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Yangon Attractions – What to See & Do in Myanmar

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At the dawn of 20th century, Yangon was the Garden of the East, a flourishing city then at par in style with London. Manicured gardens, pretty lakes and rows of painted sash windows set flush in warmer brickworks dazzled in this part of Asia. After the English left Myanmar in 1948 and fast forward to the 21st century, Yangon lost its opulence to decades of civil unrests that shut its doors to international tourism.

The Mahabandoola Park with the glittering Sule Pagoda punctuating the landscape.

The Mahabandoola Park with the glittering Sule Pagoda punctuating the landscape.

After long decades of seclusion, Myanmar, also popularly known as Burma is making a wide stride into taking the Southeast Asian tourism spotlight as it welcomes back its visitors in the Golden Land. Nyaypyidaw is the new capital city but Yangon remains to be the hub of commerce, lifestyle and modern-day conveniences. It is at the frontline in this big campaign to wow the world.

Little monks doing their daily chores for the monastery.

Little monks doing their daily chores for the monastery.


Yangon attracts the curios traveler. Its real old-world charm, naïve but friendly people and amazing culture make it a unique travel experience. It surprises your expectations and tickles your wanderlust as this city made famous by the wonders of Buddhism, the playground of the bygone eras of the British East and the laureled lady named Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reunited with my former high school student Michael after more than a decade.

Reunited with my former high school student Michael after more than a decade.

Flying is the best way to get into Yangon but it is still quite expensive in most international carriers. Air Asia is the biggest and the most affordable airline brand that flies direct from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

The first thing I ticked off in my to-do list in Yangon was to meet up with Michael, my former student back in the Philippines whom I got reconnected via Facebook. He just relocated to Yangon from China to teach in an international school. Both of us still on our 2nd day, we were happily lost in translation amidst the chaos and the aroma of Burmese coffee in Bogyoke Market as we ran through our lives that went in different orbits in the past 18 years.

A fitting landscape of how the new rises from the old without losing its character.

A fitting landscape of how the new rises from the old without losing its character.

Yangon is such a fitting welcome for travelers to Myanmar because it captures the essence of Burmese lives. Its pagodas and churches ground you of their deep religiosity. Their colonial buildings narrate the stories of their European alliances. And their faces paint the pictures of their lives through the decades of seeming inexistence.

MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN YANGON

Buddhist Pagodas

Shwedagon is the oldest building in Myanmar spanning 2,500 years since its construction.

Shwedagon is the oldest building in Myanmar spanning 2,500 years since its construction.

The most iconic of all the attractions in Myanmar is the Shwedagon Pagoda. It crowns Singuttara Hills at 110 meters glittering with gold plates and diamond stupas. It is revered as the most holy of all Buddhist shrines in Myanmar and celebrated as one of the wonders in the religious world.

 

Sule, from the word “su-wei” means “meeting”, where King Ukkalapa held discussions to build the Shwedagon.

Sule, from the word “su-wei” means “meeting”, where King Ukkalapa held discussions to build the Shwedagon.

Sule Pagoda is another landmark in Yangon as it sits as a roundabout at the heart of the city. Around this 2,000-year old octagonal pagoda are arterial roads filled with colonial buildings, shops and parks.

The original pagoda was heavily damaged during World War II and was rebuilt with the excavated relics.

The original pagoda was heavily damaged during World War II and was rebuilt with the excavated relics.

Glittering beside the Yangon River is Botahtaung Pagoda that enshrines the sacred hair relic of the Lord Buddha. Its interesting interior is laid out in a mirrored maze filled with sacred artifacts.

 

Colonial Buildings

In 1824, the British captured Yangon during the Anglo-Burmese War. They settled, built the city, made it a trading hub with the West and turned it into the London of the East. Myanmar gained independence in 1948 and was left with massive colonial buildings done in the Victorian, Queen Anne and Art Deco architectural styles.

Today, Yangon holds the record as the only city in Asia with the most number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia. The highest density of these heritage buildings are in Strand Road and Pansodan Road.

The High Court Building was built in 1911 as the highest seat of justice during the British colonial rule.

The High Court Building was built in 1911 as the highest seat of justice during the British colonial rule.

The Accountant General’s Office once housed the colonial government’s revenue from the wealth of the land.

The Accountant General’s Office once housed the colonial government’s revenue from the wealth of the land.

The Strand Hotel was built in 1901 and aged into bad condition until the 1970s. In was renovated and reopened in 1993

The Strand Hotel was built in 1901 and aged into bad condition until the 1970s. In was renovated and reopened in 1993

Opened in 1926, today it is a popular black market for currency exchange, souvenir shops and jewelry stalls.

Opened in 1926, today it is a popular black market for currency exchange, souvenir shops and jewelry stalls.

Built in 1887 with a mix of Burmese and English construction aesthetics.

Built in 1887 with a mix of Burmese and English construction aesthetics.

Pansodan and Strand Roads are filled with massive colonial buildings such as this.

Pansodan and Strand Roads are filled with massive colonial buildings such as this.

