Back to Myanmar! We cover the nitty-gritty (Myanmar visas, Yangon transport and FAQs) in a separate post, now for the fun part: exploring a brand new city! As we mentioned previously we fell head over heels for Myanmar and found that four days in Yangon offered a great taste-test.
Here’s a rough template for your own Yangon itinerary. Enjoy!
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The best Yangon travel resources
We indulged in an O.C.D. Google session before visiting Yangon. With just 4 days we didn’t want to miss a bit. Here’s everything that will prove most useful to you:
1. Updated Myanmar travel guides
As we’d had Myanmar on our list for a while, we had the 2011 Lonely Planet Myanmar. Though useful to a point, a lot has changed recently. Definitely do yourself a favour and get the brand new edition, released in July 2017. From tips on what cash to bring, to your options for hotels and nightlife, Yangon is changing quickly and this is the most current guide book available.
Also consider getting a copy of DK Eyewitness: Myanmar (2016). Though Lonely Planet has the edge for most recent publication, DK Eyewitness is the best-best-best for its 3D drawings and illustrations of everything that’s (A) interesting or (B) easy to get lost inside. If you’re a visual learner, this book’s illustrations bring everything to life.
Shwedagon Pagoda illustrations in DK Eyewitness: Myanmar
2. Burmese culture 101
We’d come to Myanmar knowing ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Burmese (many Burmese people work on Koh Samui and a waiter happily taught us the very basics). Using these at our first breakfast was like winning the Cultural Olympics. Our new friends were so delighted that we were encouraged to triple our Burmese vocabulary. We asked for a new phrase each day (‘how are you’, ‘yes please’, ‘1-2-3’, etc). The reaction that we were trying to get a handle on their language was phenomenal. It seemed like we received Super VIP Star Treatment as a result.
Things to do in Yangon, Myanmar
1. Kandawgyi Lake
We walked from our hotel (Sule Shangri-La Yangon) to Kandawgyi Lake, arriving about 11am … and we were the only people there. The lake is big and beautiful, though small enough to walk around and enjoy from every angle. You’ll find various parks around the lake’s edges, with boardwalks around and across, and could make a visit last as long as you like. In feel, it’s of a similar size to Hyde Park and it’s magic.
What time of day to go? Walking around the lake was the only time we really felt the heat during our stay in Yangon. After taking our time strolling the 5-mile lake boardwalks (about 2 hours – from 11am to 1pm) we were melting. Definitely wear a sun hat and plan to catch a taxi back to your hotel. Or, visit earlier in the morning or late afternoon. We enjoyed the quiet experience (that others were clearly avoiding at that time of day) and only felt the heat was too much right at the end.
2. Shwedagon Pagoda
Like the Grand Canyon – nothing can prepare you for Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s massive. Breath-taking. Every awestruck cliché on the list.
While indeed a place of worship, Shwedagon functions as a community centre too – you’ll see people of all ages dressed up in their best finery to have picnics, play with their kids, enjoy family time, go on a date or just read the paper. People-watching absolutely doesn’t get better than this.
What to expect at Shwedagon Pagoda? We (incorrectly) expected Shwedagon to be just a single pagoda. Instead, the Shwedagon Pagoda compound is an absolutely massive realm of temples – they seem to go on forever. Rather than a strict religious site, everyone looked like they were there to enjoy themselves. Whatever you’d do and enjoy at a park, you could do better here.
What to wear at Shwedagon Pagoda? Culturally, it’s important to cover your legs (more so than your arms) but if you arrive in something unsuitable, a longyi is provided for men and women alike. Follow Thailand’s temple dress code and, ideally, amp up the clothing coverage to your wrists and ankles. As in Thailand, your shoes are left outside.
When to go? Avoid mid-day. You explore Shwedagon bare foot and the marble floor gets very hot in the sun. We were hopping from one shade area to the next.
Entrance fee: It’s a US$8 per head (8,000 kyat) entrance fee, plus a further US$1 for the lady who looks after your shoes. If, like us, you thought you were permanently ‘templed-out’, Shwedagon Pagoda is absolutely phenomenal and a visit is worth every penny.
Photographers: Bring various lenses – there are so many photo opportunities for panoramas, portraits and close-ups.
3. Governor’s Residence
If you want to have your George Orwell moment – it’s ready and waiting. Once the home of governors of the British Crown Colony of Burma, the property become a hotel – Belmond Governor’s Residence – in 2006. This beautiful teak mansion is nearly 100 years old and offers unimaginable ‘bygone era’ charm.
We didn’t stay here; the hotel has just 48 rooms and they were fully booked for our dates – but the second-best option of visiting for dinner is a stunning consolation. We went first for dinner and enjoyed it so much we forgot to take any photos. A return trip for lunch the next day felt obligatory. Truly an amazing place: service, food as superb as the surroundings, and an ambiance in the leagues of “BEST EVER”.
What to wear at the Governor’s Residence? Aim to match the casual elegance of your surroundings: for suitably modest clothing that would work well in Yangon’s heat, borrow tips from what to wear in Bangkok – getting a little dressier at night.
Governor’s Residence gardens Before you leave, wander through the Governor’s Residence gardens – they’re spectacular. A reliable source told us ‘the most beautiful tree we’d ever seen’ was amherstia, also called ‘the pride of Burma’.
4. Generally exploring Yangon
“We have a lot to smile about now” was the response of one local when we mentioned that everyone we’d met in Yangon was so lovely and smiling. Just wandering around Yangon on foot, trying street food stalls, browsing markets and unplanned walks were all equal highlights.
