As many Asian capital cities, Yangon at first sight is a nondescript, hot & chaotic city, not an inviting place to stay. Distances are significant, motorbikes and tuk tuk are banned, so your only options are walking in the heat or paying for expensive taxi rides.
Nevertheless, Yangon to us seemed a fascinating crossroad between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. And if you scratch below the surface and take the time to dive into this surprising city, it has a lot to offer. Three days in Yangon are just right, especially since you will want to find some retreat during the hot hours of the day.
- Stroll The Old Colonial City
Yangon has a wealth of old colonial buildings in its city center. Strolling these narrow streets, you can marvel at those rundown buildings and the lost colonial grandeur. Unfortunately, maintenance has been neglected in the last decades, and there seems to be no plan to safeguard this beautiful heritage. Sheer anarchy is the rule, with old colonial buildings painted in various colors, and with just about everyone adding or removing whatever they feel like to the buildings or to parts of them. This might be one of the parts of Myanmar that is most at risk in the short term…
- Riding The Circle Line
A must-do while in Yangon! Check our post: A Shaking Affair – Yangon’s Circle Line
- Discover Street Life
Yangon is a bustling capital city, with all kinds of everyday life activities taking place on the street. Just by strolling the streets and watching proved especially rewarding. Some of the more curious sightings were:
- A new electric cable was installed, a major undertaking in this chaos of cables big and small going about everywhere. Picture this: people holding the cable above the traffic with the help of a bamboo stick with other people people climbing on roofs with flip flops, loosing them on the way up, and you have quite a show!
- Building a bamboo scaffolding is a very shaky and acrobatic show that seemed to defy any rule of gravity. But somehow, after a while, the whole construction was strong and stable! How many accidents occur on such construction sites, we do not know and actually prefer not to…
- Mobile phone street shops: merchants sell brand new, expensive smart phones (yes, iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy 5) from the simplest of street stalls. Add a monk studying the latest model, and you have an unusual sight…
- Division of labor among men & women – hard work is for women! Women carry baskets with building material on their heads on construction sites while men sit around and give orders…
- Sample Street Food
We looked at the prices of restaurants frequented by tourists & expats and decided for some serious street food. And there are tons of opportunities at hand in Yangon. No matter whether you look for a salad, a soup, some fruit juice, excellent grilled food (the grilled fish is amazing, as are the very fat pork ribs or the corn on the cob), or excellent pastries.
- Relax at Tea Houses
Cheap and void of tourists – Try the pastries as well, they are amazing, but very, very rich!
- Go “Funky Haircut Hunting”
Young Burmese men tend to favor eccentric hairdos, more than everywhere else in the world. Check our photo essay: Myanmar – The Land Of Funky Hairdos: Yangon is definitely the place to get great shots.
- A Cocktail With A View
From the Sky Bistro, the outstanding view of the Old City (Central Yangon) makes you aware and how many colonial buildings still exist. The Vista Bar offers most amazing views of Shwedagon Paya, the landmark of Myanmar. Maybe it should be mentioned that cocktails there cheap and excellent!
- Discover Chaukhtatgyi Paya and Ngahtatgyi Papa
The 65 meter long reclining Buddha of Chaukhtatgyi has somehow special, starting with its fainted face with (you may call it make up) to its feet covered with symbols.
Close by sits the Buddha of Ngahtatgyi Paya, 14 meters high, beautiful and very peaceful. Both are famous and an opportunity to spend your day gazing at Buddhas with only locals around you!
- Join The Throngs At Shwedagon Paya
No, this is definitely not Off The Beaten Track… This monumental Paya, with a stupa rising 99 meters above ground and covered with 27 tons of gold leaves plus thousands of diamonds and rubies is the landmark of Mynamar and hence extremely popular with tourists… You will very likely see busloads of them, in organized tours. Above all, avoid sunset. If possible, go there on weekends, when many locals go there. The highlight was actually watching them, fervently pouring water on the Buddha. Join them, but be sure to select the right one: it must correlate to the day of the week when you were born. And do not forget to pour water on the accompanying animal as well… Other activities include sending prayer cards (a golden plate with your wish carved on it) thanks to the Golden Karaweik and having it read on a microphone by a monk… Moe profane activities are taking family pictures, chatting, reading the newspaper or taking a nap in the shade…
Have you been to Chiang Mai? Is Myanmar similar to Chiang Mai?
It might sound surprising, but I do not know Thailand, and actually never was really interested. We spent a few days in Bangkok at the end of our RTW in 2008 but that’s all.
But I am quite sure of one thing: Myanmar is far less touristy. And some of the highlights of Myanmar are really stunning. I will work on a Travel Guide To Myanmar after India (where I am now).