Yangon

Despite rapid modern development, Yangon still retains its old-world charm through old-fashioned teashops, traditional street markets and more.

Despite having lost its status as capital to Naypyidaw in 2005, Yangon remains Myanmar’s principal city. The resplendent Shwedagon Pagoda is the undisputed show stealer, but Yangon holds plenty of other attractions and the faded colonial charm of the downtown district warrants at least a couple of days’ sightseeing.

For centuries a lowly fishing village, Yangon rose to prominence in 1755 with the founding of a harbour at the confluence of the Yangon and Bago rivers. Under the British, who annexed the port in 1852 and renamed the city 'Rangoon', it became prosperous and cosmopolitan thanks to the booming teak and gem-stone trade. With the economic isolation of the independence era, however, the city entered a kind of time warp and signs of modernisation only began to appear in the mid-1990s.

With the recent political changes, this process is now starting to accelerate, but the old-world charm remains in the city’s old-fashioned teashops, sidewalk noodle stalls, shabby colonial-era buildings and traditional street markets where traders squat beside piles of fresh produce.

 

When to go

The best time to visit is during the relatively cool, dry winter months between November and February. Travel can be problematic from May to September, as the rains wash out roads and delay trains.

Visa requirements

All visitors require a visa, which for tourists allows a 28-day visit and must be obtained in advance of travel. Visa applications in Singapore are strictly by online appointment only: www.mesingapore.org.sg/visa.html. For the e-Visa application, visit: http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/

Money

Myanmar kyat (pronounced chat). Most hotels and travel agents charge in US dollars, and you'll also need them for air and rail tickets, and for admission to some major sights. Other expenses are paid in kyat. ATMs operated by CB Bank and KBZ Bank can be used by foreigners, but should not be relied upon. You can also exchange Singapore dollars, euros or (preferably) US dollars at banks or licensed moneychangers. There are ATMs and moneychangers at the airport. All dollar bills must be in mint condition, and ideally issued no earlier than 2008, or they will be rejected. Avoid changing money in the street.

Transport

 A taxi from the airport to downtown costs K7000, or you can take a seat in a shared vehicle. Within the city, taxis offer great value for money although few drivers speak fluent English. Motorbikes are banned from the city centre.

Health and safety tips

While there is little risk of contracting malaria in Yangon, dengue fever is present and you should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Don't drink water unless it is bottled or has been boiled. Fruit should be peeled before being eaten, and it's best to avoid the raw vegetables which are commonly served with Burmese meals. The poor state of the country's health-care facilities means that your insurance should cover air evacuation in case of an emergency.↵↵ Muggings and petty thefts are much less frequent than in more developed Asian countries, but still take the same precautions as you would at home. In addition, it's advisable to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, and not to take photographs of soldiers, police or military installations.

Emergency details

Singapore Embassy:

Singapore, 238 Dhamazedi Road, Bahan Township, Yangon. Tel: (95) 1 559001, www.mfa.gov.sg


Police:

The most central police station is on Sule Pagoda Road, across from Traders Hotel. Tel: (95) 1 37 1054.

Basic greetings
English Burmese
Hello Min-gala-ba
How are you? Ne-kaun-la?
Fine, thanks Ne-kaun-ba-deh-ce-ze-beh
Goodbye Bain-bain
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Tas'eiq-lauq!
Thank you Ce-zu-tin-ba-deh
Yes Houq-keh
No Ma-houq-pa-bu
OK Houq-keh
What's your name? K΄amya- [m]/shin [f] nan-meh-beh-lo-k΄aw-dhaleh?
My name is… Canaw [m]/cama [f] yeh-nan-meh-ga…ba
Nice to meet you K΄amya [m]/shin [f] go-twe-ya-da-wun-tha-ba-deh
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? K΄amya [m]/shin [f] p΄e-buq/twiq-ta-baw-hma-shi-dhala?
Where’s an internet café? In-ta-neq-kaw-p΄i-zain-tasain-beh-ne-ya-hma-shi-leh?
Where can I get a taxi? Canaw [m]/cama [f] a-hnga-ka beh-ne-ya-hma ya-nain-ma-leh?
Where is the bus/train station? Baq-saka-geiq/ya-t’a bu-da-youn ga beh-ne-ya-hma-leh?
A one-way/return ticket to… …go thwa-deh a-thwa da-jaun/a-thwa-a-pyan leq-hmaq
Do you have a room for one/two? K΄amya [m]/shin [f] hma lu-tayauq/hnayauq-atweq ak΄an-tak΄an-shi-dhala?
When's check out? Ho-teh-ga-ceq-auq-t΄weq-pe-ya-deh-acein-ga-beh-acein-leh?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? K’amya [m]/shin [f] sa-thauq-s’ain/ ba- kaun- gaun- ta-k’ú hnyu`n-pe- nain-mala?
A table for two, please Ce-zu pyu-byi- lu hnaqauq-sa yaq-sa zabweh- ta-loun- pe-ba
A menu, please Ce-zu pyu-byi-asa-athauq-amyi-sayin- be-ba
The bill, please Ce-zu pyu- byi-koun-ca-ngwe-sayin (ngwe-tau`n-k’an-hlwa) pe ba
Where's the toilet? Ein-dha-beh-hma- shi-leh?
Help! Ku-nyi-jaba-oun!

