When we mention Southeast Asia, white-sand beaches and trekking come to mind. Southeast Asia has multiple natural sites that both foreigners and locals enjoy, especially those who are adventurous. From hot and cold springs, crystal clear waters, fascinating caves, and majestic waterfalls, countries in the Southeast Asian region is undoubtedly a travel hub for beach bums and adventure-seeking individuals.
Most tourists visit Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Boracay, or Jakarta in Southeast Asia, but some people find the beautiful country of Myanmar equally fascinating. Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is one of the top destinations in Myanmar. Posing as the largest city in Myanmar with a population of 7 million people, the city offers quite a different vibe from the rest of the places in the region.
Nope, you’re not in it for beaches and canyons and waterfalls. With its intricately designed pagodas, bustling streets, vibrant markets, and hospitable locals, Yangon offers a serene trip for soul-searching individuals.
Moreover, Yangon is the home of the Shwedagon pagoda, the most sacred Burmese pagoda. You’ll learn a lot about their culture (which is not much different from the Filipino culture) even on the streets as you stroll around the city.
Aside from the pagodas, the tea culture in the country is one-of-a-kind.
Here are some things you need to know about Yangon before booking that trip:
- 1 Currency and ATM withdrawals
- 2 Wifi In Yangon
- 3 How to get to Yangon
- 4 Getting around Yangon
- 5 When to Visit Yangon
- 6 Other things to remember:
- 7 Things to do in Yangon
- 8 Day 1: Bogyoke Aung Sang Market and Food Tour
- 9 Day 2: Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi Park, Inya Lake, and Dinner and drinks
- 10 Day 3: Yangon Circular Train
Currency and ATM withdrawals
ATMs are available near tourist attractions. You can also exchange currency at the airport. $1 is equivalent to 1, 593.12 kyats. There’s a $5 commission per withdrawal, so it’s better to bring cash to save a few dollars. Places to exchange money are also accessible. Tourist attractions accept dollars, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging currency.
Wifi In Yangon
There are four major telecoms in Myanmar. I used MyTel during our trip. 3.6 GB costs 500 kyats. For Telenor, 6 GB costs $4 with 500 load for calls and messages for 500 kyats.
How to get to Yangon
Tourists commonly travel by plane to get to Yangon. Airlines, like AirAsia, have direct cheap flights from different parts of the region. The ticket usually costs around $50-100. Yangon International Airport is 30 minutes away from the city center so you either have to take a taxi or a bus. A bus ride costs 500 kyats and takes 40-50 minutes to reach the city center. If you opt to take a taxi, you have to negotiate the price with the driver since the taxis in Myanmar don’t have meters. It usually costs around 10,000-15,000 kyats ($8-$10). Or, you can download the Grab app if you don’t want to go through the hassle of negotiating. A Grab ride to the city center costs around 6,000-8,000 kyats and takes 30 minutes to reach the city.
There are also domestic flights from different parts of Myanmar, like Inle Lake, Mandalay, or Bagan. A one-way domestic flight ticket costs around $70-120. If you wish to travel by land for a cheaper price, night buses are available, which takes 7-8 hours to reach Yangon. You can book your tickets online.
Getting around Yangon
Most tourist attractions sit close to each other so you can visit the places on foot. Buses are available to drop you off at any point in the city for only 200 kyats. ($0.20). Or you can ride a taxi or Grab to go anywhere you want.
When to Visit Yangon
The climate in Myanmar is similar to the Philippines. The dry season can get very hot and humid from March until May. The rainy season starts in June until October, so always check the forecast if you’ll travel around these months. November to February is the best time to visit Yangon as the temperature is quite manageable. Don’t forget to bring a jacket as it gets chilly, especially at night.
Other things to remember:
- Apply for an e-visa to visit Myanmar. It is issued online within 3 working days valid for 90 days from the date of issuance. Luckily, Filipinos and other citizens of neighboring countries can visit Myanmar without an e-visa for vacation and business visits for 14 days. A tourist e-visa costs around $50, allowing the tourist to stay for 28 days while a business e-visa costs $70 for 70 days.
- Bring a power adapter for electricity. The system in Myanmar is the same as in the UK, which is different from the U.S. and Europe.
- There are no Starbucks or McDonalds, only teahouses and restaurants. The tea culture in Myanmar is widely observed, so don’t be surprised that they usually serve tea instead of coffee. Few establishments serve coffee, but tea is the go-to caffeine in the country. Restaurants also serve Burmese cuisine, that is tasty and affordable.
- Plan your itinerary since Yangon has too much traffic that even crossing the road can be confusing.
Things to do in Yangon
Day 1: Bogyoke Aung Sang Market and Food Tour
Bogyoke Aung Sang Market
The expansive Bogyoke Aung Sang market at the end of Shwe Bon Thar Road is where locals sell souvenirs, clothes, jade, fabrics, and street food. I bought a longyi in the market since it is not allowed for people to wear sleeveless tops and shorts in temples. Longyi is a long skirt wrapped around the waist.
