I remember when I first heard about Burma back in primary school. We were learning all the capitals and geographic locations of all the countries in the world. I thought it was quite funny that there was a city called Rangoon as I associated it with the word “racoon” and imagined it was a city full of racoons.
Many years later I have made it to this city, now called Yangon. It is certainly not full of racoons. Instead, it is a massive, alive city, full of buzz and energy which I surprised myself by enjoying very much! If you ever plan to make it to Myanmar, you will no doubt end up in this city. Hopefully, the following guide of what to do in Yangon, where to stay and eat, how to get around, etc, helps you to enjoy it as much as me.
There are a surprising amount of things to see in Yangon. The following are the top tourist attractions in Yangon which you should try not to miss.
I was totally blow away by Shwedagon Pagoda. It is amazing.
I had been told that it was the one must visit attraction in Myanmar. From what I have seen, I have to agree. It would be one of the top temples I have ever seen. In fact, the only one that beats it on my list is the Golden Temple in India.
The centrepiece of Shwedagon is a 325 foot zedi, adorned with gold, diamonds and other gems and is believed to enshrine hairs of the Gautama Buddha (you can see it in the photo at the top of the page). It looks spectacular, but I was expecting that especially as I had a sneak peak of this on the way to my hotel the night before. What I wasn’t expecting was how big the entire site is with many other pagodas and images of Buddha. It seems to go on and on and it all has a peaceful, relaxed and incredibly special vibe.
It is impossible to describe or photograph in a way to do it justice. Just know that you need to get yourself here!
K8,000 entrance fee for foreigners. A taxi from central Yangon is K2,000 (may have to bargain for that). Early morning or sunset are the best times to visit.
The downtown area of Yangon has some beautiful colonial structures around Mahabandoola Gardens, as well as a mix of temples. Exploring this area on foot was a fun and interesting way to explore Yangon.
I started with 2200 year old Sule Paya, then walked along Mahabandoola Road. To the West, I found beautiful mosques. To the East is the big City Hall, colonial Government Buildings, the High Court with its bell towers and a big church. Mahabandoola Gardens is right here as well and is a great place to take a moment to relax (or for the kids to play if you have them).
I then explored along the riverfront where there is more colonial architecture. I finished with the book stalls near the corner Pansodan and Merchant Street which is known as the open air library in Yangon.
The National Museum is the main museum for art, history and culture in Myanmar. This is a good way to learn more about the different cultural groups in Myanmar. Read more here.
This riverfront paya is a great way to finish a walking tour of the downtown area. It is not as spectacular as Shwedagon but it is beautiful and in a great location by the river. It also has the bonus of far less people than Shwegadon.
K3,000 entry and K1,000 for a camera
This large speawling market in downtown Yangon has over 2000 stalls with reputedly the largest selection of Myanmar souvenirs and handicrafts. It is a pleasant place to walk around. I did not find a very large range of items, however. If you want jewellery, paintings, shoulder bags or longyi then you are in luck! Or regular local clothing. I wondered around for quite awhile, but was unable to find something for the kids, so I left disappointed.
There is a range of fruit and vegetables for sale outside and a Parkson department store along with a supermarket next door.
Another Yangon thing to do is to visit this lake. It is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy some downtime in Yangon. It is also a great place for a jog or work out with many locals using the jogging tracks both times I passed by here. It is also the location of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent her years of house arrest. In the evening, this area comes alive with many stalls and food options.
A popular way to see more of Yangon and its locals is to take the 32 mile Yangon circle line which is the local train. It makes a huge loop through Yangon for the bargain price of K1,000 and takes about three hours – meaning you are better off taking it until you are sick of it then catching a taxi back. Trains do not run very often.
It is meant to be a great way to view off the beaten track parts of the city and interact with locals. There are many reviews here that describes more about it. I decided not to do it as I also heard that it was just an uncomfortable journey to see lots of poverty and I was short of time. Anyway, the choice is yours!
Yangon is a big and as such there are a wide range of areas and hotels in Yangon. I recommend staying in the downtown area. It is easy to get to all the main attractions from here and I felt quite safe walking around even at night. Here are my top picks, all are family friendly.
You will certainly not go hungry in Yangon. There is food everywhere. There are stalls on many corners as well as many restaurants. You can also find a supermarket next to the market.
The best restaurants in Yangon are often those you just find on your street corner! However, here are some choices I enjoyed:
Yangon is the best connected city in Myanmar. It is not hard to get flights, buses or trains here. It is also the easiest city to fly into internationally with many airlines flying here including some budget airlines. I was able to pick up a flight from here to Kuala Lumpur for the bargain price of $50 including taxes. It is also a good choice of city to start your Myanmar journey as there are now visas on arrival for many nationalities at Yangon International Airport.
Taxis are cheap and easy and I had no problems with them understanding English. Short trips are only K1,000-2,000. The one hour drive to the airport K8,000. There is also the circle train mentioned above, but it does not go to many destinations that would appeal to tourists.
Similar to Bagan and Mandalay, it is normal to keep shoulders and knees covered up here. There is a much wider range of clothing worn by inhabitants here compared to the other places but many people are still in traditional longyi.
The kids were not with me, but as normal I kept an eye out for what to see and do in Yangon with kids. The above Yangon attractions would all work with kids as well. If you are looking for baby items, such as nappies and formula, the supermarket next to the market sells them.
These beautiful gardens are centrally located and surrounded by some interesting colonial architecture as well as the 2200 year old Sule Paya. There is plenty of room for the kids to run around here, as well as a playground.
Next door to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the People’s Park has plenty of things to do with kids including gardens, fountains, tree-top observation posts connected by swinging bridges, an old Myanmar Airways jet, fighter jet and steam train that the kids can play on. There is also the Natural World Amusement Park and the kids’ amusement park, Happy Zone.
There is a K5,000 admission charge to the park. It costs extra for rides at the amusement parks.
This is another Yangon tourist attraction that is great with kids not far from Shwedagon Pagoda.
Here, there is an artificial lake with a boardwalk and gardens. On the eastern side, there is a park with a small playground and paintball for older kids.
There is a K2,000 admission charge to the lake area.
Yangon Zoological Gardens
This small zoo is next to the lake and is home to many species of mammals and birds. As with the zoo in Mandalay, some of the cage conditions and the chaining up of animals is a problem.
There are several local pools as well as the option to pay to access one at one of the hotels if you are not staying at a place with your own pool. Kandawgyi Swimming Club has a paddling pool for toddlers. Parkroyal, Savoy and Chatrium offer access to their pools.
If you have travelled to Yangon with kids, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
My two nights in Yangon cost me about US$80 including accommodation, taxis, attractions and food.
I was surprised by how much I liked Yangon as I usually find large developing country cities hard to stomach. However, Yangon has a very pleasant and exciting vibe. I loved just walking around the busy streets. I felt perfectly safe walking around at night alone too. Everywhere I went, the streets were packed.
It has the cosmopolitan feel of a big city and the cultural mix of Myanmar was much more noticeable here – in the faces of the people, the food and the temples. People were always friendly and helpful and the average person seemed to speak at least a few words of English. People often said hello as I passed and would try out some English on me in shops and restaurants.
Shwegadon Pagoda blew me away. It is by far my highlight of the attractions I visited in Myanmar.
I came to Yangon seeing the destination as a necessary stop to fly back to Malaysia, but I left feeling like it is was actually my favourite place in Myanmar. Don’t ignore it in your own itineraries!
You can also read my guides to Mandalay, Bagan and my overall guide to Myanmar or download all our guides to Myanmar in a PDF for free!
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