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Kandawgyi Lake

Main entrance on Kan Yeik Than Road

The northern shore of Kandawgyi Lake is home to the children’s playgrounds and picnic areas of Bogyoke Aung San Park. The lake’s best-known sight, though, is the flamboyant – Karaweik Restaurant on the eastern shore. Constructed in the early 1970s, the floating structure replicates a royal barge but is made of brick and concrete. In the evenings, starting at 6.30pm, popular buffet dinners feature a three-hour culture show including music, classical dance and puppetry. In the area around the Karaweik are numerous more down-to-earth restaurants, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset.

Nga Htat Gyi and Kyauk Htat Gyi Pagodas

Shwegondine Road

Around 14km (9 miles) northwest of the centre is Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda, in which a huge sitting Buddha, dating from 1558, resides in an early 20th-century shrine. Sometimes called the 'five-storey Buddha' because of its size, the figure is unique for the huge, flame-like pieces of gilded armour, or magites, protruding from his giant head and shoulders. On the opposite side of Shwegondaing Road, Kyauk Htat Gyi Pagoda is a pavilion housing a 70-metre (230ft) reclining Buddha. Elsewhere in the pagoda enclosure is a centre devoted to the study of sacred Buddhist manuscripts.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Singuttara Hill

Few religious monuments cast as powerful a spell as Shwedagon Pagoda. This gigantic golden stupa is the must-visit for Burmese Buddhists, and a potent symbol of national identity. In recent decades it has also become a rallying point for the pro-democracy movement. Its unique sanctity derives from the belief that it enshrines relics not merely of the historical Buddha, Gautama, but also those of three of his predecessors. It’s best visited in early evening, when it is transformed by the warm light of sunset. The whole terrace has a constant swirl of activity, as worshippers pause to pray and perform rituals.

Sule Pagoda

Junction of Mahabandoola Road and Sule Pagoda Road

The logical place to begin any tour of Yangon is Sule Pagoda, which was the centre of the street plan set out by the British in the mid-19th century. The shining stupa is still at the heart of the downtown area, but is now surrounded by shops, swirling traffic and office blocks. It is said to date back to 230 BC, when a pair of monks were sent from India to build a shrine containing a strand of hair of the Buddha. As well as its religious significance, the Sule Pagoda has been the site of several famous political demonstrations in recent decades.

The colonial district

Yangon has the largest colonial district in Southeast Asia, but many of the structures have lapsed into an advanced state of disrepair. There are now moves to renovate many of them, including the huge Secretariat between Anawrahta Road and Mahabandoola Road. The perfect primer is the massive City Hall on the northeast corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Mahabandoola Road and you should also make time for the many heritage buildings nearby on Pansodan Street. This runs south to Strand Road, where you’ll find the famous Strand Hotel which was lavishly restored in the mid-1990s.

Taukkyan War Cemetery

Just off the main Yangon–Bago highway

Just off the main Yangon–Bago highway, 35km (21 miles) north of the city, Taukkyan (also known as Htauk Kyant) is the largest of Burma’s war cemeteries. It holds the graves of 6,374 Allied and Commonwealth servicemen killed in World War II, as well as memorial plaques listing the names of 27,000 more whose bodies were never found or identified. A large proportion were from India and Africa. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the site is impeccably well kept and a moving tribute to the mainly young men who lost their lives fighting the Japanese in the early 1940s.

