To love Rangoon and to enjoy the Yangon attractions is to open-heartedly accept its struggle, its gentle pride and its chaotic old-fashioned lifestyle. Time passes molasses slow in Yangon and for the bulk of its common folks, fast, flashy amenities are still unattainable. That is why the city oozes a charming colonial aura and this adds to the vintage romantic fame, so popularized by George Orwell. Though much has changed in Myanmar since the “Burmese Days” got released, the country remains relatively innocent and the nearly lost art of enjoying simple pleasures of life still exists there. This is one of Myanmar’s greatest asset and Burma never fails to enchant the visitors with its time-warped simplicity. That is why despite all the hardship, Myanmar is a country of beautiful smiles and this spills over from the pristine rural areas to the developing urban regions. Everywhere, the Burmese people can be seen enjoying a rambling chat, catching a power nap, sharing savouries with people around or indulging in harmless gossip.
Stunningly evocative street photography is one of Yangon attractions
Yangon, being one of the most commercially important and busy cities of Myanmar is no exception and the best way to enjoy its charm is with time on your hands. It is unlike other large Southeast Asian cities and though not steeped with glittering touristy attractions, Yangon’s old colonial charm, golden Buddhist temples and vibrant street life make it a very exciting place to explore. A photographer’s paradise, Yangon attractions are full of atmospheric character and its every nook and cranny is filled with culture, beauty and life. It is a great destination to discover on foot and because of the comparative lack of tourists and street sellers, most of the visitors linger in Yangon longer than originally intended. The city, despite its chaos, is a refreshing break from the other commercialized SE Asian destinations and perhaps that is what makes strolling around Yangon feel like an offbeat adventure in itself. Though my Yangon days were quite rain washed, I fell in love with the city at first sight. I stayed there for nearly a week and enjoyed exploring it on foot. Occasionally, I used the train and bus to move around and being so close to the Burmese life made me like it more. It is a city to be experienced and with so much to see, feel and eat, it is hard not to be a fan of Yangon for life. So here goes the list of my favourite things to do and the best of Yangon attractions.
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Shwedagon Pagoda is the crown jewel of Yangon attractions
Needless to say, this was my favourite spot of Yangon. Undoubtedly, the most important religious site of Yangon (and perhaps Myanmar), a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda is a mind-blowing experience. I visited the monument twice and both the times was totally awestruck by its magnificence. Believed to have enshrined hair of Gautama Buddha, the centrepiece of Shwedagon is its dazzling 99 meters gold chedi which is visible from every part of the city of Yangon. Adorned with gold, diamonds and other precious gems, Shwedagon is beautiful in every season and at every time of the day. The nights are more breathtaking and despite the dazzle, it is one of the most peaceful spots in Yangon. A beautifully preserved heritage monument, Shwedagon Pagoda is a sacred religious pilgrimage site for many Buddhist followers in Myanmar and it is always filled with believers performing rituals according to their birth dates or circumventing around the base of the pagoda. Thus a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda is a must do thing in Yangon. The site is open daily from 4 am – 10 pm daily (except for certain holidays). The entrance fee for foreigners is K8,000 and a taxi from central Yangon costs around K2,000. Bargaining may help save a few Kyats. The best times to visit are early morning or sunset. For more information, check the website
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Sule Pagoda is also one of the major Yangon attractions
An important religious and historical pagoda landmark in Yangon, Sule Pagoda is strategically located in downtown Yangon. The area is filled with numerous government buildings and offices, along with a bus and road transportation hub. An important landmark in history as well as in recent times for holding rallies, protests etc, Sule Pagoda is more about people watching than anything else. Although, not as impressive as the Shwedagon Pagoda, it is a great place to soak in some local atmosphere and the surrounding areas come alive in the evenings. Open from 6 am to 8 pm daily, Sule Pagoda is located at the main roundabout intersection and is hard to miss if you are in downtown central Yangon.
The quirky Yangon Circular Railway is one of the offbeat Yangon attractions
This is one of the most popular and hyped “thing to do” of Yangon. Opinions are divided over the Yangon Circular Railway ride and most people other love it or find it a complete waste of time. A circular railway route, this loop was built by the British in 1954 and it covers 32 miles around Yangon. It is a very popular way to experiencing Yangon and life of the locals, although the 3 hours and 39 stations stops tend to get tedious. The train also goes into the outskirts of Yangon and travelers usually get brief glimpses of the Burmese countryside. Though, not a traditional attraction per se, Yangon Circular Railway ride is an interesting experience if the local culture and life interests you. The Circular Railway train usually departs from Platform 6 of Yangon Central Railroad station, which is near Sule Pagoda. It runs about every 30 minutes – 1 hour in the morning and costs 300 Kyats for a ticket.
