Myanmar

WIT: Top Things to Do in Yangon

Yangon is full of things to do: little surprise, considering the country’s most buzzing city. With impressive temples, old colonial charm and bustling street markets, Yangon makes for a great start to any backpacker’s trip through Myanmar. We’ve put together some of our favourite things to do and created a handy 2-day itinerary which will help you make the most of your time in Yangon. It may no longer be the capital city, but it’s the perfect place to get your bearings before heading north to Bagan or Inle Lake.

Yangon is likely to be where your Burma adventure begins because of its airport: Yangon airport is well connected with international carriers and airlines, providing the budget option for arrivals and departures to Burma. Still not sure about whether it’s ethical to visit Myanmar? Let our WIT post about visiting Myanmar help you decide.

To do Yangon justice, spend a couple of days exploring its pagodas, parks and markets among other things. Our 2-Day Itinerary for Yangon will help you enjoy the city’s highlights in such a short space of time. Prefer to read our creative post for Yangon? Read the Yangon RAG here.

Getting There

AIR

Yangon International Airport is very well served by roughly 30 international airlines, including budget carriers AirAsia and JetStar. There are direct flights to Thailand, Singapore, China and many more. There are also domestic flights available to just about everywhere in the country, though these internal flights tend to be quite pricey. The airport is located in Mingaladon, some 15km north of downtown Yangon.

If you arrive in Yangon Airport late at night, take a registered taxi from outside Departures to your downtown address for 10,000MKK. Please be sure and take a taxi from the official queue. Jumping in an unregistered taxi is one of the most common scams in the country, and is likely to be an expensive start to your trip. The official’ taxi coordinators will tell you that your taxi costs 20,000MKK. Haggle that down to 10,000MKK – remember to smile!

It’s also possible to take a public bus from the airport: expect to pay 500MKK and for the journey to take over an hour. Buses are limited at night.

BOAT

The only place you can realistically travel to/from Yangon by boat is Pathein, which makes sense if you’re heading to the beaches on the west coast, but generally your onward travel is likely to be on a bus.

BUS

Yangon has several different bus terminals, and they’re a great introduction to the bus station network in Burma: they’re huge, confusing, and easy to get lost in. Make sure that you tell your taxi driver the name of the bus company you’re travelling with and they’re likely to take you right to the platform (and save you a lot of hassle).

Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal, located North of downtown Yangon and close to the airport, is the terminal you’re most likely to use. This is the bus station which serves most coaches heading north to popular destinations like Bagan and Inle.

We used myanmarbusticket.com during our time in Burma, and would highly recommend the website. It covers transport between most of country’s attractions and shows the different levels of comfort you can travel in between different companies (2+2 AC, 2+1 Tourist Class etc).

Things to Do in Yangon

Get a SIM Card

First thing’s first – get a SIM card at the airport. Compared to just a decade or so ago (when SIM cards were exclusively for the ‘rich’ Burmese and cost up to $250 as recently as 2013), it is now extremely cheap and easy to get connected in Myanmar. Go to one of the kiosks in arrivals (we opted for a provider called Ooredoo – beware, you’ll receive 5-6 promotional texts every day in Burmese, with no way to unsubscribe) and they do everything, including installing the app and activating your all-important data plan. This will make backpacking through Myanmar so much easier, we promise.

Chinatown & Bogyoke Aun San Market

One of the best things to do in Yangon is explore the colourful markets.

For the perfect taster of everyday life, head to the Chinatown markets around 23rd Street – be prepared to be one of the only tourists here. Most tourists will be at the more popular (but more tourist-friendly) Bogyoke Aun San Market a little further down.

A word of warning; this market is not for the faint hearted. There are live animals in small cages, half-dead chickens, and crabs being killed on the street. The whole thing is pretty overwhelming. Though we didn’t enjoy seeing much of it, it’s certainly authentic.

Continue past this street to the fruit and veg section where we guarantee there will be local foods you won’t have seen before. Try some pineapple and orange from the stalls – but be aware that the ‘seasoning’ they offer is in fact chilli powder. We were caught unaware and can certainly say we won’t be trying spicy pineapple again.

Grab an Easy Coffee

Time for a caffeine fix! We were surprised to find that just past the bustling markets there were some great cafes. We recommend visiting easy cafe & Gentlemen Coffee Roasters. This was the best coffee we had in Myanmar and the place itself is a great way to relax and get out of the heat. Surprisingly speedy WiFi also helps. The staff know their stuff and the recommended filter coffee was delicious.

V60 filter coffee and latte in easy Cafe & Gentleman Coffee Roasters, Yangon
Coffee in easy Cafe
Sule Pagoda

Now you’ve woken up a little, it’s time to be a good tourist. Start with a visit to Sule Pagoda (women must have their knees and shoulders covered). Monks will be waiting to greet you and show you around. They’ll share some interesting facts about Buddhism and the pagoda itself with you.

