Gleaming gold pagodas, betel nut-chewing locals and bustling markets: all in a day and a half’s work in the former Burmese capital.
Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon was Burma’s capital until as recently as 2006. Its colonial past is revealed in the British architectural influences visible in its decaying early 20th century buildings. Amidst this fading glory, gleaming pagodas stand proud, barefoot locals chew and spit betel nuts, and monks walk the streets in purple robes. It’s one of the safest cities in this part of the world, and although there’s too much to see to be able to do it all in 36 hours, we’ve put together this suggested itinerary to help you see some of the unmissable highlights.
A panoramic view of Yangon and Schwedagon Pagoda
Have breakfast the Burmese way with a hearty bowl of noodles to set you up for a day’s exploring. After breakfast, your first port of call is the Sule Pagoda, which stands slap bang in the middle of the city’s busiest traffic intersection. Built to house a single strand of the Buddha’s hair, its tranquil interior is a welcome break from the chaos and noise of the passing traffic. Outside the pagoda you can buy doves in little cages, which you’re meant to set free according to an ancient Buddhist practice. You can also visit a palm reader if you’re curious to see what your future has in store!
Built by the British, Yangon’s old colonial palace
The next stop on your itinerary is Bogyoke Market (which sometimes goes by its old British name, Scott Market). It was built in 1920 and you’ll find all manner of interesting things for sale here, including fabrics, spices, chillies, exotic fruits, and the ubiquitous betel nuts. With over 2,000 shops, you won’t be able to see everything, but it’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and pick up a few souvenirs.
For lunch, head to an establishment called Feel Myanmar Food. It’s the perfect place to sample an array of authentic Burmese foods, and the actual experience of eating there is fun, too. All the dishes are displayed in front of you, so you can point to the ones you like the look of. Even better, it’s cheap, with meals from just $3.
After lunch, visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous of Yangon’s many landmarks. You can’t miss it, as it’s visible from just about everywhere you go in Yangon. It’s said that there’s been a stupa on the same spot for 2,600 years, and it’s an incredibly sacred Buddhist site. Encrusted in diamonds, and enveloped in shimmering gold leaf, it reportedly houses eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha, and relics from three other former Buddhas. Apparently the hairs are contained in a temple of gold, enclosed in several further ‘layers’ of temples, made of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble and iron-brick respectively. It costs $8 to get into the Pagoda, and it’s best to enter on the east side to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Schwedagon Pagoda visit once during the day and once at night
When you’ve had your fill of this special place, have a wander into the nearby People’s Park for some magnificent views of the Pagoda as the sun starts to go down. While you’re exploring the park, look out for curiosities such as the decommissioned Myanmar Airways Fokker plane (which you can climb aboard), a fighter jet and an old steam train.
Enjoy an atmospheric evening with dinner, drinks and a night-time view of Yangon’s twinkling lights from the top of the Sakura Tower. If heights aren’t your thing, try Seven One One Restaurant on Anawratha Road, where, for as little as $1.50, you can sample delicious dishes that are somewhere in between Indian and Burmese.
Get up early and begin your last morning in Yangon with a Yangon River cruise. For around $50-$60 (the price depends on the number of passengers), you can explore Yangon’s waterways and get an alternative view of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Board at Botahtaung Jetty and enjoy your morning coffee in the refreshing Andaman Sea breeze. The cruise finishes at 10, which should give you just enough time to head north to the Kandawgyi Lake after you disembark. The admission fee to this British-built artificial lake is just $2 and it makes a tranquil final stop on your stay.