In this article, we have written about the best things to do in Yangon along with the major attractions in Yangon, how to move around and some other tips. Hope this Yangon Travel Guide helps you in planning your trip to Yangon and Myanmar.
The first thing that we noticed when we arrived at Yangon is that it is considerably busier than other cities of Myanmar like Bagan or Mandalay. And Yangon is very similar to Kolkata. The buildings, the riversides everything looked and felt so similar, we could not but fall in love with this city.
If you are visiting Myanmar, then Yangon will definitely be one of the stops in your itinerary. Many tourists keep Yangon as a transit city while heading out to other cities of Myanmar. But Yangon definitely deserves more than a stop. There are quite of lot of things to do in Yangon and a number of interesting sights. It is the most populated city of Myanmar. So you will see the Burmese culture and people quite closely.
- 1 History of Yangon
- 2 Yangon Travel Guide – Things you need to know
- 3 Where is Yangon?
- 4 How to get to Yangon?
- 5 How do you get around Yangon?
- 6 Top Things to do in Yangon
- 6.1 Take a visit to the crown of Myanmar, Shwedagon Pagoda
- 6.2 Kandawagyi Lake
- 6.3 Marvel at the reclining Buddha Statute at Chauk That Gyi Pagoda
- 6.4 Nga Gyi Pagoda
- 6.5 Bogyoke Aung San Market
- 6.6 Visit the 44 metres high golden Sule Pagoda
- 6.7 Explore Yangon Downtown
- 6.8 Visit the Botataung Pagoda
- 6.9 Watch the sunset from the Botataung Harbour (Riverfront) or enjoy an evening Cruise at Yangon River
- 6.10 Take a stroll along the Inya Lake
- 6.11 Take a ride in the Yangon Circular Train
- 6.12 See what the Burmese buys at the Wet Market at 17th Street
- 6.13 Visit the beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral
- 6.14 Discovering the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
- 6.15 The Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar
- 7 Yangon Itinerary – what we did
- 8 Where to stay at Yangon?
- 9 Where do I eat at Yangon?
History of Yangon
During the early eleventh century, Yangon was a small fishing village around the Shwedagon Pagoda under the Mon kingdom and was called Dagon. King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon in 1775 and renamed it as Yangon. During the first Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-26, the British had captured Yangon. But Yangon was returned back to the Burmese after the war.
After the second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the British seized Yangon and also Lower Burma. They established Yangon as the commercial and political centre of British Burma. No wonder that Yangon resembles so much to Calcutta, the city where the British had established their capital in India.
After World War I, Yangon became the centre of the Burmese independent movement. Yangon was captured by the Japanese force during World War II and the city suffered heavy damage during that period. There was, in fact, an old and dilapidated building still standing that had marks of shelling on its walls. Yangon was retaken by the Allies in 1945 after the end of the war. The name Rangoon that is so common to us, was perhaps a mispronunciation on the part of the British.
Burma gained independence from the British rule on January 4, 1948 and Yangon became the capital of Union of Burma. Finally in 2005, the political capital of Myanmar was shifted from Yangon to Naypyidaw.
Yangon Travel Guide – Things you need to know
Where is Yangon?
This Burmese cosmopolitan city is located at lower Burma at the confluence of River Yangon and River Bago. The city is a concoction of beautiful pagodas, British colonial architecture, street food and lovely Burmese people.
How to get to Yangon?
The most conventional way to reach Yangon is to fly in to Yangon International Airport for most travellers from abroad. Yangon can be reached from other cities of Myanmar by bus and train services as well. The bus service at Myanmar is really top notch and we recommend getting a night bus to Yangon if you are visiting from any other city.
If you are travelling from India, then you can travel to Myanmar by road as well. You can cross the border from Moreh in Manipur and travel all the way to Mandalay. Read about our experience about the road journey from Moreh to Mandalay.
How do you get around Yangon?
The easiest way to get around Yangon is by taking a cab. Taxis and cabs are available easily and most of the cab drivers speak some English. You can also take an auto rickshaw and tuktuk for moving around. But make sure you bargain about the price.
You can also take buses, but they are a bit of a challenge as all the displays are in Burmese.
Top Things to do in Yangon
There are a number of fascinating things to do in Yangon that can fill up your stay. We stayed for 3 days in Yangon and explored the city to our best. We had wanted to visit the Rangoon War Cemetery, but could not do so because of time and some error in planning on our part. Here is a list of places to see when you visit Yangon.
Take a visit to the crown of Myanmar, Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the largest pagodas and the most famous attractions in the city. Said to be almost 2500 years old, this bell-shaped glittery golden pagoda was constructed on the highest hill of Yangon, Singuttara Hill. The pagoda is perhaps the most flamboyant sight in the city with gold plated dome and the stupa contains as many as 7000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and other gems! Little wonder that the Shwedagon Pagoda is known as the crown of Myanmar. You would at least need 3 to 4 hours to explore this wonderful place, also considered to be the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar.
Sunset is the best time to be at the Shwedagon pagoda when the rays of the setting sun on the golden stupa gives it an ethereal glow. You can stay until darkness when the pagoda lights up and looks like a golden structure shining in the dark.
