Off the beaten path: Yangon, Myanmar

Recently, I returned to the former Burmese capital, Yangon, for two weeks. Myanmar is nicknamed Land of Golden Pagodas so it is no surprise that this bustling city is home to the renowned Shwedagon Pagoda. Apart from visiting the holiest Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, there are a lot of other attractions the city has to offer. While tourism has been encouraged since 1992, it’s only over the last few years that there has been an influx of visitors to the country. In my previous article about Myanmar, I covered things you shouldn’t miss while you’re travelling through. In this addition, I will be delving further into Yangon.

Yangon (also known as Rangoon) is the biggest city in Myanmar, home to over 6 million people and it is the commercial and political hub. As the city develops, the Yangon Skyline is continuously changing with skyscrapers and condominiums popping up. Despite this move towards modernisation, the city’s infrastructure is trying to keep up. While there, we lived in Upper Yangon so the journey to Downtown Yangon would take 45 minutes (instead of 20 minutes) mainly due to the intense traffic.

Tip: If you are planning on taking the taxi, take into account the traffic – especially if you’re going from Downtown Yangon to the Bus Station or Airport.

Chaukhtatgyi Paya (Reclining Buddha)

The western Burmese town of Bago is home to the country’s famous reclining Buddha (Shwethalyaung Buddha). However, this statue is only 55 meters long while the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha is measured at 65 meters and as a bonus, it is located 10 minutes from Shwedagon Pagoda. Entry to this temple is free but there are donation/offering boxes placed along the entrance and near the prayer space.

In comparison to my first visit, there has been an influx of bus loads of tourists visiting the temple. To avoid the crowds, I would advise to visit in the morning or later in the day. The temple is easy to get to (1000 – 2000 kyats by taxi from Shwedagon Pagoda) so you don’t have to join a tour.

Kandawgyi Park

Located near Downtown Yangon and Shwedagon Pagoda, it is a lovely place to escape the chaos. It isn’t a natural lake, built by the British during colonial times. There are no entry charges for locals. Foreigners, on the other hand, have to pay 300 kyats (AUD$0.30) and an extra 500 kyats if you’re bringing in a camera (camera phones are exempted).

On the surrounding banks of the lake are endless food and beverage options, mainly catering to the local or various South East Asian region cuisine. If you fancy a cafe out of the ordinary, YGN Bus Cafe is a converted bus cafe serving up some delicious frappes. Floating on the east shore of the lake is the centrepiece, Karaweik Palace, which is now a converted restaurant enjoying cultural entertainment while dining.

Bogyoke Aung San Market

Set in an old colonial building in the heart of Yangon, Bogyoke Aung San Market is a major tourist destination of the region. There are endless stalls selling longyis amongst other things. While there are other local markets scattered across the city, this is by far the biggest. Apart from selling fabrics and souvenirs, there are local food shacks located between the alleys serving up local cuisine and fresh fruits while you dine on little plastic stools and tables.

It is not uncommon to see Burmese women sporting a pale yellow paste on their cheeks (or other parts of their face). This paste is known as thanaka made from ground bark and is used for cosmetic purposes and as a sunscreen. There are several stores selling this product. Alternatively, if you ask, they may let you try it.

Chinatown

Most countries have a Chinatown and Yangon is no exception. Located downtown, most of the affordable accommodations can be found here. During my first visit to Yangon, I stayed in a hostel hidden in one of these alleys. The local life and street markets come alive every day. Feel free to observe the locals selling clothes, longyi, daily fruits and produce along the side of the roads. It is quite an organised chaos. Within this area, there are 3 places of worship to visit (a mosque, Hindu temple and Buddhist temple). Further down towards the east side is Sule Pagoda. With an entry fee of 3000 kyats, it located in the centre of the roundabout, quite easy to spot.

