What are the best things to do in Yangon?

Natalie Bailey

It should come as no surprise that in deeply Buddhist Burma the two main attractions in Yangon for locals and tourists alike revolve around that religion – bring your camera because both are truly special places. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors think you should be able to knock off the five best things to do and see in Yangon in two days or less:
 
1. Shwedagon Pagoda. You could easily spend hours basking in the peaceful ambience that blankets the area around this gilded 325-foot tall pagoda. It’s purported to house a number of Buddhist relics, including hair from Gautama Buddha, and attracts hordes of locals and tourists alike. The pagoda is particularly magical around sunset.
 
2. Chaukhtatgyi Paya. Giant reclining Buddhas are not particularly rare in Asia, but this one is well worth seeing. Make sure to check out the Buddha’s crown, which is encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones. You’ll need to hire a car to get out here, and make sure to have your driver wait for you as it will be difficult to find a ride back after your visit.
 
3. Bogyoke Aung San Market. A visit to this market is easly the best shopping experience you’ll have in Yangon. Here you’ll find longyis (Burmese-style skirts) for both men and women, pearls, gems, jewelry, handicrafts and much more. Haggling is expected, but do keep in mind that most prices are already rather low compared to Western standards.
 
4. Aung San Suu Kyi’s House. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest on and off for 21 years, but was released in November 2010 and is now a member of parliament and allowed to travel outside of Yangon. A visit to her house was nearly impossible until recently, so a drive by her abode – and ultimately prison – is very much worth the trip.
 
5. Architectural Walking Tour. A stroll down Yangon’s busy streets, past former government buildings, the old train station and other crumbling structures, will yield a fascinating – and photogenic – look at the city’s deep ties to its British colonial past. Hire a guide, or do it yourself by locating sites on the Yangon City Heritage List.

  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What’s the difference between Yangon and Rangoon and Myanmar and Burma?

    Burma became Myanmar and Rangoon was changed to Yangon in 1989 when the country fell under the rule of a widely maligned military junta that stayed in power until 2011, when it was formally dissolved. The variations in spellings and pronunciations came out of the country’s years spent under British rule, so while you can use whichever ones you’d like, choosing one name over the other has historically been a political act. For example, the United States has regularly referred to the country as Burma instead of Myanmar as a way to call into question the junta’s authority.
     
    Though a new government has been put into place, many officials from the previous junta are still in positions of power. Still, international relations are quickly changing – the U.S. recently lifted long-standing sanctions on the country – so it’s likely that nomenclature differences such as these may soon fade.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What is the best thing to bring home from Yangon?

    Myanmar is known for its dazzling rubies, but gem scams are somewhat common and purchasing these precious stones can be tricky unless you know how to spot the differences between a fake and the real deal. If you do decide to shop for rubies or other gems, we feel it’s important to note that many rubies are often obtained through slave-like working conditions and that all precious stone purchases are supposed to be properly documented with receipts.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors instead suggest that the best thing to bring home from Yangon are pearl necklaces, handmade longyis (for both men and women) or one of the many beautiful antiques found throughout the city in markets, small shops and roadside stalls. When you buy such items directly from a vendor, your tourist dollars will almost certainly go to the right place (as opposed to a government-sponsored store) and help the local economy, so purchase such souvenirs without a trace of regret.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What are the five best Yangon food experiences?

    Those familiar with the robust flavors and spices of Thai and Indian food will find many similarities in Yangon’s Burmese cuisine. While tasting your way through the local dishes in this spellbinding city, make sure to seek out our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite food experiences:
     
    1. Sugarcane Juice. When you see somebody turning a crank at a large metal contraption on the street and grinding what looks like thick, creamy yellow stalks, this is your cue to pull up a stool and order a cup of freshly “squeezed” sugarcane juice. It’s incredibly refreshing on a hot day and not as sweet as you might think – think liquid powdered sugar with a hint of lime.
     
    2. Mohinga. Mohinga is a satisfying Burmese fish-and-noodle soup and national dish that locals often indulge for breakfast. It’s served at restaurants and street stalls throughout the day – one of our favorite spots to slurp a bowl of it down at is Feel Myanmar Food.
     
    3. Mont let Saung. Tapioca, rice, coconut and sesame seeds drowned in coconut milk make up this sweet, refreshing dessert. Shwe yin aye is another tasty variation made with seaweed, coconut milk, tapioca, sugar, rice flour and ice.
     
    4. Lahpet. These are pickled tea leaves served in salads as well as drunk in green or black tea. Lahpet is a local favorite, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it in many different varieties.
     
    5. Burmese-style Indian. Try Burmese takes on popular Indian specialties such as biryani, chapati and falooda. If you want to enjoy it with some kind of protein, seafood is generally safe in Yangon thanks to its location near the coast, but we advise sticking with pork and poultry if you travel north to Mandalay just to be on the safe side.
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  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    Where is the best nightlife in Yangon?