Betel nuts are widely found when you visit the market. A betel nut is an areca nut wrapped in Betel leaves mixed with calcium hydroxide. More spices are added for an extra flavor. It tastes bitter and chewy. Warning! It stains the teeth red.
Visiting the market is not a tourist attraction, but it helps you understand the local culture and allows you to glimpse of their day-to-day life. Furthermore, purchasing local products helps the local economy.
Sule pagoda, located near High Court Mahabandula Park and the Telegraph Office, is not only a religious site but also historical. It served as the meeting point of pro-democracy protesters led by Buddhist monks. This Burmese stupa is believed to be older than the first Buddha. Around the area, you’ll see a Hindu temple, a Catholic church, and a Muslim mosque. You can marvel at the sight of the pagoda as you walk around the street during your food tour.
The best way to enjoy your stroll around the city is to join a food tour as you pass by colorful houses and be familiar with the area. Matthew and his team of culinary guides will show you around the city and explore Yangon’s culinary scene of mixed heritage from Indian and Chinese influences.
The Yangon Food tour starts at Mahabandoola Garden. The first stop would be eating a grilled tilapia served with dripping lime and tamarind sauce. It’s very spicy and tasty, somewhat different from the tilapia dishes in the Philippines. However, the store is closed on Mondays, so if you ever book the tour on a Monday, this would be replaced by another shop.
Matthew and his team will then bring you to Shan Kitchen, a famous noodle house for its authentic dishes from the Shan province.
Next, you’ll head to Little India for samosas, masala dosas, and Indian sweets. Samosa is a fried Burmese-Indian snack shaped like a triangle dumpling stuffed with onion, peas, potatoes, and chicken or beef. Masala dosa, on the other hand, is a flat folded pancake dipped in a variety of pickles and curry after tangy and spicy samosas and masala dosas come famed Bengali sweets.
West of Sule Pagoda, you’ll find Little China where old Chinese bakeries, soup shops, and teahouses line the streets. They’ll take you to Tea and Chicken Baos for bao buns and spring rolls. Chicken baos are steamed buns stuffed with chicken patty, similar to siopao. The tea house is not like the usual coffee shops — tables and chairs outside under a tree for shade where you get to chat with locals. The tea in Myanmar has its character: dark, strong, and sweet.
Finally, the tour ends at the 19th street to grab a beer and skewers as you marvel the view of brightly colored buildings, remnants of the 19th century British colonial architecture. The food tour accommodates up to 8 guests for $45 and starts around 4 PM to 8 PM.
Day 2: Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi Park, Inya Lake, and Dinner and drinks
This 2,500-year-old pagoda is the most sacred Burmese pagoda in Myanmar. The pagoda stands at 110 meters covered with gold plates and the roof encrusted with diamonds (at which the largest is at 72 carats!).
The pagoda houses Buddhist relics, including Buddha’s hair and other sacred relics belonging to the 4 previous Buddhas. It also hosts the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival to celebrate Tabaung, the 12th month of the Burmese calendar.
It takes a few hours to tour around the massive place. We went there at sunrise, but I suggest you visit the site late afternoon to see the colors of the pagoda change at sunset. Entrance is free for locals, but foreigners have to pay 10,000 kyats as an admission fee. It’s best to wear sandals or flip flops since you have to remove your shoes upon entering.
Kandawgyi Park is perfect for outdoor activities, only 3 kilometers away from downtown Yangon. We witnessed a few people doing yoga and Zumba when we dropped by. There were a few running or jogging around, too. Getting in shape while traveling? The park has few outdoor gyms for you to workout.
Also, a beautiful boardwalk offers a great view of the lake and the Shwedagon pagoda. You can also try a 15-minute hot air balloon ride for $40.
Kandawgyi Park is open from 4 AM until 10 PM, with an entrance fee of 1,000 kyats.
Head to Pasadam Jetty to ride a ferry to cruise the lake. You’ll pass by a pretty post office. It’s a 10-minute cruise where you enjoy the view as you tour around the lake. It’s free for locals, but for foreigners, you have to pay 4,000 kyats. The ferry ride reminds me of a ferry ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central in Hong Kong.
Dinner and Drinks
We tried the Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel to grab a drink. The service is good, but it was too quiet when we went there. We also tried the Rangoon Tea House as it was rated as a must-eat in TripAdvisor and had good reviews. And the place did not disappoint. The biryani was mind-numbingly tasty. The place is a bit busy and pricey but worth the hype. For live music and partying, check out 7 joint and mingle with the locals.
Day 3: Yangon Circular Train
What else can be the best way to end your trip in Yangon other than riding the circular train?
Built-in 1954 by the British, this circular train carries 100-150,000 passengers every day for 200 kyats for 3 hours. A local commuter rail network with 39 station stops starts at Yangon Central Railway Station.
You can ride the train in any stop and glimpse at the local neighborhoods. Like in the Philippines, vendors selling different products will come in and out of the train. The fans on the ceiling provide ventilation instead of an air-conditioning unit.
Yangon has a lot more to offer than what is mentioned above. Feel free to visit more tourist sites such as the monasteries.
Have you ever been to Yangon? If so, tell us about your experience in the comment section! If not, add Yangon to your list of places to visit!