An Insider’s Guide to Yangon, Myanmar

An Insider’s Guide to Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon is exquisite. Since the time Myanmar opened to the rest of the world, Yangon has been at the centre of the country’s growth. The city dips in and out of its historic past as you travel around paved streets. It has embraced the modern ways of the world without releasing its grasp on its cultural roots.

I remember reading about Myanmar/Burma as a child but not a single word, not a single photo or description happened to do justice to the sights and sceneries that this beautiful country treated us too! I hope you enjoy this Insider’s Guide to Yangon, Myanmar that I have painstakingly put together for you.

 

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Yangon, its largest city, is the heartthrob of the nation. This is where you will sense a lovely vibrancy in the air. This is where you will find the spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda standing witness to centuries of transitions. This is where you will interact with blithe locals who have the most endearing smiles. This is where you will uncover a perfect combination of old and new that sparks your curiosity and satiates the traveller within.

Yangon is approaching modernism at a comfortable pace which makes it worlds apart from other major cities in Southeast Asia. And just like Carl Jung aptly puts it, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder there is a secret order.”  I think that Yangon’s kaleidoscopic disarray incites inquisitiveness and inspires its visitors.

Charmed by the city, my husband, Vikram and I ended up staying longer than we usually do.

 

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Mornings in Yangon began ever so unfailingly with a hot cup of strong, dark tea brewed in a distinctive Burmese style. An addition of sweet condensed milk to the tea gave it a delicious taste and provided an energy rush which saw me through the better part of my morning.

Tea houses are to Burma what pubs are to the Irish. You will find a handful of these in almost every neighbourhood around Yangon. People come together at tea houses for a cup of hot tea and snacks, and talk about politics and sports. If you are visiting a tea house then you may also want to try Mohinga ~ a rice-noodle fish soup which happens to be a favourite breakfast among the locals and tourists alike.

 

Walking down the city streets of Yangon, I realized that I was not the only curious soul. My inquisitiveness resonated with curious glances from the locals too who were always interested in finding out which country we were from.

We’d smile and tell them that we were from India and their lips would curl up in heart-warming smiles with teeth stained by betel nut. “Ah yes, yes”, they would nod, adjust their longyi {local sarong-like skirt worn by men and women} and continue waddling down the street shading themselves from the mid-day sun with an umbrella in hand. This small exchange of words in a foreign city made us feel like we were in a familiar place – surrounded by happy, warm and genuine people.

Needless to say, we loved exploring this fascinating city!

 

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Pagodas are hardly a rarity through the length and breadth of Myanmar. Yangon has at least twelve Buddhist Temples and each has been built with an acute sense of design. While the Shwedagon Pagoda is the highest on the list, less popular temples like the Nga Htat Gyi and Baungdawgyoke Pagoda are also beautifully designed and provide an insight into the importance of religion and culture during the age that they were built in.

“Then, a golden mystery up heaved itself on the horizon… a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire.” – Rudyard Kipling

This is just the kind of amazement that fills your spirit when you lay eyes on the Shwedagon Pagoda for the first time. In all the sombreness of its purpose, the pagoda makes no bones about bedazzling its visitors. In complete awe of the place, we stood there taking in everything from the details of the architecture to the monks in their maroon robes juxtaposed against the golden stupas. On the inside, the pagoda is truly striking and a place for contemplation.

 

Shwedagon Pagoda is a massive complex of pagodas and buildings which surround the main pagoda. The whole place is like a small hamlet in its own. While the primary pagoda draws all the attention, it is in the smaller stupas and pagodas that you will come across interesting tales about their history.

Since Shwedagon Pagoda is a tourist attraction, you will find many tourists and locals visiting the pagoda. The monks don’t mind indulging in conversation. You may not understand them all the time but they certainly add to the experience while also helping you understand the reasons for certain rituals or traditions.