Rangoon Tea House

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of South East Asian beverages and Burmese tea is no different. The Rangoon Tea House (RTH) is a favourite amongst tourists and the expat community. While it is on the pricier side, they do serve up some amazing snacks and food with a wide selection of tea. The lower story is modern restaurant styled as a tea house while the upper level has a 1920’s decor and is really cosy.

Happy World Amusement Park

This 22 yr old amusement park sat right outside the South gate of Shwedagon Pagoda. If you’re looking to have a good laugh, head over to this Amusement Park. Most of the rides are designed for the younger kids but there are still a lot of arcade style games for everyone to enjoy. Entry to the park is about 500 kyats and there is an extra fee to play the games. If you have a few dollars to spare and are looking to mingle with the locals, this spot is for you.

Maha Wizaya Pagoda

Across the street from both Shwedagon Pagoda and Happy World Amusement Park is Maha Wizaya Pagoda. An impressive pagoda, it is quiet and barely any crowds. On top of this, visiting the pagoda is free for everyone. In the centre of the shrine, there is an impressive mural on the dome depicting Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree. The tree is designed using mix elements with leaves and branches “growing” on the inner walls.

Circle Line Train

It’s not hard to get a glimpse of life outside of bustling Yangon. Travelling the entire circle would take 3 hours if you decide not to get off to explore. It’s an interesting journey especially to observe daily life. It’s not uncommon for livestock to be transported on the train, farmers shipping their produce between towns and hawkers walking up the down the aisles selling fruits and snacks. I urge you to get off randomly and explore your surroundings. At the furthermost point of the journey, there is a market just on the side of the station. As it is uncommon for westerners to visit these parts, you’re welcomed to curiosity and excitement (especially if you’re a tall foreigner – my friend was stopped for photos).

Lower Pansodan Street

Did you know Yangon has the highest number of colonial buildings in the South East Asian Region? Lower Pansodan St and the surrounding area is home to several of these buildings. Constructed in the 19th century, the area is reminiscent of over half a century of British Colonial Rule. While this area is the Central Business District of the city, most of the government offices have been moved to the capital of Naypyidaw. I’m unsure what the future plans for these buildings are but one of the colonial building has been torn down. I would highly recommend visiting the area before it’s too late.

Yangon Map:

The following map contains drop pins of the attractions mentioned above.

Well, there you have it! These are my recommendations of things to do in and around Yangon besides Shwedagon Pagoda. Having spent a reasonable amount of time in the city, it’s always great to venture into the local hangouts and get away from the crowds. The country is changing and adapting quickly due to the rise in tourism so, be sure to not miss the beauty of a city stuck in time before it fades away.

Peace, love and good vibes.

26 Comment

  1. Such a fun visit to Yangon. The circle line train looks like a great way to explore the city, like a hop on/hop off bus only better. Loved the photos and the tips for activities. Nice post.

  2. Wow! This looks like a great place to visit! I remember seeing the reclining Buddha on an episode of The Amazing Race, almost seems unreal. Myanmar has a great culture and I’ve made it a point to visit really soon. Thanks for the great article!

  3. Yangon looks amazing! The markets and parks all look like so much fun. I love the reclining buddha too. I have never traveled to this area but hope to someday. Happy Travels to you in 2017! 🙂

  4. 2 weeks is quite a long time for visiting a city and it’s great that you can experience so many different things. Myanmar has long been on my bucket list but somehow I could never manage time to go there. When I finally visit Yangon, I’ll certainly head to the Kandawgyi Park 🙂 This place sounds quite nice with the food, the nature and so on 🙂

  5. I didn;t know the fact that Lower Pansodan Street has the most colonial buildings of all SEA countries. And they are British ones too, I missed this in Rangoon. I’d love to go to that market in Mango season, I love the sweet yellow mangos, they must be super cheap per kg in there! I love the wide angle of the reclining Buddha, great photography.

