A guide to Yangon
The moment we stepped off AirAsia flight FD2753 at Yangon airport and were greeted by big smiles and men in their longyi we knew that we were going to love Burma. We hope that our guide to Yangon will show you some of the highlights of the city, help you plan your trip and inspire you to visit this country soon.
All it took was one taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. Our driver could speak excellent English and within moments we were having an in depth conversation about all things Burma including politics. This is exactly what I wanted but I had read that it’s best to let locals bring up the political situation. Now that our driver had we probed him with questions which he happily answered. As most respectable news agencies have reported, Burma is slowly coming out from the cold. There is still a lot to do but things are improving. As the taxi driver said “the fact that we are having this conversation is already an improvement.
As soon as we dumped our bags in the hotel we set off on our first culinary experience. We went to a place called Aung Thukha which serves authentic Burmese food. It turns out we went to one of the better places to eat Burmese dishes as the food at this place was delicious. We chose a couple of curries which automatically came with side dishes of vegetables, rice, soups and fermented tea leaves (a lot tastier than they sound!) washed down with a couple of Myanmar Beers. We were happy to call it a night but the universe had other plans. As we got back to our hotel we noticed a lively bar so we decided to go for a cheeky nightcap. We ended up drinking copious amounts of local beer whilst chatting to locals for a few hours. It was brilliant and we learnt more about Burma and its people that night than any guide book out there. I can honestly say that my first day in Yangon was the best first impression I have ever had of a country.
Our hotel was called Fatherland and it was okay. We had heard so many horror stories about the accommodation in Burma that all we cared about was cleanliness and a good night’s sleep. We got that at Fatherland. It was slightly further out than most of the hotels which had its good points and bad points.
The bad points were we had to get taxis everywhere and there was not much to eat in the area. The good points were that the area had the feel of a local village and as we walked around it we felt like the first travellers ever to set foot in the place. The other good point was the aforementioned bar! Another point on hotels in Yangon. Most places will give you a simple breakfast. We highly recommend going to one of the tea shops for breakfast. The food is better and they are a hive of activity. We went to Lucky Seven and loved it.
The biggest attraction (and rightly so) in Yangon is the Swedagon Paya. It’s a huge golden stupa that you can see from most parts of the city. As the sun shines on it at different times of the day the colours of the stupa change making it a heart stopping sight. We went just before sunset as the floor is a lot cooler then (you have to walk around bare foot), and most of the locals turn up at that time. What I most enjoyed about the place was the fact that lots of locals were coming just to hang out. It did not feel sterile or stuffy like a lot of religious sites, it felt alive and vibrant.
A must do activity in Yangon is to take the circle train around the city. It takes around 3 hours and you will see local life at its best. It is not the most comfortable rides but that is all part of the charm. I lost count at the amount of smiles and Ming guh la ba’s (hello’s) we received. Everybody wanted their photos taken and at one point it seemed like a whole food market had entered our carriage as vendors passed huge bags of produce through the windows.
One of my favourite activities to do in a city is just to walk around. We did the recommended walk in Lonely Planet which was very good and then on following days we just wandered around the old town. We mainly did this either early in the morning or in the evening as Yangon is hot! Yangon is not the easiest places to walk as the pavements are all broken, there are hardly any street lights and the roads are very busy but the actual street life you see more than makes up for it. It seems like all of Yangon does its business of the streets. Off the top of my head this is what I saw:
People giving alms to monks
A woman having a shower
People eating EVERYWHERE
Telephone booth tables (Kind of like an old fashioned telephone exchange but right on the street where people line up to make a call)
Men playing sport
Men (including monks) watching the English Premier league
Yangon is not the prettiest of cities which is not surprising considering its history but it’s certainly one of the friendliest. It’s hard to believe that 4 million people live here as it has a village type vibe. It’s a perfect introduction to Burma and its people, not something you would normally say about a city. It is a testament to the Burmese people that even in a hectic, crazy city, their beautiful character shines through.
Have you been to Yangon? What were your impressions? Leave us a comment if you have. We love to hear from other travellers.
Have a great week everyone and thank you for adding to the conversation in the comments.
Love and Peace,