Memories of Yangon, the leading city of Myanmar, are tinged by green and gold. Green is the colour of the verdant jungle that invades the city and gold is from the city overflowing with Buddhist temples and gold-gilded pagodas. Monks wander through busy markets, with tables that encourage throngs of pedestrians to stop, sit and eat. This once capital city of Myanmar (formerly called Burma by the British) remains one of the fastest growing cities of the country.
Yangon was founded as ‘Dagon’ in the 6th century by the Mons, one of the oldest, largely Buddhist cultures within the region. Dagon was a small fishing village, centred around the iconic Buddhist temple, the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Temples are a gilt-y pleasure in Yangon!
Yangon International Airport (RGN) located just 15km (9 miles) north of Yangon is a well linked travel hub, connecting to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and more regional hubs. The quickest and most comfortable way to travel is by taxi, which should take around 15 minutes into central Yangon and cost around £10.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The currency is the kyat with an exchange rate of £1 equals around 2400 Myanmar Kyat.
Yangon is less well-known than other Southeast Asian metropolises and that gives it an air of mystery. Here are some of my recommended sites:
- The Shwedagon Pagoda or Shwedagon Paya is the iconic symbol of the city, with endless temples and shrines to enjoy and explore. Gold plated, diamond topped and over 2500 years old, it holds great spiritual significance for Buddhists around the world.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Remember to dress appropriately when visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda. Legs and shoulders should be covered to enter.
- Visit Kandawgyi Park and Lake, located close to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The Karaweik Palace, a floating royal restaurant in the middle of the park, is accessible by the old wooden boards situated around the lake.
- Yangon’s People’s Park is wonderful for nature walks with shady areas for picnics against a backdrop of fountains, flowers and ponds. Make sure to visit the amusement park too, located inside the park.
- Inya Lake is the perfect place to head for a break from the busy streets of downtown Yangon.
- Jump right into the heart of the action in Downtown This area, laid out in a grid makes it easy to find your way around the mix of European architecture, market stalls, street vendors and mega mall complexes.
How’re you gonna keep them on the farm after they’ve seen the big city?
- National Museum of Myanmar is where to view relics of Myanmar’s past and understand its history including Burmese art and artifacts.
- Botahtaung Pagoda located along the river in downtown Yangon is one of the cities most revered Buddhist temples. Built over 2,500 years ago by the Mon people, a relic chamber was only discovered within the last 100 years.
Are we on the right track?
- Yangon’s Circle Train is an easy and interesting way to travel the city and its outskirts. Built by the British in 1954, the entire journey takes three hours with 39 stations along the way stop and explore. Do be aware when taking the train, that it may not go the same direction or make the full loop each time. Make sure to check before boarding.
- Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple is home of the reclining Buddha, a 66-metre-long statue. Many come to visit and even plan picnic lunches in front of it, the 2nd largest Buddha in the country.
While exploring the city there are many interesting places in which to do some unique souvenir shopping. Here are a few recommendations on where to shop:
- Social enterprise Pomelo is the perfect place to do all your souvenir shopping and support local artists by purchasing handmade jewellery and crafts.
- Nagar Glass Factory, located along Hlaing Mahasi Road, is a hidden shopping gem of the area, producing beautiful handmade glassware. The factory was decimated by a cyclone in 2008. Now small and unique, customers can walk amongst the remains, taking your chosen item to the groundskeepers to have it cleaned and polished before purchasing.
This market is off the scales!
- Bogyoke Aung San Market is a well-known market on 26th street in downtown Yangon, dating back to 1926. Here you’ll find snacks, fresh produce, prayer beads, jewellery, clothes, handicrafts, fabric and custom made longyi (traditional sarongs).
Yangon offers a wide-ranging mix of foods, offering travellers a unique experience. Here are a few recommendations:
- Rangoon Tea House, opened by Htet Myet Oo and running since 2014, it is inspired by tea houses of the 1900s. Incorporating traditional tea house snacks, Indian cuisine and unique Shan cuisine (largely based on rice noodles and a chickpea flour ‘tofu’ derived from the country’s largest Buddhist community), try a dish from each region washed down with a sweet, iced tea or a cocktail.
- Feel Myanmar, a Yangon local institution, is where to head for a buffet of everything there is to love and eat in this bustling city, from goat curry to braised pork belly. Sit inside or street side for maximum people-watching opportunities.
- Minn Lan Restaurant, on Parami Road, is famous for seafood from the Rakhine state of Myanmar along the western coastline. Try the pomfret fish deep fried then smothered with a tomato-based curry.
Here’s a Pro tip: Fine dining lovers will be inspired by a table at Seeds Restaurant & Lounge, run by Swiss Michelin starred chef Felix Eppisser and his wife Lucia. Drawing inspiration from a variety of cuisines, the menu focuses on the elements of fire, water, air and earth, using local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
Yangon is a city that never sleeps and is always bustling. Here are three recommendations on where to go for a fun night out:
There’s a lot at stake here!
- 19th Street and Chinatown is brimming with restaurants, bars, street food and barbecue stalls and a bustling atmosphere. 19th Street is known for its barbecue street stalls, so don’t forget to pick up a few skewers as you walk. This is the perfect area for a night of low-cost, high-value eating and drinking and provides insight into the street culture of Yangon.
- Yangon Yangon rooftop bar offers a bird’s eye view of the city. Located on the 20th floor of the Sakura Tower near the city centre, you can enjoy a cocktail and drink in the panoramic views.
- Sarkies Bar, located in the hundred-year-old The Strand Hotel, is a favourite amongst local residents and visitors alike. It is known for its strong pours, billiards and its famous former customers like Orson Wells and Rudyard Kipling.
Once you’ve seen the city from the rooftops and the alleyways, it’s time for a rest. Here are three recommendations on where to stay:
- Located just moments away from the Shwedagon Pagoda and People’s Park. The Savoy hotel offers 30 blissfully air-conditioned rooms with private balconies, a pool and bar.
- Lotte Hotel Yangon is a luxurious five-star hotel, overlooking Inya Lake. Modern rooms are complete with breath-taking views, fine dining restaurants, and an infinity pool to guarantee a relaxing experience.
- Uniquely situated in a 1920 mansion, Belmond Governor’s Residence offers bohemian style rooms, a tropical plant-lined pool along with a massage or cocktail to make you feel at ease. Its restaurant, The Mandalay, is one of the best in the city.
Yangon is a mesmerising city, engaging all the senses and showcasing communities and cuisines you won’t find anywhere else in the world. All that glitters is gold in Yangon!