Just when you think they’ll ask for a donation, they’ll float along to the next set of tourists and start their story again. Unlike in other tourist destinations, they usually just want to practice their English and show you around. It’s refreshing to not feel obliged to tip!

Sule Pagoda's golden stupa against a stormy sky in Yangon, Burma
Yangon’s Sule Pagoda

WEE TIP: be careful with a common scam in this downtown Yangon. A few charming locals tried it on us in Sule Pagoda and Maha Bandula Park. Luckily we had been warned by our hostel. Locals will come up to you (it happened to us around 3 times in one afternoon) to ‘practice their English’. Many of them claim to be students.

They’ll try to convince you to join them on a ‘free’ boat trip across the river to a water-village called Dala, saying it was hugely affected by the 2016 tsunami and was visited last year by Barack Obama. Once you’re in the village, the disaster-stricken community will beg for you to donate and help with reconstruction. This ‘charity’ consists of buying $50 sacks of rice, and when you refuse to pay gangs of young men will be waiting and blocking your exit. Please avoid doing this by only going there when it is part of an organised tour. The scam is particularly common at Sule Pagoda, Maha Bandula Park and down by the Strand Hotel.

Discover Downtown Yangon

From the Pagoda, it’s a short walk into Downtown. This is where you’ll find some of the best things to do in Yangon. You can see the City Hall, the Region Court, the Department of Immigration, the Secretariat Office, the Strand Hotel and Custom House.

Some of these buildings are more spectacular than others, but it certainly adds a new dimension to the feel of the city. After getting your fill of crumbling colonial buildings you can then make your way down to the river. To be honest, there wasn’t much to see and we wouldn’t hurry back to this part of town. Grab a refreshing drink in Rangoon Teahouse.

Old, colonial style buildings in downtown Yangon, Myanmar
Colonial buildings in Downtown Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda

The next one is the unrivalled highlight in Yangon: Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s most atmospheric at sunset when you get to watch the colours change. A taxi from Chinatown is 10,000MKK which, frustratingly, is about normal for quick rides around the city.

The foreigner entry price is 10,000 MKK per person. Try not to be bitter about the free entry for locals. Both males and females must have their shoulders and knees covered and they’re pretty strict about this – they will lend you a longyi for a small deposit of 5,000MKK.

Sunset prayers in Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
Locals in Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

WEE TIP: when entering Buddhist pagodas you must take off your shoes. In the more touristy sites, there are ‘storage’ areas, but you will have to tip before they give back your shoes. You can just leave them at the bottom of the steps for free and they’ll be there when you return.

Shedagon Pagoda stupa
Shwedagon Pagoda

Make sure you grab a map at your entry gate (there are x4). We hadn’t done much research for this one, so as soon as we stepped in we were amazed by just how beautiful it was! Although it was very busy (especially at sunset) there was still a magical atmosphere.

The Pagoda Itself

The main golden stupa was covered in scaffolding but that did not detract from its beauty. Sunset was a lovely time to be there because we got to see the pagoda with an incredible pink and purple backdrop. Later that night it was illuminated in a golden glow under moonlight. We spent a couple hours here and could easily have spent longer.

Apart from the central stupa there are many buddhas, temples and other things to see in this special Yangon site. There are plenty of tuk tuks and taxis waiting outside to take you back to the centre. Be sure to haggle them down to pay the same as what you paid on the way there.

Locals take part in lighting candles in Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
Lighting candles at Shwedagon Pagoda
Experience Local Life on the Line

Another way to experience the local life in Yangon is to hop on the Circular Railway train – one of the most unique things to do. Head to one of the main stations – Lanmadow is the closest to Chinatown. However, Yangon Central Station is the most popular starting point. The timetable (and even the spelling of station names) seems to vary. We’ve attached the most up to date version from Lanmadow below.

Map of Yangon Circular Railway, Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon Circular Railway Map

Tickets cost just 400MKK (around £0.20p) and you buy them from the small kiosk. Now time for the confusing part…picking whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise! You’ll figure it out.

The entire loop takes around 3.5hrs to complete. We’ve listed the key stops and their attractions below, however it’s also a great opportunity to discover new places by climbing off at random stops.

We stayed on until Danyingone and got off to see the market on the tracks. It was incredible to see and absolutely chaotic. Every time a train departs or arrives, locals will ditch their produce on the rails and jump to the side just in time.

Once the trains are away, they’ll happily return to bartering and selling. This is an especially local market, with bowls and buckets of bamboo, sugar cane, miscellaneous fruits and veg and piles of fish paste (you won’t forget the smell in a hurry).

Local produce at Danyingone Market, Yangon, Myanmar
Danyingone Market

Getting on and off the trains is a challenge but a lot of fun. Just be patient, expect to be crammed in with the crowds and mind your head.

