Newly opened to the outside world, this much-mythologised city remains an underappreciated gem, though that won’t be true for much longer
With a population of over five million people, Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city and continues to be the country’s commercial hub. It’s also the spiritual heart of Myanmar as it’s home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, regarded as the most sacred Buddhist pagoda among Burmese.
Yangon has plenty to offer whether you’re planning to hit the expat pubs, sample a traditional Burmese meal with your local brew or wander the streets admiring the colonial architecture. Shop for precious gems, antiques, art and traditional handicrafts at the Bogyoke Market, a major tourist destination in the heart of the city. The Sule Pagoda, right smack on a busy intersection in the city, is home to shrines containing eight Buddha images. For some old-world charm, enjoy high tea at the iconic Strand Hotel, opened in 1901.
Things to do
Built to last
Guests who stay at the century-old Strand Hotel opens in new window are treading in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway and other luminaries. The hotel was designed by the Sarkies Brothers, which makes it a sibling to Singapore’s Raffles Hotel and Penang’s E&O Hotel. The bar was once a key player in the nightlife scene but an increasingly competitive nightlife scene means it’s still popular but no longer packed to the gills.
Go for the gold
Vista bar is a rooftop drinking spot that offers stunning views of Shwedagon Pagoda. The bar opens at 6pm so go at sunset to marvel at the sight of the pagoda first appearing to change colour and then glow a gold under the glow of countless lights.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the geographical and spiritual heart of Yangon, as well as the scene of some of its saddest and most uplifting moments. The pagoda (or paya) is 105m of gold-leaf opulence crowned with 1,100 diamonds, with another 1,300 precious stones studded around the peak. Sunset is the most popular time to visit as this amazingly extravagant nod to the humble Buddha reflects the changing light.
Just say no
The bizarre, three-storey Drugs Elimination Museum documents how the Tatmadaw, Burma’s ruling military junta for five decades, have effectively wiped out the narcotics trade here. Set on a huge plot of land north of the city centre, the museum features epic dioramas of drug battles, colourful murals of happy, drug-free people and displays of pickled human organs ruined by addiction.
The sticking point
19th Street in Chinatown is a fantastic spot for a bite and a beer. There’s a long row of bars and barbecue joints that sell pretty much anything on a stick – from fish and chicken to an eye-opening array of offal. The bars are actually “beer stations” – which are as utilitarian as they sound – furnished with plastic stools.
Travel time 20 minutes
Taxi Approx USD $10Back to top
When to go
Yangon has a tropical monsoon climate with rainy season from May to October. November to February are the best months to visit as the weather is cool and dry. While Myanmar is light on festivals compared to other Asian cities, the country celebrates the Thingyan festival in April, which marks the beginning of the Burmese new year – expect to get wet as it’s similar to Thailand’s songkran festival. October sees the spectacle of Thandingyut, the festival of lights. In November, Buddhists flock to the Shwedagon Pagoda to offer robes to the Buddhist monks.Back to top
The bus system could be a real challenge for visitors so grab a taxi and go just about anywhere for about USD $1-2. The best way to see downtown Yangon is on foot – the area is easy to navigate.Back to top