Shop

Augustine Souvenir Shop

The sumptuous Augustine Souvenir Shop is crammed with quality antique silverware, lacquer, woodcarving, metalwork, colonial furniture, stone figures and traditional porcelain. It’s quite a cluttered collection, a place to linger and explore rather than dash in and out. There are some fascinating items in the shop, although they aren’t cheap.

Budget $$$

Bagan Book House

If it’s in print and about Myanmar, then there’s a very good chance that Bagan Book House will stock it. In fact, even if it’s out of print the odds are good. They’ve gone as far as printing and bounding copies of old colonial-era rarities, covering topics as obscure as how to look after your elephant.

Budget $

Bogyoke Aung San Market

Stalls at the huge Bogyoke Aung San Market sell a wonderful range of Burmese handicrafts, including textiles, woodcarvings, lacquerware, dolls, musical instruments, colourful longyis (sarongs), bags and wickerware. It’s as much an experience as it is a shopping destination, and it also has numerous food stalls and tea shops – the avocado shake stall outside is recommended.

Budget $

J’s Irrawaddy Dream

Stalls at the huge Bogyoke Aung San Market sell a wonderful range of Burmese handicrafts, including textiles, woodcarvings, lacquerware, dolls, musical instruments, colourful longyis (sarongs), bags and wickerware. It’s as much an experience as it is a shopping destination, and it also has numerous food stalls and tea shops – the avocado shake stall outside is recommended.

Budget $$$

Nandawun

The largest privately owned craft centre in Myanmar, Nandawun is a fantastic one-stop shop for souvenir hunters. It stocks a huge range of tapestries, silk, authentic tribal costume, paintings on silk and cotton, as well as woodcarving, lacquerware and other crafts. The building also contains a branch of the Myanmar Book Centre.

Budget $$

Pomelo

Describing itself as a ‘fair trade marketplace’, Pomelo sells high quality handicrafts made by small-scale producers. There’s an emphasis on helping disadvantaged producers, such as those who are homeless or have disabilities, to improve their social and economic positions. Unusually, the goods – which include jewellery, textiles, papier mâché and more – are organized according to colour.

Budget $$

Dine

Aung Thuka

17 (A) 1st Street, West Shwegondaing

An authentic, no-frills introduction to Burmese cooking, Aung Thuka is conveniently situated just three blocks north of the Shwedagon Pagoda, down a small side street close to the Savoy Hotel. There are no menus or tablecloths, or even walls. Just take your pick from the selection of curries and salads in pots ranged on the long counter at the back, which will come with the usual bowls of sauce, soup and veggies. The venison is recommended, but everything’s packed with flavour.

Budget $

Feel Myanmar Food

124 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Street

Packed with as many locals as foreign visitors,Feel ranks among the top Burmese restaurants in Yangon. Forget the menu, just pick from the huge range of fish, chicken and vegetable curries arrayed in the buffet. You can take your meal outdoors for an informal vibe, or stay in for a more conventional restaurant experience. The prices are great and they even do a nice cup of cappuccino.

Budget $

Green Elephant

3 (H), Block 801, 27th Street, Aung Daw Mu Quarter

Particularly popular with foreign tourists and expats, Green Elephant provides a perfect introduction to Burmese cooking as they go easy on the oil and spices. Meals are served in a double-storey, open-sided wooden dining hall which has a laid-back atmosphere. There’s also an on-site handicraft shop with some high-quality souvenirs.

Budget $$

Le Planteur

22 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, Bahan Township

Le Planteur serves refined, exquisitely presented French cuisine prepared by a Michelin-starred chef. Get there early enough and you can have a pre-dinner drink in the sexy, red-velvet-lined lounge, before eating in a candlelit garden under a craggy old cashew tree. For mains, try the leg of pork with honey or melt-in-the-mouth lobster in lotus stems, and for dessert, the sublime chocolate gateau if it’s on. The wine list is the best in the country. Pick-up and drop-offs in a vintage British car by arrangement. Reservation essential.

Budget $$$

L’Opera

62 D, U Tunein Street, Mayangone Township

For the most succulent, authentic Italian food in the city head for L’Opera. Served alfresco in the grounds of a double-fronted British-era villa, on the banks of a small lake, you’ll find fresh pasta with shrimps and courgettes, spaghetti in truffle sauce, imported Tuscan cold cuts, wood-fired pizza and wonderful saffron risotto. They also have a full list of quality Italian wines.    