    Don’t expect much of a lively nightlife scene in sleepy Yangon, a laid-back city still emerging from years of rule by an oppressive junta that at times enforced dusk-to-dawn curfews and other strict rules. With that said, there are a few wonderful spots for kicking back a few cold drinks after a hot day exploring the city.
     
    For a taste of expat life in Yangon our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend heading to 50th Street Café Restaurant and Bar for international dishes, happy hour drink specials, free Wi-Fi and a chat with the foreign aid workers and journalists who frequent this cozy spot. For more glitz and glamour and a glimpse at what might be in store for Yangon in the coming years, The Space Bar is a modern club with a sleek bar area and comfortable outdoor seating. Many of the city’s luxury hotels, including The Strand Yangon, also have stately bars frequented by an affluent international clientele.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What is the best way to see Yangon in one day?

    While you should be sure to have plenty of open space on your memory card for all the photos you’ll be snapping of Yangon’s spectacular sites, there actually aren’t too many attractions in the city so you should be able to see the major ones in just one day.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggestion getting an early start to your day, when the sun is still low and before the temperature precipitously rises, with a walking tour through Yangon’s winding streets, where you’ll pass crumbling architecture and get a feel for the deeply religious nature of the locals. If you want to do it yourself without the assistance of a guide, mine the Yangon City Heritage List for suggested spots to seek out, including government offices, the old railway station and various pagodas. Stop for some traditional Burmese food at Feel Myanmar Food or Happy Café and Noodles, then hail a taxi and head to Chaukhtatgyi Paya to see the massive indoor reclining Buddha – ask your driver to wait for you since taxis are often few and far between in this area.
     
    Afterwards have your driver drop you off at Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you can browse pearls, rubies, silks and much more – this is one of our favorite shopping experiences in Yangon. Give yourself enough time to wrap up your afternoon watching the sun set behind the truly stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, considered by Buddhists as the holiest place in the country. Linger as long as you’d like, then finish the day in style with a gourmet dinner and glass of wine at upscale Le Plenteur.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to stay at in Yangon?

    For years many visitors to Yangon have preferred to stay in small, family-run guesthouses instead of the more upscale hotels to ensure their dollars went into the local economy and not to the ruling junta. As the country slowly moves closer to a democracy, however, those valid concerns about inadvertently funneling money to the wrong places will hopefully become less and less necessary. With that in mind, here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best places to stay in Yangon:
     
    1. The Strand Yangon. This regal three-story Victorian luxury hotel was built in 1901 and has hosted everyone from British royalty to Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and other members of the literary royalty. Now a favorite of the traveling elite, The Strand Yangon features 30 spacious suites with amenities that include 24-hour butler service, free Internet access and a stocked mini-bar. The well-trained concierge team here can do just about anything for you.
     
    2. Traders Hotel, Yangon. Expect timeless elegance and unmatched service at this beautiful hotel that’s part of the prestigious Shangri-la family. Its central location in the heart of Yangon can’t be beat, the 242 well-appointed guest rooms and suites come with a host of luxurious amenities and facilities include an outdoor pool, fitness center, four restaurants and bars and business center. Fun fact: Several rooms were once rented by the United Nations and used as offices.
     
    3. The Governor’s Residence. This charming colonial-style mansion dates back to the 1920s and was actually the governor’s residence for a time. Guest rooms and suites are tastefully decorated – we like the Deluxe Garden View rooms best – and we loved sipping cocktails outdoors at the Mindon Lounge, which is surrounded by palm trees and the hotel’s lush tropical garden. The beautiful fan-shaped swimming pool is a godsend after a long day spent exploring the city.
     
    4. Savoy Hotel Yangon. You’ll enjoy professional, personalized service during a stay at this small, colonial-style hotel with just 24 deluxe guest rooms and 6 suites. All accommodations are adorned with Burmese antiques and include a welcome basket of fruit, free Wi-Fi and the option to have a member of the staff unpack your bags for you. We could easily spend an entire afternoon lounging by the hotel’s courtyard pool.
     
    5. Sedona Hotel Yangon. For those looking for more modern conveniences over Old World colonial charm, Sedona Hotel Yangon has 366 guest rooms and suites, a fully equipped fitness center, outdoor tennis courts, putting green, swimming pool and eight bars and restaurants. It is a bit removed from most of the action in central Yangon, but you can get there via a short 15-minute ride on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    Where is the best shopping in Yangon?

    Centrally located Bogyoke Aung San Market offers the best shopping opportunities in Yangon. A quick browse through the stalls at this sprawling market will yield everything from handmade longyis to gold and gems priced at a fraction of the cost they’re sold for in most other parts of the world. Burma is known for its rubies, but the purchase of these and other precious stones is regulated by the government and should be done with official certification.
     
    The market is also a popular place to change American dollars over to kyat, the local currency. (Burma does – finally – have some ATMs, but at the moment they are only for local account holders.) The exchange rate often differs from one money changer to the next, so feel free to try and negotiate the best rate possible and to try a different vendor if you’re not happy with the offer.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What are the best things to do with kids in Yangon?

