You’ll often hear Burma described as “expensive” by travellers, but just what does this mean? Expensive compared to where? If you look at Burma in comparison with Thailand, Vietnam or one of its other Southeast Asian neighbours, it can be considered a little more expensive – but only really when it comes to hotels. When it comes to day-to-day life, the cost of living in Burma is still incredibly cheap, even in the context of Southeast Asia. In this blog post we’ve set out to redress the misapprehension that travelling in Burma is expensive by asking the question: how cheap is a day in Yangon?
If you’re staying at a hotel, you’ll almost certainly have breakfast included as part of your package. If not – and if you’re feeling particularly brave – you might like to indulge in the traditional Burmese breakfast staple: mohinga. This fish & rice noodle soup, sold from streetside carts, may be challenging for some Western palates – but when done well it’s delicious.
Mohinga breakfast: 500 MMK ($0.45/£0.30)
Full of mohinga (or not, as the case may be) – head out of your hotel this morning to explore Yangon’s lively downtown area. Using the Sule Pagoda (located slap-bang in the centre of a roundabout) to orientate yourself, wander along leafy avenues admiring the city’s impressive but crumbling fin-de-siècle architecture, perhaps stopping in for a morning tea or loitering in the art shop at the iconic Strand Hotel as you go. High tea at the Strand is a classic Yangon experience – but if it’s too steep for you, grab a cuppa and a snack at a local teahouse (ubiquitous in Burma) for next to nothing.
High tea at the Strand: $15 / £11.30
How much you spend on lunch will entirely depend on how gastronomically brave you are – and in fact, the same goes for any mealtime in Burma. Visit a standard, mid-range restaurant and you might expect to pay around $5-8 for lunch. At a more local affair, with plastic seats on the pavement and unidentifiable delicacies sold from a streetcart, and you could pay $3 or less. The quality, as you might expect, is pretty variable! But remember that a higher price doesn’t always mean better food.
Lunch at a local restaurant: 6,000-9,500 MMK ($5-8 / £4-6)
This afternoon, hop on Yangon’s circle train for a ride into the city suburbs. The city centre may be the place to admire colonial architecture and grand pagodas, but it’s in the ordinary neighbourhoods of the outskirts that you’ll get a taste of everyday Burmese life. The entire loop takes around three hours to complete, linking Yangon city centre with 39 stations in the suburbs and satellite towns – but you could just do a small section if you prefer. Hop on and off the train wherever you feel like it, exploring the local streets and markets to get a real cross-section of local life.
Returning to the city centre as the sun begins to go down, head to Yangon’s Chinatown and Little India districts, just a couple of blocks apart, where the streets are crowded with shops and restaurants showcasing the diversity of Burma’s biggest city. In the evening, 19th street is closed to traffic and is lined with market stalls – a fantastic place to drink in the atmosphere.
Ticket for 15+ miles on the circle train: 400 MMK ($0.34 / £0.25)
For a really cheap dinner, snack on skewers of meat and vegetables on 19th street – though you may want to avoid the many different types of bug on display. If you’re after a sit-down meal, $15 is more than enough to budget for a standard local restaurant – though at swankier establishments you can of course pay much more. As in any Southeast Asian city, the price of a beer can vary – from the cheaper-than-water local brews to rather overpriced varieties found in upmarket hotels and restaurants.
Dinner & drinks at a local restaurant: 11,900-18,000 MMK ($10-15 / £7.50-11)
Yangon doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife if you’re after a party – but it does have a very different kind of nightlife to enjoy. Once you’ve had your dinner, head along to the jewel in the city’s crown: Shwedagon Pagoda. This towering golden stupa is the most sacred place in Burma, and it comes alive at night – as worshippers head to its precincts to pray and light candles beneath its glowing spire. The pagoda closes at 10pm – leave your shoes at the entrance and don’t forget to tip the staff for looking after them as you exit.
Entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda: $8 / £6
Based on the guide prices given here, a budget of $30-50 (£20-40) is plenty for a fabulous, fun and very full day of sightseeing in Yangon. For more information about travelling in Burma, why not give one of our travel consultants a call, or have a look at some of our Fully Tailored Journeys and Small Group Tours for inspiration.