Yangon (more commonly called by its colonial name of Rangoon) is the commercial capital of Myanmar (once known as Burma) and the place you’re most likely to land in on an international commercial flight to Myanmar. As Rangoon, this city was the capital of British Burma in the 19th century.
The major attraction for travellers in Yangon is the incredible Shwedagon Paya pagoda, said to have been built in the time of the Buddha himself. A village has existed here since the 5th century and Yangon seems to have grown up around the pagoda. But don’t be confused as this is not the pagoda at the centre of the city as you might expect. It’s on a line due north of the city centre. The best time to visit the pagoda is during the week as it gets very busy with local tourists on the weekend. You have to pay a 1000 Kt entrance fee but it’s only US$7-8 so don’t jump up and down. You’ll need to leave your shoes at the entrance but you can borrow slippers to wear while you explore. Go around sunset to see the pagoda at its most spectacular.
The other big pagoda in Yangon is the Sule Pagoda which is smack in the middle of the old part of the city. You can hardly miss it. The entrance fee for this pagoda is only 4000 Kt but be sensible as this is a functioning religious site and very important to the local people.
No visit to Yangon would be complete without a ride on the famous (or infamous) circular train. Again, this is not a tourist attraction as such but a functioning (if not entirely functional) commuter train service which gets very busy and full in the morning and afternoon commute. There are no comforts on this train and you sit on hard seats along the open windows, facing each other across the aisle. It’s hot, bumpy, noisy and there are few views we’d describe as memorable, but you do get to see the ordinary neighbourhoods of Yangon and interact with local people. You get get on and off as you please as there’s always another train coming in a half hour or so. Have a look at Thahara Blog for a great description of this train ride.
Chinatown is one of the attractions of Yangon although I wonder why. The crumbling facades of the colonial buildings have a certain olde worlde charm but mostly you’ll go into this area for beer and barbecue in Yangon’s Chinatown. At night many of the side streets become open air restaurants with great food and a great atmosphere.
U Thant was a famous diplomat from Burma who became Secretary-General of the United Nations for 10 years from 1961 (he was the first Asian to hold that post). His home in Yangon is now a museum that attracts a lot of visitors. All through the house there are historical photos that tell the story of the country and it’s development. It’s only open Friday to Sunday from 10AM to 5PM so plan your visit. You’ll need a taxi to get there as it’s a bit out of town. Take the opportunity to stroll around the beautiful grounds and wander the leafy streets of this prestigious neighbourhood. If your taxi driver doesn’t know where it is, tell him “Windermere Crescent, Pan Wah Lane”.
A surprising local attraction in Yangon for us was the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue which is a great reminder than Yangon was once one of the major international trade ports of Asia. Although most of the Jewish people in Yangon left the country and there are no religious services held here any more, it’s still an interesting building to explore and the photos around the building tell a lot about its history. It’s open every day from 10AM to 1PM for visitors and you can find it on the corner of 26th St and Maha Bandula, east of the Sule Pagoda.
If you have the time, head out to Mingaladon township, about 20km from the city centre, and wander through the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Taukkyan. Around 30,000 Commonwealth soldiers died defending Burma from the Japanese and as prisoners in the camps during the war. It’s not a tourist attraction but it is a sobering place to visit.
Where to stay in Yangon
The only area to stay in Yangon is north of the river around Sule Paya, although you might be attracted to the shores of Kandawgyi Lake but there’s not much tourist infrastructure there (yet). There are more than 100 hotels and 120 guest houses to choose from in Yangon.
Cheap places to stay in Yangon
SleepIn Hostel in Lanmadaw Township is a good location in the city centre and easy walk to a big shopping centre where you can buy almost anything you need. There are also lots of good places to eat nearby and it’s a short walk to Chinatown for even better options. This is definitely a backpacker hostel but it’s clean with decent rooms and bathrooms and they include a free breakfast. The staff are genuinely friendly and they run a bar in the downstairs area that’s a great place to meet and mingle with other travellers. It’s air-conditioned but can run pretty cold at times. You can get a bed here for as little as US$10 per night in a 10-bed dormitory but you’ll pay around US$25 a night for a double room.
Hninn Si Budget Inn on Botataung Pagoda Road is a simple but clean and cheap hotel on the east side of the downtown area. The staff are friendly and helpful and the owner (Mike) speaks good English. The rooms have air-con and range from 1-5 beds with shared bathrooms. The hotel has good wifi (but it doesn’t work all the time) and a good breakfast is included in the room rate. There are lots of good places to eat nearby (walk out of the hotel, turn left and left again at the end for good street food).
Good mid-price hotels in Yangon
Alamanda Inn, located in Bahan Township, is a boutique hotel in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the embassy district of Yangon. The colonial-style hotel is spotless and very nicely furnished with fans (better than air-con for sleeping in the tropics and free wifi. The room rate includes a healthy and complete breakfast. French style food is also available for lunch and dinner in the covered outdoor restaurant. Room rates start around US$70.
Classique Inn is located on Golden Valley Road in Bahan Township, right in the centre of Yangon. This boutique colonial style hotel with well furnished rooms is located in the embassy district and is decorated with teak and traditional Burmese lacquerware. The neighbourhood is quite up-market but there are not many choice around for restaurants but the hotel does have a nice terrace area where they serve French style food and coffee. Room rates start around US$85.
Luxury hotels in Yangon
Belmond Governor’s Residence is the hotel you want to choose for the most luxurious experience of Yangon. Located in Dagon Township, this colonial style hotel still offers a colonial style guest experience from the cool lemongrass-scented face washers on arrival to the Myanmar set lunch in the dining room and club sandwiches on the terrace. The hotel is almost 100 years old but it has been well maintained and wears its age like a badge of honour. The rooms are very well appointed with king size beds, double vanities, robes and slippers in the cupboard and nice products in the bathroom. There’s also a bottle of delicious Prosecco and a tray of fruit in your room when you check in. Room rates are around US$285 per night.
The Strand is a five-star colonial hotel built by the Sarkies Brothers in 1901 that has been meticulously restored with huge airy rooms with vintage fittings, teak flooring and furniture, a cafe and bar. Its location in Strand Road tells a story and the elegance it portrays starts right from the moment you’re picked up from Yangon airport and checked in by the hotel’s butler. Your huge room has a king size bed, a sitting area and a washroom and each floor has its own butler. The shower is a bit small but this is an old, remodelled hotel so you have to expect some limitations. Good wifi and a great breakfast served from 4 AM round off the amazing experience of The Strand. Room rates start around US$285 per night.
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