Budget $$$

Pandonmar

78C Inya Road

One of the gastronomic highlights of Yangon has to be a Burmese or Thai meal in the lantern-lit garden at Pandonmar, a 19th-century house on Inya Road. Everything’s fragrant and filled with unexpected flavours, from the gourd fritters to the Bagan-style pork in bean paste and creamy river prawn curry. It can get busy with tour groups, but the service is attentive.

Budget $$

Stay

Chan Myaye

256–276 Mahabandoola Garden Road

With friendly staff, tons of information for travellers and comfortable rooms, Chan Myaye is a fantastic budget choice. You need to be reasonably fit to stay here, though, as reception is up on the 4th floor and most bedrooms are even higher up. Travellers on a very tight budget will appreciate the new dorms, where each bed unusually has a curtain for privacy and its own a/c unit. There’s even a dorm with double beds.

Budget $

Classique Inn

53 B, Shwe Taung Kyar Street (Golden Valley Road)

Buried deep in the smart Golden Valley neighbourhood, the Classique is an impeccably run B&B.; The rooms are spacious and attractively furnished, with white walls, teak beds and silk throws. The staff couldn’t be more attentive, and there’s a relaxing garden terrace to lounge on. It’s well placed for the airport and within walking distance of Shwedagon, though you’ll need a taxi for trips downtown.

Budget $$

East

234-240, (1) Quarter, Sule Pagoda Road, Kyauktada

The East is a dependable mid-scale option right in the city centre, close to the Sule Pagoda and Bogyoke market area. Some of its rooms are on the small side, but they are well furnished and with quality bedding. The open bathrooms – they have no doors – may not be to everyone’s taste.    

Budget $$

Governor’s Residence

35 Taw Win Road

If your budget can stretch to it, the British-owned Governor’s Residence is the most commendable high-end option in Yangon. Housed in an elegant 1920s mansion in the heart of the embassy district, it oozes colonial-era chic. The rooms have polished teak floors and slatted windows opening on to lawned grounds dotted with lotus ponds. Relax on the wrap-around veranda as paddle fans whirl overhead, and be waited on by staff in traditional anyi jackets and longyis.

Budget $$$

Savoy

129 Dhammazedi Road

The Savoy occupies a genteel colonial-era building close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, with an airy raised veranda overlooking a small courtyard pool. The furnishings are in-period, the bathrooms sumptuous and staff unfailingly helpful. It’s the most agreeable boutique option in the city, with a restaurant and bar which are also highly regarded.

Budget $$$

Three Seasons

83–85 52nd Street

The Three Seasons is a simple, family-run B&B; located in a quiet suburban street close to Botataung Pagoda. All rooms are air-conditioned and have a fridge, and superb breakfasts are served in the second-storey dining hall. There’s also a shaded courtyard at the front. The place’s best assets, however, are the welcoming and helpful staff.

Budget $

Divali

October, November

The 'Festival of Lights' is celebrated by Hindus throughout the country, but one legacy of British colonial rule is that Yangon has a particularly high population of people with Indian or Nepalese backgrounds.


Independence Day

4 January

This public holiday is celebrated with officially-organised festivities throughout the country. Among the highlights in Yangon are boat races on Inya Lake.


New Year’s Day

17 April

The riotous Thingyan water festival is followed by New Year’s Day, a time for visiting family and sharing food among the community. Fish are symbolically released from lakes and rivers which are drying up.


Shwedagon Pagoda Festival

February, March

Yangon’s magnificent stupa becomes the centre of a week-long period of intense veneration during its annual festival. This event attracts huge crowds from across Myanmar, and includes traditional puppet shows and dance recitals.


Thadingyut full moon festival

October

This festival of lights celebrates the Buddha’s return from heaven to earth, and means weddings and other secular celebrations ­– not allowed during the previous three months – can now take place. Candles and oil lamps illuminate monasteries, pagodas, houses and trees.


Thingyan

13 April - 16 April

At the height of the hot season comes Myanmar’s biggest party. Water is poured from delicate silver vessels, sprayed from water pistols, hurled from buckets, and even blasted from fire hydrants to wash away the old year and welcome the new.