 

Parks and Lakes

Yangon is known for its pretty parks by the lake and these are just within the downtown area. As its city was constructed by the Englishmen to mimic London, its end of century architecture are punctuated by leafy avenues, tree-lined lakes and ponds.

Kandawgyi Lake or the Great Royal Lake is home to the Karaweik Palace, a replica of the royal barge. Within its 60-hectare area are the Kandawgyi Nature Park and Yangon Zoological Gardens.

Inya Lake is the largest lake within the city. Formerly called Lake Victoria, its greater portions are utilized for private lake-front exclusive homes of affluent Burmese like Aung San Suu Kyi and foreign dignitaries.

The Kandawgyi Lake is a must-visit for tourists in Yangon.

The Kandawgyi Lake is a must-visit for tourists in Yangon.

 

Museums and Monuments

Yangon, is a history-filled city and many of its memories are curated in its museums and immortalized in many monuments. The National Museum of Myanmar is the repository of its history from ancient times to colonization period and is a must-visit site.  Another interesting place to drop-by is the home of Myanmar’s beloved hero, Gen. Aung San which is now converted into a museum of his personal memorabilia.

The obelisk in the middle of Mahabandoola Park is a commemoration of its independence.

The obelisk in the middle of Mahabandoola Park is a commemoration of its independence.

 

Other Activities

 Yangon Circular Train Ride

This activity is recently gaining popularity among tourists who wish to see the real Yangon behind the pretty gardens, buildings and temples. This railway loop was built by the British in 1954 and still is the easiest means of public transport to get around the city loop. It tracks 50 kilometers and stops in 39 stations in about 3 hours to complete. The best part of this experience is the chance to sit with the locals who are really warm and eager to fire hearty conversations.

Get around Yangon on its 1950s train.

Get around Yangon on its 1950s train.

 

Shopping in Bogyoke Market

Bogyoke Aung San Market is THE place to get fantastic souvenirs of Burmese art, textile, jewelry and handicrafts. Exciting finds are handwoven bags and tapestries, exquisite handcrafted jewelry pieces and brass sculptures. Grab those colorful plaid wrap around men’s garment called longyi or get a wait-to-wear htamein for women.

Bogyoke Market is a treasure trove of fantastic finds!

Bogyoke Market is a treasure trove of fantastic finds!

 

Food Trip and Nightout in Chinatown

This is perhaps the city’s busiest district but the liveliest until the wee hours of the night. Here you’ll find an awesome array of street food choices, restaurants, cafes and small bars. Stretching from 18th to 20th streets, these alleys become the food and booze strips at night in a rather conservative city like Yangon.

The City Hall of Yangon from the view of Mahabandoola Park.

The City Hall of Yangon from the view of Mahabandoola Park.

 

Yangon, as its name translates into English as The End of Strife truly captivates the vibe of a renewed city. It catches up with the new world without forgetting its old-world charm. Come to Yangon now and be one of the few firsts in this generation to experience true glittering splendor!

 

-oOo-

HOW TO GET THERE

  • Direct flights to Yangon are widely available from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Air Asia is the most recommended international carrier considering affordable airfare & availability of flights.
  • Check your travel agency for other flight options.
  • Visa is required for tourists from non-ASEAN countries. Check your own embassy for travel guidelines.

 

 GETTING AROUND

  • Taxi is the only means to get to the city from the airport.
  • Taxi drivers in the airport or its booking agents are very courteous. If you decline once, they will not pester you anymore.
  • Taxi is the best means to get to the attractions around Yangon. There are no meters but they are very honest drivers. Amazingly, the only ones left in this side of the planet!
  • Alternatively, you may take the Yangon Railway Loop and drop off at the nearest station to your desired destination and take a cab from there.
  • Foreigners are not allowed to drive motorbikes anywhere in Myanmar.
  • Their bus terminal going to other domestic destinations (like Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake) is really far from the city. Worst, the only road that brings you there is always traffic-choked. Taxi rates range between $8-$12.

 

PLACES TO STAY

Budget Accommodations

  • Hninn Si Budget Inn is a backpacker guesthouse along Bohtataung Pagoda Road. It has very clean space, shared but spotless toilets, modest rooms and courteous staff. Price approximately $10-$15.
  • Sleep-In Hostel is located in Chinatown. It’s dormitory type, favored by many backpackers for its affordable rate & in-house bar. Price approximately $10-$13.
  • Ocean Pearl Hotel is close to Bohtataung Pagoda. It has simple but clean rooms. Price approximately $23-$29. Check out Ocean Pearl 2 along Bogyoke Road.

 

Mid-to-Luxury Accommodations

  • Family Treasure Inn is a stone’s throw away from Chinatown. It’s a full-service hostel like WIFI, mini-bar and TV. Price approximately $50-$55.
  • Asahi Hotel is close to Kandawgyi Lake. It offers a good view of the city. Price approximately $50.
  • Sule Shangrila Yangon is by far the best hotel in the city. Located right at the heart of Sule Road, this hotel offers its guest the Shangrila brand experience. Price approximately $250.

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