    Though Yangon doesn’t have many attractions specifically geared towards kids, younger travelers will enjoy seeing most of the major attractions in Yangon just as much as you will. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best things to do with kids in Burma’s former capital city:
     
    1. Shwedagon Pagoda. This spectacular sacred site has great appeal for visitors of all ages. You’ll see local families praying and lounging around this towering gilded pagoda, which has lots of open space conducive to exploring. Don’t forget your camera – and a near-empty memory card – and try to time your visit around sunset.
     
    2. Chaukhtatgyi Paya. What child would not love to stand before a 240-foot long reclining Buddha? This is one of our favorite attractions in Yangon and is well worth the short venture out from downtown – just be sure to ask your taxi driver to wait for you since taxis are not widely available otherwise.
     
    3. Bogyoke Aung San Market. While the majority of the goods for sale at this market are geared more towards adults, kids will still find all sorts of games and baubles to beg you for. After winding your way through the stalls, look for one of the many gigantic metal juicers lining the road outside and stop for cups of fresh sugarcane juice.
     
    4. Swimming. If your hotel does not have a pool, you and your little ones can take a break from Yangon’s dusty heat by taking a dip in one of the city’s three public pools: Kandawgyi Swimming Pool, Kokkin Swimming Club and the National Swimming Pool.
     
    5. Kandawgyi Lake. A lush 110-acre park that’s popular for strolling and picnicking wraps around this beautiful lake, where kids will be fascinated by the golden Karaweik barge that’s parked near the eastern shore. There’s also a zoological garden with an amusement park and aquarium, though the condition of the zoo’s facilities may trouble some animal lovers.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Natalie Bailey answered the question: Natalie Bailey

    What are the best things to do in Yangon?

    It should come as no surprise that in deeply Buddhist Burma the two main attractions in Yangon for locals and tourists alike revolve around that religion – bring your camera because both are truly special places. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors think you should be able to knock off the five best things to do and see in Yangon in two days or less:
     
    1. Shwedagon Pagoda. You could easily spend hours basking in the peaceful ambience that blankets the area around this gilded 325-foot tall pagoda. It’s purported to house a number of Buddhist relics, including hair from Gautama Buddha, and attracts hordes of locals and tourists alike. The pagoda is particularly magical around sunset.
     
    2. Chaukhtatgyi Paya. Giant reclining Buddhas are not particularly rare in Asia, but this one is well worth seeing. Make sure to check out the Buddha’s crown, which is encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones. You’ll need to hire a car to get out here, and make sure to have your driver wait for you as it will be difficult to find a ride back after your visit.
     
    3. Bogyoke Aung San Market. A visit to this market is easly the best shopping experience you’ll have in Yangon. Here you’ll find longyis (Burmese-style skirts) for both men and women, pearls, gems, jewelry, handicrafts and much more. Haggling is expected, but do keep in mind that most prices are already rather low compared to Western standards.
     
    4. Aung San Suu Kyi’s House. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest on and off for 21 years, but was released in November 2010 and is now a member of parliament and allowed to travel outside of Yangon. A visit to her house was nearly impossible until recently, so a drive by her abode – and ultimately prison – is very much worth the trip.
     
    5. Architectural Walking Tour. A stroll down Yangon’s busy streets, past former government buildings, the old train station and other crumbling structures, will yield a fascinating – and photogenic – look at the city’s deep ties to its British colonial past. Hire a guide, or do it yourself by locating sites on the Yangon City Heritage List.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to eat at in Yangon?

    Though the food scene in Yangon may not enjoy the same international prestige as other major Southeast Asian cities such as Bangkok and Singapore do, you’ll find no shortage of cheap and cheerful local cafés in the city, as well as a number of upscale restaurants, many of which are located in hotels. With an equal focus placed on both local specialties and Western-style classics, here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for five of the best places to eat at in Yangon:
     
    1. Traders Hotel, Yangon. You’ll likely have to restrain yourself from overindulging the heavenly spread of international cuisine laid out in the morning at this gorgeous luxury hotel. This sprawling buffet is ideal for fueling up before a long day of sightseeing – and the food itself is excellent.
     
    2. Happy Café and Noodles. Find a seat either in the airy indoor dining space or outdoors in the garden, order a bowl of Burmese-style noodles and we’re confident you’ll leave raving about your experience and feeling happy indeed.
     
    3. Le Plenteur. This romantic restaurant located a short ride away from Shwedagon Pagoda offers modern European and Indochine fare served in a charming dining room with decidedly colonial ambience. You can dine indoors in the red-brick mansion or outside in the lush garden, and order from either a set or a la carte menu.
     
    4. Mr. Guitar Café. The cocktails flow freely at this lively spot that serves solid Western, Burmese and Asian-fusion cuisine and hosts live music every night of the week from a talented house band that regularly welcomes guest singers.
     
    5. Feel Myanmar Food. Pull up a chair and order a bowl of mohinga (Burmese fish-and-noodle soup) at this popular local spot that seems to always be packed during the lunch and dinner hours.
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