We were able to engage Su Saitta, a 26 year old resident monk in small conversation. It helped us understand the “Seven Day of the Week Buddhas” ~ including their poses and meaning. We were informed that this is in line with the Theravada Buddhism practice which is considered to be one of the oldest styles of Buddhist teachings. We explored the temple looking for the corners which were dedicated to different days of the week, as the monk had explained that we should find the corner for the day on which we were born and then water the Buddha and make a wish.

 

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Shwedagon pagoda, Yangon

 

For us, Yangon’s charm was in its ability to be itself, with the least impact of westernization. It is like the wild child of South East Asia which likes to live a carefree life ~ true to its soul. We loved roaming its streets that were laid out like a labyrinth. You wouldn’t know which streets get you where, but the aimless walks were full of surprises. Not that you can do it over and over again, but you should definitely let your senses rule and the shapes and colours guide you.

 

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As we strolled around the streets of Yangon taking in its day-to-day life, we were spell-bound by the smaller more simpler elements like pop-up stalls on the sidewalks, streets that led to dead-ends, pretty women with their thanaka-covered cheeks peeping out from under their umbrellas to sell their wares to customers… As tourists, we could just stand and gaze at everything around us without being tugged on, or lured by shop owners. The market stalls were up for the locals so tourists did not get a lot of attention and we enjoyed looking around and taking pleasure in the ways of local life in the city without being disturbed.

In search of a market for handmade products, we landed at the Bogyoke Aung San Market ~ a lovely place for Burmese handicrafts and antiques. We found many artisans and craftsmen busy at work creating or assembling products which really reinforced the authenticity of the goods sold here {the market maintains the essence of the country’s heritage by selling products that have been created by indigenous craftsmen}. Buying products directly from these local vendors helps the local economy and also ensures that you return home with authentic souvenirs from Myanmar!

 

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Some areas of Yangon have transformed dramatically in the last few years while other areas continue to be a reminder of its rich cultural heritage. Kandawgyi Park, peaceful and perfectly manicured is an ideal place to cool your heels after a day of sightseeing. Much like any other park we’d been to, we spotted Burmese couples canoodling under palm trees, teenagers playing toss-a-ball, old men and women resting on wooden benches, and young parents with their toddlers strolling along the lily pads carpeted Kandawgyi Lake.

Kandawgyi park encompasses the beautiful Kandawgyi Lake which is bordered by a wooden boardwalk. We walked along the lake admiring the spectacular Kandawgyi Palace Hotel and the iconic Karaweik {a replica of a traditional Burmese Royal Boat}. This part of Yangon was very different from the vivacious streets that we had visited earlier in the day. Their presence complemented each other like the sun and moon. While the sun is all bright and exuberant, the moon is quiet and calm.

 

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After sipping delicious tea in the morning, we resorted to eating some at night. 🙂 We really did enjoy eating tea at a small street-side restaurant. Under the blanket of a warm November night, seated on plastic chairs arranged on the sidewalk, we enjoyed spoonful after spoonful of the simple yet incredibly delicious tea-leaf salad {fermented tea leaves, cabbage, and lots of crunchy bits seasoned with lime and fish sauce} ~ a local specialty that had become our favourite dish in Myanmar.

 

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Yangon was the last stop on our 2 week adventure in Myanmar, but it couldn’t have offered a better conclusion to the country’s culture, its history, people, and their values. We contemplated extending our stay because we felt that the country deserved more time to be fully explored and to be completely understood. Having returned to India, we’ve talked yearningly about Myanmar, about our experiences and our journeys through its exhilarating landscapes. We still harbour a feeling that we missed out on some key places of interest… perhaps, another time.