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Don’t forget to visit the Bogyoke Aung San market
Also known as the Scott Market, this sprawling covered shopping centre is a commercial delight. Housed inside a square colonial building, the market is divided into East, West. North and South wings. With more than 2000 shops, the Bogyoke Aung San Market hosts the largest collection of Burmese handicrafts under one roof. From lacquerware, shoulder bags, puppets, jewellery, paintings by local artists to fabrics, everything is available here and some better-established shops even have credit/debit card payment and international shipping facilities. The shops worth seeking out are Yo Ya May (on the first floor), specializing in hill-tribe textiles, particularly those from Chin State, and the next door Heritage Gallery which offers excellent reproductions as well as authentic antiques (especially lacquerware). There are also traditional Myanmar and Chinese food stalls in the market. Interestingly the Bogyoke Aung San Market is also well-known for the pre-Thingyan festival. Popularly known as the Zay Thingyan meaning the Market’s water festival, it is usually held on the 11th or 12th of April. Revellers from all over the city come to the market dressed for the festival and the shops participate by organizing traditional dishes such as Monte Lone Yay Paw, Thargu. and Shwe Yin Aye. Located in on Bogyoke Aung San Road in the heart of Yangon, the market is open daily except for gazetted holidays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
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To experience the local life beyond the Yangon attractions, head to a fresh produce market
Yangon is a kaleidoscope of colours and visiting a local fresh market is one of the top things to do. The largest wholesale distribution market is Thiri Mingalar and visiting there guarantees an action-packed experience. Lying outside central Yangon, Thiri Mingalar Market is chaotic, smelly and lively. Selling everything from mounds of cabbages, bananas, watermelons, flowers etc, the market is a huge mad hodgepodge of crowds of trucks, tuk-tuks, bicycles, labourers, shoppers and sellers. It is a must visit place for those seeking the local life and offers excellent photo opportunities. Downtown Yangon also has plenty of fresh produce local markets which are great for beautiful photos and cheap eats. Thein Gyi Market is one of the most notable markets and it hums busily from dawn to dusk. Another colourful area is the large Theingyi Zay, which houses traditional wet and dry markets. Selling nearly everything from fishery products to textiles, rice, fish paste, clothing, cosmetics, raw herbal medicines, beeswax, toys etc, Theingyi Zay offers great photo moments. Shop for some thanaka makeup lyongi or traditional herbal shampoo, which is made by boiling the bark of the Tayaw shrub with black acacia pods. They are sold in small plastic pouches and promises smooth, glossy locks.
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The vibrant Chinatown is one of the most popular Yangon attractions for street eats
Lying in the west of Sule Pagoda, Yangon’s Chinatown is popular with the locals and tourists alike. Famous for excellent street food, it buzzes with traffic, pedestrians, shops and markets. Shops selling gold and jewellery stores, internet cafes, restaurants, temples, fruit, flower and vegetable vendors line the streets and labyrinthine lanes off the main roads offer crafts, paper products etc. The area of 24th through 18th Street offers maximum action and in the evenings, the sidewalks teem with food vendors selling everything from fresh produce to ready-made cheap quick bites. The 20th Street is known for its Chinese food and the 19th Street is also known as the barbecue street. Lined with Chinese restaurants that specialize in display cabinets full of things, skewered ready to be barbecued, the stir-fried dishes there are great too.
Seek solace at the Chaukhtatgyi Paya or the Reclining Buddha in Yangon
Chaukhtatgyi Paya is a massive 65 meters long reclining Buddha. Also known as the Reclining Buddha, the statue is housed inside a giant metal shed and wears a crown adorned with diamonds and other gems. The feet are etched with inscriptions showing the characteristics and symbols of the Buddha. Another temple worth visiting is the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda. Located directly across the street from Chaukhtatgyi Paya it is a quiet relaxing spot to take a break from madding crowds at the Yangon attractions.
Take a peek at the turbulent Burmese history at the National Museum of Myanmar
The National Museum of Myanmar is worthwhile for those interested in the history of Myanmar and looking for a break from the crowded Yangon attractions. The museum, though a bit dated houses an impressive collection of artefacts, religious relics, artwork, and lots of precious objects from the Burmese royal families. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, the museum is closed on Monday and government holidays. Entrance ticket costs 5,000 Kyats.
To eat and drink like the locals is the best way to enjoy Myanmar
Myanmar is a tea-drinking nation and Yangon mornings are all about tea. Brewed dark, strong, and served with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk, the local tea is an energy booster. Since tea plays a major part in the social culture of Myanmar, Yangon is riddled with tea houses and for years, they have been watering holes for locals to gather, drink tea, gossip and discuss the latest news and happenings. They are great places to sample the famous Mohinga, the staple rice noodle fish soup. Popular as a breakfast dish, mohinga comes with a bowl of rice noodles dunked in a fish based curry like broth. The famous laphet thoke, or pickled tea leaf salad is another item not to be missed in Yangon. Though available at nearly every restaurant, they are best served at street tea stalls and this is perhaps the most famous of the food-based Yangon attractions
Explore the lakes and the green areas of Yangon
Yangon has a few green areas and two lakes which are like its aqualungs. The peaceful and green Kandawgyi Park comes with the lily carpeted Kandawgyi Lake and they are oases in the midst of the chaotic city. The Inya Lake is another beautiful spot to relax and enjoy some downtime in Yangon. Famous for being the location of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, where she spent her years of house arrest, Inya Lake comes alive in the evening as street food sellers set up stalls offering delicious food items. Undoubtedly, minus the usual chaos, these lakes are the best of Yangon attractions in my eyes.
Opt for a free walking tour to enjoy the best of Yangon attractions
For those seeking to discover the offbeat heart of Yangon, opt for visiting the Vicittarama Buddhagaya Monastery. Dress respectfully to walk through the monk living quarters and watch the young and old monks go about their daily life. Also, try exploring Yangon on foot as the exciting Burmese city is all about experiences. You can even join one of the free Yangon walks.
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