Shopaholic

Start the day at the country’s largest shopping area, Bogyoke Aung San Market (closed Monday) at the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road. You can’t beat it for sheer variety: there are around 2,000 shops under one roof, offering a massive selection of antiques, fake antiques, arts and handicrafts. The market is popular with tourists, so you’ll need to bargain hard to get the best prices.

A bridge leads north from the market over the railway line towards Yaw Min Gee Street, where you can visit Gallery Sixty Five – one of the best places to see, and buy, contemporary Burmese art. Then go back to Bogyoke Aung San Road and either head east to the Parkson FMI International department store – an air-conditioned haven stocking designer goods – or shop where the locals do, a block south in Theingyi Market (between 23rd and 26th streets). Yangon's oldest market, it sells household wares, textiles, electronics and traditional medicine among other things. Also check out the open-air produce market on 26th Street.

After lunch, why not combine sightseeing with shopping? The collection at the National Museum, on Pyay Road, is mostly badly labelled but there are some interesting objects on display. Moreover the two handicraft concessions have decent stock including CDs of traditional music. Just before sunset head to the unmissable Shwedagon Pagoda, where each entrance has its own bazaar. The one on the east side is particularly good, selling puppets, drums, masks, toys, brassware and metal goods, including swords.

Places to visit:
Bogyoke Aung San Market, Gallery Sixty Five, Parkson FMI International, Theingyi Market, National Museum, Shwedagon Pagoda bazaars.

Foodie

If food is your passion then you’re in the right city, as Yangon’s ethnic mix means that it has by far the most diverse choice of places to eat in Myanmar. Skip your hotel breakfast and dive right in with a bowl of mohinga, tasty fish-broth noodles which is considered to be the national dish. Try them at one of Yangon’s famous teahouses. The city has literally hundreds of them – serving Chinese, Burmese or Indian Muslim specialities – and a good start is Thone Pan Hla, just west of Sule Pagoda.

Spend the morning exploring Theingyi Market, between 23rd and 26th streets, which offers mounds of red chillies and fragrant cinnamon bark, boxes of tropical fruits, dried fish and seafoods, medicinal herbs and bottled concoctions. For lunch try the chicken biryani at Kyet Shar Soon Biryani (corner of Mahabandoola Road and Pansodan Street).

West of here is Chinatown, where the cracked sidewalks are piled high with all manner of goods from melon seeds to live crabs. Join the crowds at Shwe Pu Zun, 246–248 Anawrahta Road, where they serve great cakes (including famous éclairs), as well as the popular faluda (an Indian dessert of jelly and ice cream). In the evening, head for the buzzy Barbecue Street (19th Street). You’ll find rows of grills sizzling away with everything from rib steaks and spicy chicken fillets to pigs’ tails and quails. And it’s not just for carnivores: tofu, broccoli, water chestnuts and fresh beans are also on offer.

Places to visit:
Thone Pan Hla, Theingyi Market, Kyet Shar Soon Biryani, Chinatown, Barbecue Street.

Culture

The most obvious starting point for a walking tour of Yangon’s colonial district is Sule Pagoda, which was the centre of the British street plan and today stands in the middle of a busy roundabout. After visiting the pagoda, take a look at the massive City Hall on the northeast corner the roundabout. Erected in 1924, it fuses typically British style with Burmese elements, such as traditional tiered roofs and a peacock seal high over the entrance.

On the southeastern corner of the roundabout stands Mahabandoola Garden, formerly known as Fitch Square after a 16th-century chronicler and trader who was the first Englishman to visit Burma. Facing the square on the east side are the Queen-Anne-style Supreme Court, dating from 1911, and similarly grand High Court building.

The bookstall-lined Pansodan Street behind the court buildings has some of the most interesting colonial-era buildings including the Internal Revenue Department (with Art Deco touches) and the old Sofaer’s Building (No. 62). The latter used to house shops selling imported luxury goods, and now contains the Lokanat Art Gallery. At the southern end of Pansodan Street is the Strand Hotel, which was lavishly restored to its colonial elegance in the mid-1990s.

 

There are more heritage buildings in both directions on Strand Road, as well as to the northeast on Anawrahta Road where you’ll find the huge Secretariat. In the evening, you could continue in the colonial vein with a drink in the Strand Hotel’s bar – Friday night has a happy hour (5–11pm).

Places to visit:
Place to visit: Sule Pagoda, City Hall, Mahabandoola Garden, Supreme Court, High Court, Pansodan Street, Strand Road, Anawrahta Road.