  6. I’ve always wanted to go to Myanmar. My wife is from Thailand but we live in Scotland. Maybe next time we’re in Thailand we’ll visit Yangon. I like the history of Southeast Asia, all the temples and ruins, and Buddhism and all that. Good post. Helpful info. Safe travels!

  7. Yangon looks amazing! While I was in Asia everyone told me that I needed to get there quick before it became another Thailand. Most said to get out of Yangon as soon as possible but you’re guide has a lot of things to do and see that they may have missed. I definitely want to make it there soon!

  8. We are really hoping to visit Myanmar this year, it looks breathtaking and it seems like there is a lot less tourists compared to Thailand. I have bookmarked this to help plan our trip!

  9. What an interesting place to visit! We have a layover here but I don’t think we have enough time to explore too much, which is unfortunate. Maybe I’ll just have to come back and visit

  10. This is JUST what I was looking for for my upcoming trip to Myanmar! I honestly had no idea there was so much to do just in Yangon, and I love that you included a map of all the destinations you talked about too. I like to map out my travels before I go as well. Pinned this for future reference (we’ll be there in late March so I’ll want to read this again before I go!) and will check out your other Myanmar posts! Thanks for sharing this super informative and useful post 🙂

  11. Great memories, thanks for putting the spots on the map! Also loved walking along the Pansodan Street. Enjoy your upcoming travels.

  12. I love how Asia is so colourful and your photos are no exception as they shows your great journey in technicolour. I love the one of you hanging out of the train I wouldn’t have been that brave lol

  13. Sounds like an existing city to visit. My husband and I would really enjoy taking the train and hoping on and off to see the city as you suggested.

  14. Asian markets are so fun! I am always amazed at what you can find in them. Looks like you had a blast of a trip!

  15. Yangon is a destination in itself with so many eye-catching street scenes! I really enjoyed taking the Circle Line train and seeing a glimpse of everyday life inside and outside the city. Plus it was so slow which gave plenty of time to take great pics!

  16. All of this looks so fun, and colorful too! I didn’t realize that this area didn’t get much tourism, that’s so surprising to me. I’d love to see that stunning reclining buddha in person.

  17. I really want to visit Myanmar, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Yangon looks like a great place to check out! The Chaukhtatgyi Paya looks remarkable and the street markets look awesome to explore. A lot of cool places to see in Yangon so I’ll mark this spot down!

  18. I loved Myanmar so much. In fact it is one of my favourite countries. You have mentioned some top places to visit in Yangon.
    I took the circle line train and decided to hop off halfway round to mix it up a little and make my own way back. Here I stopped in a train side cafe and had a meal which was basically a cold chapatti and some cold lentil meal. A few hours later I had the most horrendous food poisoning! It was awful. So I really wouldn’t recommend that 🙁

  19. Ahhh Myanmar is truly on my bucket list – and your post has just bumped it even higher up the list! I had NO idea that Yangon is SO big…6 million people? Woah! I have heard that the Circle Line Train is a great way to see the more hidden side of Yangon. The fabrics at the Bogyoke Aung San Market look so pretty and colourful!

  20. Riding the circle line train sounds like a lot of fun. I’m trying to imagine how chaotic it must feel with live stock and merchants along with passengers riding the train.

  21. I feel very curious about Myanmar and your photos depict a very colorful country and city. Find the idea of a circular train voyage very interesting as a way of seeing the city.

  22. I’ve recently become so into the thought of visiting Myanmar! It’s has so many beautiful gems and it looks like you had an amazing time!

  23. Beautiful pictures. I am definitely considering this blog while planning for Myanmar. Great post.

  24. Myanmar has been on my wish list for so long. This has definitely made me want to visit ASAP. The Pagoda looks so pretty.

  25. The Maha Vizaya Pagoda is catching my attention immediately. Myanmar is so much in my wishlist being my neighbouring country. Hope to visit soon.

  26. Myanmar is an awesome destination! I really hope to visit ti again soon!

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