Yangon  (ရန်ကုန်), formerly Rangoon, was the capital of Myanmar until it was superseded by Naypyidaw in November 2005. Today, with a population of over 5 million people, it remains the largest city and main economic hub of Myanmar.
The city is an amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences, and is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying and beyond appreciation, remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British colonial capital. New high-rise buildings were constructed from the 1990s (and some are scarily unoccupied and left as ghost skyscrapers and hotels as seen along Upper Pansodan Rd.) as the government began to allow private investment (while former national government buildings such as the massive Secretariat Building, as the capital is shifted to Naypyidaw, have been left to rot). However, Yangon continues to be a city of the past, as seen by its longyi-wearing, betel nut chewing and spitting pedestrians, their friendly or even familial attitude towards strangers, its street vendors and its pungent smells.
Take note that Yangon's former name is not the only victim of symbolic changes in this country. For one, the country's name has been changed. To add up to this identity crisis going on in this country, this city has been stripped of its capital status, the capital relocated to a secluded new site called Naypyidaw built from scratch. The flag too has been changed, recently redesigned in 2010, replacing the old one which replaced another one slightly more than a decade ago.
One noticeable observation is seen along Yangon's southern streets perpendicular to the river. Diagonal parking is set off against the traffic direction in these one-way streets.
Time also is an oddity. Usually countries set their time in one-hour increments from GMT. This country set it in 30-minute increment difference.
Maybe because Myanmar had traumatic encounters with foreigners as far back as the Mongol invasion when it sacked the city of Bagan, the treacherous colonization by the British and the Japanese as well as the brutal cruelties inflicted by them - it developed its idiosyncrasy and to the point isolationist behaviour towards foreigners, but it is not totally xenophobic as North Korea. As Buddhists, Myanmarese people are kind and welcoming to any stranger as any guest. As long as that guest-stranger does not impose something to his lifestyle, it's OK. Somehow, they don't want to fully and sweepingly adapt to any foreign idea.
Their bit of contempt is manifested in condoning the government to practice impositions on foreigners such as a tight grip on the internet as well as the hotel TV - indispensable gadgets by tourists to the outside world in their everyday lives here and in their hometown; requiring foreigners to register and log their particulars every step of the way from every hotel down to the museum they've been, and in every mode of transport they use. Not to mention that any local who billeted a foreigner in his house overnight was long perceived by the community as an indiscretion and subject to imprisonment. Attitudes are changing rapidly, however, as a result of the government's increasing openness to foreign trade and movements towards democracy.
Yangon is the most exotic of all Southeast Asian cities. A walk down a typical street, the sights show noticeable commercial and traffic signs written mostly in local alphabet, not to mention the appearance of wandering monks in burgundy robes and the gilded pagodas as this is expected in this Buddhist country, and down to the locals keeping up their appearances. Here, everyone seemed to be comfortable with walking barefoot - indoors or outdoors; with faces applied with sun protection cream from the extracts of a three branch called Thanaka; smiles reddened by bloody red juice from chewing betel nut; as well as being used to images of men wearing a sarong-like garment, the longyi.
The Longyi - in Myanmar men wear either trousers or a Longyi, a tubular piece of cloth similar to a sarong.
The Ubiquitous Help-Yourselves Water Station - This image is noticeable in hot Laos and Cambodia but they pervade more here in devout Buddhist Myanmar installed at every five or so home or establishment.
According to local legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was built during the time of the Buddha and the area around the pagoda, modern Yangon has been settled since then. Whatever the truth of the legend, it is certain that a Mon village named Dagon has existed at the site since the 6th century A.D. It was renamed Yangon (the 'end of strife') by the Shwebo based King Alaungpaya when he captured it from rebel Mon leaders in 1755 after which its importance as a port city began to grow. However, the city gained in importance only after the British occupied it during the Second Burmese War in 1852, after which it became the capital of British Burma and the trading and commercial centre of Burma. The British called the city Rangoon, which was an anglicised form of "Yangon". The city grew rapidly during the colonial period, which left a legacy of solid 19th-century colonial architecture. Burma attained independence in 1948, but its true 'modern' period begins with the 1962 military coup and the institution of an isolationist Socialist regime in 1964, resulting in the steady decay of the city and its infrastructure.