Yangon walking tours: We ourselves just headed off exploring Yangon with Lonely Planet Myanmar but, if you love a tour, you have three options for walking tours in Yangon:
5. Yangon’s historic architecture
Yangon’s architecture and history are especially interesting – The city doesn’t feel over-built, though there’s a noticeable spate of construction. The embassy district in particular has some spectacular villas. City-wide, as in Havana, old buildings are beautiful and captivating but many are fairly run-down (still very photo-worthy with incredible architecture).
Yet it’s not all colonial by any means and there are lots of utilitarian office and apartment blocks in the mix. It makes for fascinating exploration whether on foot or in a taxi. Add much more to your visit with the following expertise:
6. Shopping in Yangon
The best things to buy in Yangon? Longyis (traditional Burmese cloth worn like a sarong) are a lovely thing to take home, and are ideal on a Southeast Asia trip when you might use it for a poolside cover-up or general lounging around. We bought a few that ranged in price from US$5 for a plain one to US$12 for a silk one. Teak carvings are extremely good quality (we bought one to fit our medium-sized suitcase for US$15). There’s a beautiful range of lacquerware in Yangon markets as well.
‘Yangoods’ souvenirs: For a really special souvenir, visit local boutique Yangoods in one of its three locations. Find bags, cushions, canvas posters and everything else you desperately have to have.
7. Where to eat in Yangon
Our favourite dish in Yangon was slow-cooked pork with black bean sauce. If you’ll indulge our ongoing hyperbole, it was the best pork we’ve ever eaten. Food in Yangon is the perfect level of spice (for our dainty foreigners’ palates). It’s not fiery like full-strength Thai food, nor fierce like vindaloo. Plan to gorge on mohinga – roughly it’s Myanmar’s pad Thai – the national dish (fish noodle soup).
A few Yangon restaurant recommendations – some we enjoyed during our visit, and others have opened recently to rave reviews:
High-end restaurants in Yangon
- Le Planteur
- Alex’s Gastro Bar at The Loft (a boutique hotel)
- Mandalay Restaurant at Belmond Governor’s Residence
Casual cafés and restaurants in Yangon
- Trademark Café
- Sharky’s Yangon
- Lucky 7 Tea Shop
- Monsoon Restaurant
- Rangoon Tea House
- Golden Pho Yangon
Yangon food guides
- CNN Top Ten: 10 meals every Myanmar traveler should try
- Yangon street food: Eating a Winning Bowl of Mohinga in a Yangon Parking Lot
- Western food: Sharky’s: Local cheese and pizza in Yangon
8. Where to drink in Yangon
We don’t take much convincing to try the full range of local tipple. Hear it first-hand: Mandalay beer and Mandalay rum are rather special. If you’re up for it, there’s Mandalay strong ale, too. Also worth trying is Burmese wine, which comes home-grown from a vineyard on Inle lake (Red Mountain Winery). In non-vintner-speak, it’s got a tang that seems semi-sparkling and is very, very good.
Bars in Yangon: Our 2011 Lonely Planet was most out-of-date in the nightlife section – luckily, a new 2017 edition has just been released. Lots of Yangon bars have opened since then and neither we, nor you, dear reader, should need persuading to pursue a thorough course of research. Alphabetically:
- 50th Street Bar & Grill
- Kipling Bar at Belmond Governor’s Residence
- Kosan Café
- Phayres Gastronomy
- Piano Bar
- The Strand Bar at The Strand
- Yangon Yangon
What to drink in Myanmar? Burmese wine really stood out – delicious. Apparently the winery, Red Mountain Estate, is open for visits – something to add to a return trip or longer itinerary. ‘The Drinking Traveller’ has photos and reviews from a recent visit.
9. More things to do in Yangon
By Day 4 we weren’t ready to leave Yangon but, as it’s just an hour’s flight from Bangkok, it’s easy to plan another visit. If you’re there for longer, or need entertainment beyond “spend four perfect afternoons eating and drinking” – here are a few more ideas:
Cooking class: Love to cook? Book a class at Flavours of Myanmar Cooking School
Myanmar art: Love art? The River Gallery just celebrated its 10th birthday.
Yangon yoga? Indeed! Inner peace awaits at Yangon Yoga House.
More tips for Yangon sightseeing
- Top attractions: Kandawgyi Lake and Shwedagon Pagoda
- Quick visit: 36 Hours in Yangon (The New York Times)
- Quirky visit: ‘Quick and Quirky’ guide to Yangyon (CNN)
- Checklist: 11 Fun Things To Do When You’re in Yangon, Myanmar
- Photo tour: Yangon food blogger tour and photographer’s tour
Confirmed: Myanmar is a wonderful place and needs repeat visits. Just when we thought Thailand was our favourite spot…. We can’t wait to return and see what’s outside Yangon. Ideally some time along the Ayeyarwady River – perhaps Bagan or Mandalay. Next time!
Recap: 11 things to do in Yangon
- Walk around Kandawgyi Lake
- Explore Shwedagon Pagoda
- Rum cocktails at the Governor’s Residence
- Explore Yangon’s side streets
- Discover Yangon’s historic architecture
- Enjoy Yangon’s best shopping
- Eat Burmese food: mohinga, street food, and more
- Try Burmese wine and Mandalay beer
- Take a Burmese cooking class
- Tour a Yangon art gallery
- Practice Yangon yoga