If you are visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda in the day, we would recommend to carry an umbrella or cap. The blazing sun on the golden stupa often dazzles the eyes.
Opening time of the Shwedagon Pagoda : 4 AM to 8 PM
Entry fees for Shwedagon Pagoda: 10000 MMK or USD 8. The ticket gives you access for the entire day. So you can visit the pagoda as many times you want during the day.
Also known as the Royal Lake, the Kandawagyi Lake is like a serene paradise located near the Shwedagon Pagoda. It was built by the British to act as reservoir. Presently, it is one of the major attractions in Yangon and is like an oasis away from the busy downtown. There is a boardwalk surrounded by shady trees. The best time to visit the Lake is during the evening when the reflection of the Shwedagon Pagoda falls on the Lake.
On the eastern side of the lake is the Karaweik Palace that looks like a royal boat or barge. This is the place in Yangon where you can watch a cultural show or traditional dance. Inside the Karaweil Palace, you can enjoy an extensive buffet of Burmese and Chinese food.
Entrance fee to the Karaweik Hall is 300 Kyat. Price of the buffet is around US$ 20 per person.
Marvel at the reclining Buddha Statute at Chauk That Gyi Pagoda
The Chauk That Gyi Pagoda is known for its 65 metres reclining statue of Buddha. We were pretty excited to visit the pagoda. But once we reached there, we were in for a shock. The pagoda was under repairs and the whole statue was covered with bamboo installations for repair work. We were so disappointed! Nevertheless, we enjoyed our visit there and even with all the repair work, the place is one of my favourites in Yangon.
Entry Fees: Free
Nga Gyi Pagoda
So after a sight of the huge reclining Buddha statue, it was our turn to see the imposing Buddha statue at Nga Gyi Pagoda. This pagoda is located just a few metres across the street from Chauk That Gyi Pagoda. A flight of stairs lead to the temple gate and once we entered we were simply awestruck looking at the Buddha statue.
The Buddha is seated on a pedestal against an ornately carved wooden backdrop. The whole statue along with the pedestal is 14 metres (45 feet) high, white in colour with golden robe on it. we actually did not expect such grand things to see in Yangon. May be because, people do not talk much about this pagoda and also Chauk That Gyi Pagoda. We had not known much about these places from before and were pleasantly surprised seeing them.
There are no entrance fees to this pagoda as well.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
Situated just in the heart of Yangon, Bogyoke Aung San Market is the most popular market in Yangon. The market was inaugurated in 1926 and was known as Scott Market then. There are almost 2000 shops here selling anything and everything. Clothes, jewellery, handicrafts and souvenirs, lacquerware, bags and puppets – we were dazzled to see the variety of things. Even if you do not want to buy anything, you can easily spend half a day just roaming around the market.
Timings: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed on gazette holidays.
Visit the 44 metres high golden Sule Pagoda
The Sule Pagoda is located in the centre of Yangon. I am not quite sure whether it is in the centre of the city or not, but the pagoda definitely stands with all its glory right at the middle of Yangon Downtown. The Sule pagoda is named after Sularata, the Sule Nat (spirit) who lived at the spot where the pagoda now stands. Even if you do not enter the pagoda, it is a beautiful place to look at from a distance.
Opening time of Sule Pagoda: 4 AM to 10 PM
Entry fees of Sule Pagoda: 3000 MMK or USD 2
Explore Yangon Downtown
If you are in Yangon, you will have to explore Yangon Downtown. It is the most happening area of Yangon with a mix of British colonial architecture, interesting buildings, markets and the Sule Pagoda just at the heart of all the affairs. And the best way to explore downtown is by foot. We had actually stayed at a hostel in downtown, so we spent a lot of time exploring the place on foot.
The Sule Pagoda is located at the crossroads of Sule Pagoda Road and Mahabandoola Road. The Mahabandoola Garden is located just across the Sule Pagoda and both these locations act as good reference points at downtown. The City Hall just across the Mahabandoola Park is a beautiful building having both colonial and oriental design elements. What caught our eyes here is the presence of a mosque and a church just opposite the Sule Pagoda. There is also a synagogue and a beautiful cathedral here that we visited. We also found a Durga Bari here and actually present there during the Ashtami of Durga Puja.
The downtown area also has the maximum colonial architectures like the High Court, Secretariat, Telegraph Office and also the Yangon Railway Station. If you are fond of art, then you should take a visit to the Pansodan Gallery that somehow remains hidden amidst all the huge buildings. It has some amazing art collections.
Visit the Botataung Pagoda
Another beautiful and very golden pagoda located near the waterfront is the Botataung Pagoda. This is another pagoda in Yangon where the hair relic of Lord Buddha is kept (the other one being the Shwedagon pagoda). This pagoda was completely destroyed during World War II and was later rebuilt.
You can visit Botataung Pagoda and then head over to Botataung harbor and Jetty to view the amazing sunset.