 

A few things we noticed in Yangon:

  • Traditional clothing in Myanmar is very elegant. Most women love to wear bright and colourful clothes that seem to lend a very cheerful vibe to the place. Most men wear longyis paired with button-down shirts. It reminded me of the attire of men in coastal areas in India.
  • While most cars had their steering wheel on the right side, we were surprised to see that the cars were driven on the right side of the road as well.
  • The locals were courteous towards tourists, and communication didn’t seem like much of a problem because most shop owners could speak basic English. Surprisingly, unlike most touristy places, we did not notice people trying to scam or hassle us for money.
  • You may notice traffic bottlenecks in central Yangon but it does not feel overwhelming.
  • For most of our time spent in Yangon we found a visible veil of smog in the city.

 

Overview: Although tourism is still in its nascent stages in Myanmar {all the more reason to visit}, the country is gently opening up to intrepid travellers from all over the world. Eco-tourism is flourishing and I have a feeling that Myanmar will soon become a favourite holiday destination. As for me, I feel a return trip would be a great way to refresh old memories and create new ones!

 

I want to invite you to visit Yangon, with the new expanded awareness that I hope this Insider’s Guide to Yangon, Myanmar has given you. Drop in your comments if you’ve already been to Yangon and share your experiences.

 

* This trip is split in several posts: Bagan / Aureum Palace Resort / Popa Mountain Resort / Inle Lake / Shwe Inn Tha Floating Resort / Stay tuned for my review of the Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel in Yangon
** If you like this article, please share it on social media using the share buttons at the bottom of the post.
*** Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the Ministry of Tourism, Myanmar. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review.

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

36 Comments

  • The photographs in this post are genuine and bona fide. Through these images, I can envision the life of locals in Myanmar. I feel the peaceful vibe there in spite of the fact that I haven’t travelled to Yangon before.

  • Hello Tanya,
    Thank you for all the travel tips. My wife and I will be visiting Myanmar later this month, and will be sure to follow your recommended itinerary. You made it simpler for me to design our trip to Yangon… All the best!

    • My pleasure, Anand. I can’t believe that it was only a couple of months ago that we were in this gorgeous country!

  • Much obliged to you for the informative travel tips. I shall take you up on every one of them, and your photographs are amazing, especially as they make Yangon more striking!

  • I’ve only spent one day in Yangon back in 2014, regardless I’m searching for an opportunity to revisit. Your suggestions here appear to be intriguing.

  • Amazing post, Tanya! I will be visiting Myanmar this December and was looking forward to doing a few things in Yangon and your suggestions help a lot!

  • A debt of gratitude is in order for the pleasant review and travel tips, Tanya. Will definitely come handy on our trip to Burma this year.

  • Love your posts! They are always so real and informative – thank you for giving us a peak into Yangon before we get there!

  • I haven’t been to Burma yet, however it’s in the works. Thank you for this convenient and thorough guide. Must have taken some serious work to compile.

  • I have an extensive rundown of places that I would like to visit, however Burma is right at the top. Phenomenal job assembling this guide and I figure I would be overdosing on tea if I somehow managed to remain in Yangon. 😀

  • Incredible post – much obliged! I will be heading to Myanmar one month from now. Your post gave me an essence of Yangon, and invigorated my hunger and intrigue! Cheers

  • This post contains valuable information. I certainly hope to make my way over there sometime in the not so distant future.

  • Much thanks to you for your section of activities in Yangon. We will be heading there in September/October this year and I appreciate your recommendations!

  • I adore your written work and your photography! This post is awesome as is the selection of photos! My husband is in Yangon right now, and subsequent to perusing your blog entry I regret I didn’t go along with him. Will share this link with him. xx

  • This post is magnificent just like the choice of photographs! I fell in love with Yangon; its authenticity, laid back atmosphere and its gastronomy of course!

  • I have come to work in Yangon, and your post has helped me out a considerable amount in getting acquainted with the place. I look forward to more amazing content from you, Tanya! xx

  • Thank you for the awesome synopsis of Yangon. I am presently living in Yangon and have seen numerous splendid sights; however this summary truly captures the most significant!

  • I am addicted to South East Asia! I work for 2 months, and travel SEA for 2 months. Thank you for taking the time to make the compilation available to us all. 🙂

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