300 ks. for 4 half pieces of okra and 1,700 ks. for a skewer of spare ribs – compare to 800 ks. or less for a full bowl of shan noodles elsewhere) and not alway hygienic. Located on the southern strip of 19th street, between Strand Road and Maha Bandula Street.
New Life Desert Shop
Our friend Cebbina introduced us to this corner desert shop. They serve up excellent “egg pudding” (creme brulee) for only 500 ks. (40 cents) and khulfi (Indian-style rice pudding ice cream) for 1,200 ks. (95 cents). Located at the northeast corner of the crossway of Maha Bandoola st. and Shwe Bontha st.
Double Happiness Bar
Mojitos for 900 ks.(70 cents) and strong pina coladas for 1000 ks. (80 cents). Decent “avocado salad” (guacamole) and other appetizers. Located near the southern end of 19th Street, near the Strand Road end.
There are countless street stalls all over downtown and you’d be missing out on the true Burmese culinary experience if you passed these up. Whether you decide to slurp down some shan noodles for as cheap as 200 to 500 ks. or a hearty bowl of Sa Mu Sar Toke for 1000 ks), one good rule to go by is to eat at a place with several local patrons.
General Tips for Yangon:
(1) Take a local minivan bus to the bus terminal from Sule Pagoda. Only 1,000 ks and takes 1 hour. Taxi is 8,000 ks for the same 1 hour trip.
(2) If you don’t mind walking, most things are within a 3km walk from the downtown core.