Yangon is a bustling city that combines old and new in close quarters. Once largely closed off to the outside world, Yangon's cultural and architectural treasures are still waiting to be discovered by the masses. Below are just a few highlights of the whole day that you won't want to miss when visiting this fascinating city.
1) Start your day by watching the Sunrise over Shwedagon Pagoda
Dominating the Yangon skyline is one of the most striking Buddhist temples - the Shwedagon Pagoda. The early morning rays reflect off the pagoda’s gold-plated umbrella crown called “hti”. The very top of the jewel-encrusted umbrella, the diamond bud called “sein bu” is tipped with a 76-carat diamond! However, the glittering spectacle during the day does not hamper the calm atmosphere and after dark aura in the evening. Open for visitors from 4 am to 10 pm, this highlight of the Yangon tour is a great place to begin and end your day at. There is an entrance fee and it is advised to dress modestly, for your visit.
2) Observe breakfast at Kalaywa Monastery
Yangon’s orphans find refuge in the Kalaywa Monastery, which is locally known as "Narga Hlaing Gu" During the morning meal-time, you can see hundreds of monks, nuns and novices line up for their food. The children are eager to practice their English and often come forward to speak with visitors. Interacting with these friendly and curious residents of the monastery opens an opportunity to delve deeper into the local culture and lifestyle.
3) Get Centered at Sule Pagoda
Occupying the approximate geographical centre of the city, Sule Pagoda's history goes back 2500 years, making it the oldest in Yangon. Due to its prominent location, it was also the site of protests and other significant moments from Myanmar's often-tumultuous history. It's a great place to start your Yangon explorations and often the first stop on guided tours of the city.
4) Admire the Architecture of Yangon's Colonial Past
Yangon's downtown offers a wealth of interesting architecture from its colonial past. On a walking tour, you can take in such highlights as the old City Hall, High Court, Strand Hotel and more. Hiring a guide allows you to get some historical context to go along with your pictures, as well as explanations of this must-see area of the city. It might be a good idea to return to the iconic Strand Hotel after your tour, to treat yourself to a cocktail and its old-world ambience.
5) Have Lunch like a Local
Tasting authentic Burmese fare is another must-do in the city. Go ahead and cram into a tiny noodle house like the locals do, and dip into the various sauces and vegetables that give the noodles a distinct flavour. Then, between your city wanderings, sample samosas or skewers from street vendors to keep your energy levels up and your taste buds asking for more!
6) Take a Circular Train Ride
After lunch, continuing sightseeing but in a relaxed manner by taking the slow circular train ride out of Yangon Station. The station itself - a colonial masterpiece - is a worthy destination. The 3-hour ride can give you an authentic, albeit bumpy glimpse into everyday life of the residents of Yangon. Need we say more about the photo opportunities!
7) Temples and Pagodas Galore
The Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple boasts a reclining Buddha statue some 217 feet long. Another highlight is the golden Botatung Pagoda, which is said to house a sacred hair relic of the Buddha. Regardless of which ones you visit, be sure to always remove your shoes, dress appropriately, and display proper etiquette in honour of local traditions, when visiting a religious site. Best to hire a private tour guide, who can not only help you learn more about these attractions but also educate you about the customs.
8) Take a break at Kadawgyi Park
Escape the hustle and the bustle of modern Yangon at tranquil Kadawgyi Nature Park. The Kadawgyi is an artificial lake built by the British; located east of the Shwedagon Pagoda and surrounded by the 100-acre park. A concrete replica of a Burmese royal barge “Karaweik”, now a buffet restaurant, is a major attraction here. You will also see local families at play and the mesmerizing reflection of the golden pagoda – a wonderful photo op, especially during sunset.
9) Enjoy the Sunset from a Hot Air Balloon
Speaking of sunsets, the bird's eye view of the city from a hot air balloon is unparalleled. But just not any hot air balloon ride – get onboard the Mingalabar Balloon, a tethered helium balloon for a safe and enjoyable introduction to the high-altitude experience. Weather permitting, you'll reach a height of up to 400 feet and get a wonderful panorama of the Yangon skyline, Kadawgyi Lake and numerous pagodas.
10) Have a Night Out in Chinatown
For fun, food and shopping, no visitor should miss taking a night time stroll through Yangon's bustling Chinatown (Tayoke Tan), located around 19th Street. You will be surrounded by food stalls, vendors, and a vibrant market scene packed with people. This is a great place for not only sampling the food but taking in the typical and often ramshackle architecture so common in the city. Overall it's a wonderful and authentic experience to be had, day or night.
Ben Pastore is a freelance travel writer and public speaker with firsthand experience in 69 countries across all seven continents. As the author of the witty travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, Ben’s favorite activities are traveling the globe, putting pins on his world map, and planning his next trip.
Image details and license: https://flic.kr/p/229UwFf (Zen Voyager, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/e8HRaQ (Travel Aficionado, CC BY-NC 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/kzjPNU (Dan Lundberg, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://pixabay.com/en/noodles-local-popular-lunch-dinner-1731162/, https://flic.kr/p/oXUhVf (Clay Gilliland, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/565gAn (Marina & Enrique, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/24xDQqG (alh1, CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/dWCN9R (Alexander Schimmeck, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/24yaEZM (LWYang, CC BY 2.0)