This post is about our 48 hours in Yangon. We actually staggered our time in Yangon, spending an afternoon and following morning in the city before leaving for Bagan, and coming back after Ngapali for a further afternoon and evening before leaving very early the following morning for Hpa An. Finally, after Hpa An, we spent about 24 hours in Yangon. I found this a really good way to explore the city, not only because we had different bases depending on our hotel, but because it is a very hot, crowded city and it was nice to take it in small doses. Since Yangon is kind of the central city in the south, so you’ll find yourself passing through for layovers and whatnot, which works out quite nicely if you want to explore the city little by little.
The below is a list of the things we saw and did when we were in Yangon, which are really, in my opinion, not to be missed. I was surprised on TripAdvisor and in my Lonely Planet book to see how little was listed to do in Yangon, so if you’re scratching your head for reasons to go and photos aren’t compelling enough, I would tell you to just walk around. More than likely people will stop you to take your picture (this happened to us a lot- it’ll probably happen until tourists overrun the place), but everyone is super friendly even if they don’t speak English and you’ll just see so very much.
We were so lucky for our pagoda visit. Not only were we in Yangon for the first time ever that the country was celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (so the streets were heaving, there were people everywhere!), we were at the pagoda the day before it closed to host 80,000 monks for some kind of special event. We were able to see the pagoda as it was being prepared for this event. There were tons of flowers and loads of people setting up different kinds of stages, displays and other things.
We were pointed to the foreigners entrance, which most big tourist attractions have in Myanmar. There are a lot of signs that give you information about what you have to pay to enter as a foreigner and the recommended behaviors and manners one should exhibit while at any one place.
You need to pay to enter the pagoda, about $5, and if you aren’t dressed appropriately, you need to also hand over some collateral (like money or a watch) to get a wrap to cover your shoulders or knees. After you walk through security, you may be approached by someone who offers to guide you around the pagoda. They are usually well-trained and licensed. I typically don’t take people up on their offers of tours, but I’m REALLY glad we did. I learned a ton about Buddhism, Yangon and our tour guide, Win.
For instance, did you know there are eight days in Myanmar, rather than seven? Wednesday morning and evening are two separate days.
This is relevant because the weekday on which you were born is extremely auspicious. You can find your birth day statue in a pagoda and pour water on the Buddha in your birth day area for good luck.
The pagoda is huge, with four Buddhas, one facing in each direction (north, south, east, west). Each Buddha represents a different incarnation of the Buddha.
The temples holding these huge Buddhas are surrounded by hundreds of smaller temples holding smaller Buddhas. In the middle of the pagoda is the stupa, the huge golden thing that every takes pictures of. Apparently there’s some of Buddha’s hair in the Shwedagon Pagoda.
People seemed to be just hanging out at the pagoda. There were lots of people praying, but also people napping, sitting in the shade, reading…you name it! We were stared at, taken pictures of and taken pictures with a lot. This wasn’t from a malicious intent, I think people are genuinely curious about foreigners and don’t often see them.
At the end, we were offered the opportunity to ring a bell three times, which is to bring peace and good luck to everyone in the pagoda. I felt a bit awkward doing it because that bell is LOUD.
Down the road from our hotel was a smaller pagoda, the Sule Pagoda. This one was cool to see because it was much less touristy than the Shwedagon Pagoda. While tourists still had to pay to get in, there were absolutely no English translations for anything. You just kind of had to walk around and make do with what you saw. I noticed that all the pagodas in Myanmar had a similar layout, with the four Buddhas facing the four directions, so it was fun trying to recall what we’d learned at the Shwedagon Pagoda about Buddhism as we walked around.
Maha Bandula Park
I really enjoyed walking past the Sule Pagoda to Maha Bandula Park. Its remarkably clean compared to the rest of Yangon (but to be fair, so are all the public parks I saw) and its nice to sit down and watch the world go by there.
27th Street Market
All the tourist books go on and on about Bogyoke Market, and its cool, but it is quite like any other roofed market in Asia, with lots of jewelry, tourist tat, clothing, etc. If you really want to get a feel for Yangon, go out walking around Bogyoke Market. We walked around the open market on 27th Street (get up early to do this) and saw how people typically buy their food. I don’t think there are a lot of supermarkets in Yangon, or Myanmar in general (although there was one in Junction City Mall, which, for the record, was basically empty when we were there).
This street market is heaving with people buying everything from spices to a side of pork.
I obviously wasn’t super excited from a hygiene perspective but you kind of have to suspend all of that when traveling, anyway. It also taught C. that maybe being vegetarian for the rest of the trip was maybe a good idea.
Walk around Yangon
Yangon is actually huge, and driving from one end to the other can take up to an hour because of traffic. I really enjoyed walking around the “downtown” area around the Sule Pagoda because you can still see so much old Colonial architecture, really reappropriated.
…one more thing, don’t forget to try coconut noodles! This was one of my highlights on the trip and my favorite meal in Yangon. Coconut noodles are exactly that- served with crispy fried corn, cilantro, onion and fish sauce (which you can add to taste). Sitting here in cold rainy London writing about my travels, my mouth is watering again for some!
You can find these pretty much anywhere in Yangon, and I’d highly recommend buying the crispy corn chips from a street stall. Cheap (as in, about 4 cents) and delicious!
Yangon is definitely not a place to skip on your trip to Myanmar, although in my opinion it can be done in just one or one and a half days. I also found it a nice introduction to Myanmar, and the rest of the adventures we’d have there.