Yangon or Rangoon?
Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD promote usage of Rangoon instead of Yangon, as a sign of support for the democracy movement. Many Western governments maintain usage of Rangoon as a sign of their rejection of the legitimacy of the current government.
In 1988, Yangon was the site of peaceful pro-democracy protests, in which thousands, including monks and students were gunned down. In 1989, the city was renamed to its original Burmese name, Yangon, by the military junta. In 2006, the capital was moved to Naypyidaw but today Yangon remains the business, cultural and intellectual capital of modern Burma. In 2007, Yangon again became the centre for demonstrations against the military government.
Tree-lined broad streets featuring colonial architecture
Since the 17th century, Yangon has been a cosmopolitan city with a polyglot mixture of peoples. Portuguese fortune hunters, Dutch businessmen, Englishmen of all sorts, Chinese seeking refuge from the upheavals in the Yunnan, and many, many Indians who arrived in several waves during colonial times. Most of these people are now gone and Yangon is now a predominantly Bamar city with a large Indian minority and a growing Chinese minority. Still, there are traces of the old Yangon still visible, whether it is in the crowded Indian dominated parts of Anawratha Street, or in the occasional Anglo-Burmese or Anglo-Indian who walks up and says hello. In some ways, the biggest change in modern Yangon is the loss of the Indians, who arrived with the British as soldiers and labourers (though Indian traders have always been a part of the Burmese landscape) and then left in two large waves of migration (during the Japanese occupation and again, in 1963, when they were forced to leave by Ne Win's government). Ethnic groups such as the Shan and Karen are also present. Kabya, or persons of mixed heritage, are common in Yangon.
The climate is monsoonal, with three distinct seasons: a rainy season from June to October, a cooler and drier "winter" from November to February, and a hot dry season from March to May.
The winter season from November to January is markedly less humid and cooler than the remaining months, and hence sees the greatest number of visitors. Nevertheless, major festivals occur throughout the year, notably Thingyan (the water festival, equivalent to the Thai festival of Songkran), in April. (Festivals are keyed to the lunar cycle, specifically to the full-moon days of each lunar month, and therefore fall on different days each year of the Western, solar-based, calendar).
Yangon International Airport (Mingladon) (RGN) is located approximately 30 minutes north of the city centre. Just undergone from a major upgrade and renovation of existing facilities, it contains both international and domestic terminals. There is no accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the airport. The easiest way to get to and from the airport to the city is by taxi (US$10 from airport to city while 7000 kyats or dollar equivalent from city to airport, all pre-paid - as of Mar.'12) but it is also possible to use a public bus to at least somewhat reduce the cost. If you exit the international terminal and turn right, walking along the road for about 10 minutes, you'll hit Pyay Road, from where you can take public bus 51 which will take you one block east of Sule Paya right downtown (200 kyat). Thus on the way to the airport the cheapest option would be to take that bus, get off at the Airport Road, and take a cab for the remaining kilometer (about $1 after bargaining). To get to town you could theoretically ask the cab driver at the airport to drop you off at that bus stop if you don't feel like walking. The name of the bus stop is "Mile 10" on Pyay Rd and it's line 51, but you might have troubles being understood if nobody can write it down for you in Burmese script with precise instructions (thus using this option to get TO the airport is much easier because you can ask your hotel for help). Best to just talk to some backpackers on the AirAsia flight you're coming with and share a cab.
