As we began our descent into Yangon, we gazed out the plane’s windows and were amazed at Myanmar even before touching down. The first thing that we noticed was the huge number of golden pagodas scattered around the landscape. Some were small, some big, but they all shone so much in the bright sunshine that they were easily visible from up above. This definitely triggered some excitement, we’d finally made it to Yangon to begin a fourteen day trip around a country that was totally new to us. It’s always exciting to land in a new country, but even more so with Myanmar, because it only re-opened its doors to tourism a few years back.
Touching down on a new land
Upon landing, we were glad to feel the heat outside. Melbourne’s highly changeable spring weather had been rough on us, so some hot weather was very welcome! We cleared customs, grabbed our bags, and thirty minutes later we met our tour guide who was patiently waiting for us in the arrivals hall.
Since we only had a couple of weeks in Myanmar, we decided to use a Burmese agency called Pro Niti Travel (highly recommended), who customised our entire trip for us. It’s something we like to do when we only have a short amount of time in a country, especially when we don’t speak the local language. Pro Niti organised everything, our drivers, our guides, our accommodation, our flights and our entire itinerary. All we needed to do was sit back and enjoy the trip! By the time we exited the airport it was 9.30 in the morning, and even after an overnighter from Australia, we were ready to tackle the sights of Yangon.
Yangon, also called Rangoon is the former capital city of Myanmar’s (Naypyidaw is its current one). It’s the country’s largest city with over five million inhabitants. Yangon has a mix of Burmese, British and Chinese influences and you can see them everywhere you look. Burmese pagodas are scattered all over town, but you’ll also come across Colonial buildings, churches, mosques and even a synagogue. And of course, there are many Chinese markets! With Myanmar opening its doors to tourism, Yangon has received a surge in overseas investors and a subsequent construction boom. The face of the city is definitely going to change, so I’m glad we didn’t wait too long for our first visit.
Being such a large city, Yangon has many great attractions to visit. Of course, with just one day there we didn’t have enough time to see them all. But we were glad to have a knowledgeable guide to take us to the best attractions.
Our first stop was the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda. This pagoda is an open-sided steel and corrugated iron shed housing a 66 meter long and 17 meters high reclining Buddha. This Buddha is one of the most admired in Myanmar and it’s certainly impressive. Dressed in a golden robe, its crown is encrusted with diamonds and precious stones. Its right arm supports the back of its head and the Buddha has clear, gazing eyes, a white face, bright red lips and painted nails. The soles of its feet contain one hundred and eight segments painted red and gold, containing images that portray the one hundred and eight lakshanas (the auspicious characteristics of the Buddha).
Many worshipers were paying their respects at the pagoda by praying, burning incense sticks and offering flowers or donations.
Because of its size, getting a photo of the entire Buddha was a tough job. Thankfully there is a platform besides its feet that provides a nice lengthwise view.
We then drove to Kandawgi Lake, which was a great place to take photos. It offers some amazing views of the Shwedagon Pagoda, which you can clearly see shining across the lake. The Karaweik floating palace is also pretty impressive, with its golden decor reflecting onto the surface of the water.
Our guide pointed out the Kandawgyi Palace, the iconic Yangon hotel that had burnt down only a couple of days before our arrival. We were actually due to stay there, so we were very lucky not to have been there at the time! Sadly there was not much left of it after the fire.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
After a nice traditional Myanmar style lunch, we checked into our hotel, had a well-deserved shower and rejoined our guide to head to our next stop, the Bogyoke Aung San Market. This market is the largest tourist craft market in Yangon. It has over two thousand stalls selling anything from traditional Burmese handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, gold, silver and jade items.
The market is a shopping paradise for tourists and it’s pretty easy to get lost inside it! It’s a great place to buy souvenirs if you are planning on taking any home. Bare in mind though that the market isn’t air-conditioned, and the heat was almost unbearable, even for me!
Mahabandoola Park and the Sule Pagoda
The Mahabandoola Park is located right next to the Sule Pagoda, which is the centre of the city. It’s a great place to watch the locals, who gather here in the evenings after work.
It’s also a nice place to stroll around because it’s surrounded by heritage buildings, such as the City Hall, the High Court, and the historic Rowe & Co department store which is now a bank. Right in the middle of everything is the Independence Monument, a 165 feet high white obelisk.
We didn’t go inside the Sule Pagoda, although it is possible to do so, the outside was impressive. With its octagonal base, this 46-meter pagoda is fully gilded with gold and glows brilliantly in the sunshine. It was used as a rallying point, in both the 1988 uprisings and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Our last stop, but also the most impressive one, was the Shwedagon Pagoda. We kept that one for sunset because it looks amazing then. The fading sunlight sparkles off its golden stupor, giving it a heavenly glow. It’s also best to avoid visiting during the heat of the day because the tiled floor gets so hot that you might burn your feet! As with every other Buddhist temple in Myanmar, you must remove your shoes and socks before entering.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most beautiful Buddhist temple we’ve seen so far and we’ve been to a few Buddhist countries. No temples have been quite as opulent and breathtaking as the Shwedagon Pagoda. Not only is it the most beautiful, but it’s also the most sacred Buddhist spot in Myanmar. It is said to house the relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present Kalpa.
This 99-meter high pagoda is over 2500 years old and it totally dominates the city’s skyline. Covered with hundreds of gold plates, the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. The largest diamond sits at the top and is a mere 76 carats! The amount of money and effort poured into building this pagoda is incredible.
It’s not just about the main stupa, the Pagoda contains hundreds of colourful temples, stupas, and statues. It could easily take you a few hours to walk around. Of course, visiting at sunset means you that you’ll finish exploring at night, but after dusk, the golden pagoda is lit up and shines beautifully against the night sky.
Of course, sunset attracts the crowds, so don’t expect to be the only ones there! But crowded or not, this place is truly amazing, and it’s the highlight of Yangon. So if you only have time to see one sight in Yangon, make sure this is it!
Sadly that was all the time we had to explore Yangon before taking the first flight out the next morning, moving on to Bagan. I’d been expecting Yangon to be just another big, bustling city that I would hate, but it certainly proved me wrong.
Where to eat in Yangon?
999 Shan Noodle House
This is a very nice, authentic place to eat local food. It serves delicious Shan style noodles and it’s super cheap. They have an English menu. Check them out on TripAdvisor.
Rangoon Tea House
This has a lovely atmosphere, good, well presented, Myanmar style food. Be sure to check out the upstairs area. English menu is available. Check them out on TripAdvisor.
We had our first meal in Myanmar in this restaurant. We tried the set menu of Myanmar dishes. It was a great sampler, highlighted by the lentil soup and the aubergine salad. English menu is also available. Check them out on TripAdvisor.
Where to stay in Yangon?
This is where we stayed. It is brand new, nice and clean, and the staff was all helpful and super friendly. It’s situated on the shores of Inya Lake. Rooms start at US$130/night. Check out the latest prices here.
Belmond Governor’s Residence
If the price is not an issue, go for it! It used to be a guesthouse for national VIPs. Nowadays it’s a beautifully restored luxury hotel with an amazing pool. I bet it’s incredible, but it was a bit out of our price range! Rooms start at US$680/night. Check out the latest prices here.
Other Accommodation in Yangon
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