Experience the colonial charm of Yangon

Narina Exelby visits Yangon in Myanmar, and falls for its colonial grandeur, Buddhist Pagodas and delicious food.

Two Monks with umbrella in front of a Swe Taw Myat Pagoda.
  • Words: Narina Exelby
  • June 2018

Early Morning

Make a memorable start to your day in Yangon by watching the sunrise from Shwedagon Pagoda opens in new window. This iconic Buddhist temple, which dates back 2500 years and enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair, is the most sacred site in Myanmar and, as expected, is packed with visitors throughout the day. At dawn, however, you’ll walk around this beautiful gold pagoda almost in solitude. Hire a guide from Khiri Travel to get local insight on the surrounding Bahan market and secret streets, have a traditional breakfast in a tucked-away café and visit the pagoda; it’s a fascinating introduction to this predominantly Buddhist country.

People on Shwedagon Pagoda.
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Morning

Downtown Yangon is known for the beautiful buildings constructed when Myanmar was under British rule, and today’s mix of colonial-era architecture and Asian city life has created a grid of streets as photogenic as they are busy. Exploring the downtown area with a guide will give you a fresh perspective of the buildings. Going solo? Start at the Yangon City Hall near Sule Pagoda, and don’t miss the abandoned Minister’s Building, the luxe Strand Hotel (reopening after renovations in November) and St Mary’s Cathedral.

Lunch

If you like to give back when you travel, head to LinkAge Restaurant and Art Gallery opens in new window in downtown Yangon. Not only does it serve great food, but it actively works to get kids off the street and into employment. Lucky Seven Tea Shop (49th Street, open daily 4.30am to 7pm), also in downtown Yangon, is so popular you might not get a table straight away, but it’s worth the wait. It’s a good place to try mohinga (fish noodle soup) and the samosas are delicious.

Afternoon

Afternoons can be sweltering hot in Yangon, so escape the sun at Bogyoke Aung San Market (also known as Scott Market) in Pabedan township. Here, in one of Yangon’s many colonial buildings, you’ll be able to shop for souvenirs and handicrafts from more than 2000 stores that sell everything from longyi (the sarongs worn by many in Myanmar) to lacquerware, hand-woven baskets, puppets, jewellery, traditional Shan shoulder bags and artwork. If you prefer open space to crowded bazaars, relax at picturesque People’s Park, near the western entrance to Shwedagon, which has good views of the pagoda.

Dinner

You’ll have to search hard to find a better cocktail than the dragon martini served at the airy Rangoon Tea House opens in new window, upstairs on Pansodan Street. The café is known for its mohinga, vast selection of teas and old tea house atmosphere, but come happy hour the cocktails take first place. Another Yangon foodie favourite is Sharky’s opens in new window, where wholesome locally grown, organic food (including homemade yoghurts, ice-creams and cheeses) is on the menu.

A vendor preparing pork offal on a stick in Yangon.
Wat thar dote htoe (pork offal on a stick)

Kinder on the wallet is a trawl along Chinatown’s 19th Street area. After sunset the street erupts into a food market where your choice of fresh, skewered meats and vegetables will be barbecued to perfection as you watch. Find a table, order a bottle of cold Myanmar Beer, and buy laphet – pickled tea-leaf salad – from a passing vendor while your wat thar dote htoe (pork offal on a stick) simmers.