Are you heading to Burma’s former capital city and don’t know where to start? Well, here are our top five recommendations to keep you busy in Yangon. There’s plenty more where these came from, but this should be enough to get you started…
1. Visit Shwedagon Pagoda
We’re sure you didn’t need us to tell you this one – but how could we leave it out? Yangon is home to Burma’s most famous religious monument, the great, gold Shwedagon Pagoda. Believed by Burmese Buddhists to have stood on this spot for over 2,600 years (which would make it the oldest pagoda in the world, if true), Shwedagon stands at the centre of a huge Buddhist complex packed with altars and stupas. Yangon natives congregate here not just to worship but also to socialise, and the pagoda forms an important social hub for the city’s faithful.
2. Enjoy a sunset cruise on the Yangon River
After exploring the city during the day, you’ll probably feel in need of putting your feet up by the evening. One of our favourite ways to round off a day in Yangon is to jump aboard a large, wooden boat and spend a couple of hours cruising down the Yangon River, beer or cocktail in hand. This is a great way to relax and enjoy the city from a different perspective, as the centre melts into suburbs and onwards into the countryside.
3. Take a bike ride out of the city
By bicycle is a wonderful way to discover Yangon and its surroundings, giving you the opportunity to explore backstreets and quiet lanes that you might otherwise have passed right by. One of our favourite bike rides takes you across the Yangon River by ferry to Dhala, a small and undeveloped village on the opposite shore. From here, it is a fascinating bike ride through paddy fields, bamboo forests and stilt villages to Twante. Be sure to stop at the Snake Temple, where over 50 Burmese pythons roam amongst the Buddhas!
4. Enjoy a colonial heritage walk with high tea at Strand Hotel
Yangon is home to one of Southeast Asia’s most impressive collections of colonial architecture, most of which was left largely untouched throughout Burma’s long period of isolation. Although in varying states of disrepair, many of these buildings hold a sort of crumbling, faded glory that has been lost in other parts of postcolonial Asia.
Amongst the highlights of this walking tour will be Yangon’s City Hall, the old railway station, St Mary’s Cathedral, and the former minister’s office where General Aung San was assassinated – not to mention a stop at the very grand Strand Hotel for high tea. Spiffing!
5. Ride the circle train into Yangon’s suburbs
The city centre may have its grand pagodas and colonial gems, but it is in the outskirts of the city that you’ll experience the day-to-day life of ordinary Burmese people. We often recommend taking a tour of the Yangon suburbs on the circle train, hopping off at a few stops to check out the markets and explore some lesser-known districts of the city. Whilst it’s easy to take the train yourself, we do recommend that you go with a guide who can introduce you to Burmese culture and point you in the direction of the most delicious street food.