Yangon may no longer be the capital of Myanmar but the city still remains to be its largest and its primary commercial center. In recent years, the face of the city has undergone a massive transformation as Myanmar opened up to the outside world. The dilapidated cars of yore have since been replaced with the latest models while chic speakeasies and specialty restaurants have popped up throughout the city. Whether you are here on a weekend trip or to get your bearings before heading out to Bagan or Mrauk U, here is a suggested itinerary for Yangon that you can easily follow. The city is worth at least two days with its plethora of temples, markets and host of colonial buildings.
The summer months of March to May can get really hot in Yangon with temperatures often soaring to 40 degrees celsius in the afternoon. This is not an advisable time to visit Yangon.
Day 1 – Downtown and Chinatown; Shwedagon Pagoda
The best time to go for a walking tour of the city is during the morning when it is relatively cool. Temperatures can vary a lot within the day. In winter for instance, it’s around 18 degrees celsius in the morning but it goes up to 32 degrees celsius in the afternoon so a bottle of sunscreen definitely comes in handy. Start your walking tour at Maha Bandula Garden, the only stretch of green you’ll see in the downtown. The park dates back from 1867 and standing from it gives you a good overview of the surrounding buildings including Sule Pagoda, the City Hall and the Sakura Tower (Yangon’s tallest building) in the distance.
From here, walk to Sule Pagoda, a temple located in the middle of a busy rotunda. According the legend, the temple is even older than the Shwedagon Pagoda though the exact origins of the present chedi supposedly dates from the 15th century. The interiors are relatively modern. The best views you can get of the pagoda is from one of the surrounding rooftop bars at night when the chedi is lighted up.
Just across the Sule Pagoda is the City Hall. A mix between colonial and traditional Burmese architecture, the building is noted for its tiered roofs mimicking those of Burmese temples. Yangon’s City Hall has also taken on various colors throughout the years. At the time of my visit, it was painted yellow. It is now colored pink.
To the east of the City Hall, there are a couple of other notable buildings such as the High Court with its imposing red-brick exterior and the Ministers’ Building where Aung San was assasinated in 1947.
From there, walk south towards Strand Road where you’ll find the fine buildings housing the Embassies of the UK and Australia. You will also find the Customs House which dates back from 1915 here. That being said, the most luxurious of these buildings in the iconic Strand Hotel – a heritage hotel which counts the Raffles in Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang as its peers. The Strand was also renovated recently and is a popular spot for tourists and business people to have high tea ($20 – classic / $18 – Burmese).
The afternoon is a good time to explore Yangon’s bustling Chinatown. It’s located at the opposite side of downtown – west of the Sule Pagoda from the 18th to 24th streets. You will find plenty of markets lining the area. If you are adventurous enough to try street food, you can sample the local delights here – mainly barbecued items displayed in the streets.
Late afternoon would be a great time to head to the Shwedagon Pagoda (Entrance 10,000 kyats; Opening hours: 5AM to 10PM), Yangon’s most visited tourist attraction. This will allow you to appreciate the golden spire both in the day and against the blue hour after sunset. The main pagoda is made with 27 tons of gold leaf and contains plenty of precious stones. As with Burmese temples, you’ll have to go in barefoot.
End your first night in Yangon by having a tipple with fantastic views of the city. Excellent choices include Yangon Yangon Rooftop Bar at Sakura Tower with views of Sule Pagoda or Vista Bar which is the nearest rooftop bar to the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Day 2 – Markets and Outskirts
Start your day at the bustling Bogyoke Aung San Market (open daily except Mondays), a sprawling bazaar filled with shops selling jewelry and gemstones, laquerware, handicrafts and local clothing. The shopkeepers are quite familiar in handling foreign shoppers so do remember to haggle.
From the market, you can either walk 20 minutes or take a short taxi ride to the imposing St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Catholic house of worship was built in 1910 and complements the red-brick exteriors that define many of Yangon’s colonial architecture.
If you have spare time, a ride on the Yangon Circular Railway offers an eye-opening experience at the state of public transport in the city. The whole circular route takes around 3 hours to complete but a ride past a few stations would suffice. A sample route would be from Yangon Central to Pyay Road Station around downtown. Alternatively, you can also take this train all the way to the airport though it’s not exactly the quickest way.
Seek some shade from the afternoon heat at the Kandawgyi Lake. A serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of downtown, this area of Yangon houses the Karaweik or a replica of the royal barge.
Make the Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda your final tourist stop for the day. It houses one of the largest statues of the reclining Buddha in the world.
If you have an extra day in Yangon, consider hiring a taxi to take you to Bago for even more temples.
Where to Stay in Yangon
Budget – Rooms at Hotel Bahosi are clean and air-conditioned. Close to Chinatown and Bogyoke Aung San Market, the property has an inhouse restaurant. There is also a convenience store next door.
Midrange – There are several midrange options in the city but one of the exceedingly few of international standards is the colorful Ibis Styles Yangon. Good value for money.
Luxury – The Pan Pacific Yangon opened recently as the newest 5-star hotel in Yangon. The property is thoroughly modern boasting several dining options and an infinity pool. The rooms are plush and designed with today’s traveler in mind.