Watch the sunset from the Botataung Harbour (Riverfront) or enjoy an evening Cruise at Yangon River
The Botataung Harbour near Yangon downtown is a busy place always filled with people. The best tine to visit the harbour is just before sunset. You can actually see the local people in their work. The sunset view from the Botataung Harbour is simply awesome. We actually sat there for hours tired and exhausted after exploring the town. The sunset simply made us forget all our exhaustion.
If you want, you can take a sunset cruise on the Yangon river from the Bohtataung Jetty. The cruise is usually for 2 hours and includes welcome drink and snacks. It costs around USD 55.
Take a stroll along the Inya Lake
Inya Lake, too was built by the British as a water reservoir. Now the area is the home of Yangon’s elite. It is a beautiful and serene place with a number of restaurants and eateries. Aung San Su Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest in her lakeside home in this area.
Inya lake is about 10 km from Yangon downtown.
Take a ride in the Yangon Circular Train
Taking the Yangon circular train can be a unique experience. The slow train takes around 3 hours to take you around the city and will take you around the surrounding villages, countryside and markets. Here you can actually view the real Burmese life. If you have not had any train journey in your trip, we would recommend you to take a ride in the Yangon Circular Train. Circular railway tickets cost USD 1 and you will need your passport. Trains leave roughly every hour between 6am and 2pm.
See what the Burmese buys at the Wet Market at 17th Street
If you really want to see the Burmese food market, then you should take a walk along the 17th Street Wet Market. The area is bustling with activity during the morning time with people buying and selling vegetables and other eatables. Fishes, chickens, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, crayfish, frogs, octopuses, snakes, snails, meat and what not – everything were displayed and sold at this market. Yes, these are the staple diet of the Burmese!
Do wear comfortable clothes and shoes while visiting the Wet Market. The place tends is quite hot during the daytime and tends to get muddy.
Visit the beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral
St Mary’s Cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedral in Yangon. It is an impressive structure made of red bricks and two spires towering the sky. The interior is even more impressive with beautiful stained glass. During the World War II, when bombs were dropped at Rangoon, the church was saved, but the nearby explosions broke its glass windows. The Cyclone Nargin in 2008 also did the same damage to the cathedral.
Opening Hours: 8 AM – 12 PM and 2 PM – 5 PM
Discovering the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue is the only Jewish place of worship in Yangon. Just like Kolkata, Yangon too once had a thriving Jewish community and the synagogue was once the focal point of the influential Jewish community with around 3000 Jewish people inhabiting Yangon. After World War II, the Jewish population started dwindling when most of them left for Baghdad. Now there are nearly 20 Jewish people left in Yangon. We met
The interior is extremely beautiful containing a bimah (platform for the reading table of Torah) in the centre of the hall and a balcony upstairs. The synagogue reminded me of the Magen David Synagogue back in Kolkata. How I keep iterating how Yangon is so similar to Kolkata!
The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue is located in 26th street in the downtown area.
The Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal Emperor of India. When the British took over India, he was deported to Rangoon. Bahadur Shah spent his last days there and believed to have been buried there after he breathed his last. Being Indian, we had wanted to visit the mausoleum of Bahadur Shah Zafar and took some time to visit there.
Yangon Itinerary – what we did
We actually had three days in Yangon and we enjoyed Yangon to the fullest. 3 days are enough to see around Yangon. If you have more time, you can travel to places near the city like the Golden Rock Pagoda and Bago.
We had arrived at Yangon from Bagan by train and reached there by 11:30 AM. After we checked in to our hostel, we went for a Free Yangon Heritage Walking Tour in the afternoon. We explored the downtown area and saw the colonial buildings and other important buildings around the area. At night we explored downtown by foot.
The next day we visited the Shwedagon pagoda, Kandawagyi Lake, Chauk That Gyi Pagoda, Nga Gyi Pagoda, Inya Lake, Bogyoke Market and Botataung Pagoda. In the evening, we watched the sunset from the Riverfront (Botataung Jetty). In the evening, we went to attend the 125-year-old Durga Puja at Yangon.
We walked around and explored the Downtown area. We visited the synagogue, markets, cathedrals, Chinatown around the area. In the evening we had our bus to Inle Lake. If you are staying for the day, you can take a circular train ride or visit the Rangoon War Cemetery.
Where to stay at Yangon?
We stayed at Lil Yangon Hostel at Downtown Yangon. For hotels and hostels you can check here.
Where do I eat at Yangon?
The Burmese cuisine is diverse and influenced by India, China and Thailand. The favours and cuisine are just as adventurous. Mohinga, a type of rice noodles served in a fish based broth is their national food and is available everywhere. The Burmese love their tea. You will find tea joints at every corners of road. The tea leaf salad is another dish that they serve with their food.
There are a plenty of restaurants at Yangon where you can have your choice of food. We usually had our lunch from street restaurants. We mostly asked for rice and chicken/pork platter and used to get a number of dishes together. Food is also quite cheap. A lunch platter usually cost us 2000 MMK or INR 100 per head.
Yangon is a lovely city with a blend of the past and present. While the Burmese are quite helpful that with the new regime, things will be better in future, they are also hopeful of tourism at Myanmar. So if you are planning a trip to Myanmar, support the local people while you enjoy the diversity of the place and their culture. In the meanwhile, you can pin the post for a later read!