Key stops to get off at include:

  • Kyimying Daing: Bananna & Cocount Market
  • Danyingone: Market on the Tracks
  • Tadakalay: Meilamu Paya (Disneyland-esque Pagoda)
Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda

Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda (free admission) is one of the biggest reclining Buddhas in the Myanmar. It’s a lengthy 66m and seeing it is one of the most impressive things to do in Yangon…sadly it was covered in scaffolding for the annual ‘cleanse’ when we were in town.

Chaykhtatgyi Pagoda scaffolding
We’re told Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda is normally quite the sight
Kandawgyi Park

If you made it all the way to Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, then Kandawgyi Park isn’t far away at all. You’ll get to take in some glorious views of the city and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.

The Royal Barge floats on the water and is a great photo opportunity too! You can see the Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance – this is a great alternative sunset viewing spot away from the crowds inside the pagoda.

And that makes up the list of our favourite things to do in Yangon! Did we miss something? Was there something you particularly enjoyed? Please get in touch using with the Comments section below to let us know. If you’re heading to Bagan next, please click and have a read over our creative RAG. Alternatively, you can find all the information you need in our ultimate guide to Bagan’s temples.

Where to Stay in Yangon

There are plenty of budget options in Yangon, and we stayed at Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel. The hostel itself was clean with lovely staff members who were happy to answer all our touristy questions. It also included a free and tasty breakfast, and the location was pretty unbeatable – right in the centre of Chinatown, just along from 19th Street. This is where you’ll find the majority of Yangon ‘nightlife’ (if you can call it that) takes place. On your first night head along to this area for cheap street food, cold Myanmar beer and some fantastic people watching.

Other backpackers we spoke to seemed to enjoy their stays in both Hostel9 Yangon and BaobaBed Hostel, though we can’t vouch for them personally.

Where to Eat in Yangon

Chow Down in Chinatown

When you’re in Chinatown, try some more street food (a meal for two for £1 is hard to beat!) or head to one of the local restaurants. We visited Lashio Gyi BBQ and didn’t have too much to complain about (Burmese cuisine isn’t world-renowned for a reason). Venture back down to 19th Street and sample a 50p mojito if you dare, or some local whisky. It’s hard to believe this is the nightlife hub of Yangon – it’s a pretty tame place, but it’s still enjoyable watching groups of locals celebrating with bottles of Black Label.

99 Shan Noodle House

End your day of sightseeing with some noodles at 99 Shan Noodle House – tasty, quick and cheap. Costing around £2 for two delicious noodle dishes, we highly recommend this for your final dinner in Yangon. Head back to the hostel and grab your bags before the night-bus to your next destination.

Yangon Quick Itinerary

Day 0
  • check-in and crash out
Day 1
  • Chinatown Markets around 23rd Street
  • Bogyoke Aun San Market
  • easy cafe & Gentlemen Coffee Roasters
  • Sule Pagoda
  • Downtown Yangon
  • Rangoon Teahouse
  • Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Lashio Gyi BBQ
Day 2
  • Yangon Circular Railway
  • Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda
  • Kandawgyi Park
  • 99 Shan Noodle House

Summary

Accommodation:
  • Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel
  • Hostel9 Yangon
  • BaobaBed Hostel
Cafes:
  • easy cafe & Gentlemen Coffee Roasters
  • Rangoon Teahouse
Restaurants:
  • street food on 19th Street
  • Lashio Gyi BBQ
  • 99 Shan Noodle House

Backpacker’s Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • (we flew in to Yangon from Singapore at the very beginning of our trip, so we haven’t included this here)

Total: not included

Accommodation:

Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel

  • 8-bed mixed dorm (breakfast included)
  • Hostelworld deposit £3.04
  • $6.21 pp pn x 2 nights

Total: 37,700 ($24.84)

Attractions:
  • Sule Pagoda 5,000MKK
  • Shwedagon Pagoda 10,000MKK

Total: 30,000MKK ($19.25)

Local Transport:
  • Yangon Airport – Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel (taxi) 10,000MKK
  • Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel – Shwedangon Pagoda (taxi) 2,000MKK
  • Shwedangon Pagoda – Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel (taxi) 2,000MKK
  • Central Railway Ticket x2 (200MKK pp)
  • Han Thar Waddy Station – Chaukhtatkyi Pagoda (taxi) 3,000MKK
  • Kandawgi Lake – 999 Noodle (taxi) 2,000MKK
  • Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel – Yangon (Aung Mingalar) Station (taxi) 10,000MKK

Total: 29,400MKK ($18.85)

Moving On:
  • Yangon (Aung Mingalar) to Bagan (Shwe Pyi Highway Terminal)
  • 21:00 – 07:00 (10 hours) with Bagan Min Thar
  • $19 pp

Total: 57,730MKK ($38)

Total for 2D/2N (excluding getting there): 154,830MKK ($100)

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink is not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

*all currencies accurate at the time of writing*

LIKE THIS POST? PIN IT!

SHARE THIS POST

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.