International: There are direct flights to RGN from Bangkok, Chiang Mai,Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Gaya, Kolkata, Kunming, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Taipei. International Airlines servicing RGN include Thai Airways, Bangkok Air , Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia , Korean Airlines, Silk Air, Vietnam Airlines and Air India. Coffee, tea and very basic snacks (packaged biscuits and single serving cakes) are available inside the security area. A new international terminal opened in the summer of 2007. The international terminal has free Wi-Fi at a decent speed ( but does cut out from time to time )
Domestic: The domestic terminal is 200m further along the road than the international terminal, and is old and tired looking. Facilities are minimal (espresso coffee, tea, local beer, limited hot food, and basic packaged snacks are available) but, as a consequence, check-in is simple and quick and bags arrive quickly from arriving aircraft. Ancient buses ferry passengers to their aircraft. Pre-paid taxis are available, pay at the taxi counter inside the baggage claim area, but it is easier and cheaper to exit the terminal and negotiate directly with the Taxi Czar who controls the taxi trade at Mingladon. Try not to allow porters to carry your luggage, as they will demand specified tips and hassle you. This is especially a problem in the domestic terminal as there is no customs to pass through with your bags. If a porter has not attached himself to a hapless tourist, he may take random bags off the luggage cart, hoping someone will follow him. On the other hand you can experience the full service treatment, no going to counters or luggage concerns for a few thousand kyats.
There are several train lines that connect Yangon to the rest of Burma. Several trains daily connect Yangon to Mandalay via Bago with connections to Bagan and the Inle Lake area at Thazi. Because of a bizarre timetable change in 2006 (apparently to ensure that trains arrive at a reasonable hour at Pyinmana, the station for the new capital), most trains leave early in the morning (2, 3AM) and arrive late at night. Yangon-Mandalay fares for a sleeper are US$35-50, for a seat are US$30-40 on First Class and US$10-15 on Second Class. There is also a direct train line between Yangon and Bagan (US$35/13) but trains take almost 24 hours for a bumpy journey and the change at Thazi is a better bet.
The oldest line in Burma is the Yangon-Pyay line and it shows its age. But, the nine hour journey (US$15/6) along the Irrawaddy basin is well worth it. The Mawlamyine line is equally bumpy and the 9 hours express (6:15AM, $17/$11) and 11 hours slow train (7AM, US$14/$5) is slightly longer than by road. (Note on this trip in upper class you get your own seat and it's slightly less crowded, but there isn't much else different between the classes) Trains also run to Pathein in the Irrawaddy delta but are very slow and the bus is a better alternative.
A hundred and fifty years ago, boats were the way to get to places from Yangon and IWT (Inland Water Transport) passenger ferries still ply the major rivers. Yangon to Mandalay takes 5 days with a change at Pyay (3 days) and the return trip (downriver) takes three days. A luxury ferry (the Delta Queen) recalls the colonial era on the Yangon-Pathein route (about 20 hours, US$170/person). The IWT ferry to Pathein takes 15 hours for the over-night trip (US$35/10).
Most buses (for destinations as Bagan, Kalaw, Mandalay, Taunggyi for Inle Lake, Bago, Hpa-An, Mwlamyiane, Pyay, Lashio) depart from the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal (also known as Highway Bus Station, 5000 kyat taxi from airport), a bit out of the city and beyond the airport, on the Pyay Road. There is heavy competition on the Mandalay route with air conditioned fares ranging from 10,500 (Mandalar Minn, E lite) to 18,000 kyat for a 3 seat across VIP bus (E lite). E lite has an all new fleet with several departures early morning and evening. The new highway has dramatically reduced travel times north with the Mandalay trip taking just over 8 hours with a good bus. Buses to Bagan are poorer value at 15,000 kyat for the 9 hour journey no bargaining seems to be possible, buses depart around 9am and 9pm. There are ticket offices representing all companies outside stadium opposite the main train station. Many offer ferry services to the Highway Bus Station in a pickup for 1000 kyat a taxi will cost around 6000 kyat.
Buses for the Irrawaddy delta region (Pathein, Chaungtha Beach, Ngwe Saung Beach),depart from the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal across the Bayintnaung Bridge.Buses to Kyaiktiyo (Kinpun) leave in the mornings (4.5 hours, 6000 kyat). Buses for Mawlamyine (6 hours via the new bridge) leave in the mornings and late nights (8000 kyat). Buses to Sittwe and Thandwe (Ngapali Beach) are also available but the road is bad and the journey long. Going to the city from the Highway Bus Station is possible (Bus #43) at 300 kyat. The bus passes in front of the entrance to the Station, just asked the helpful locals. On the way to the terminal, ask your hotel to write it down in burmese script and catch the bus from the city hall across Sule Paya right downtown for just 200 kyat! also better than the horrible transfer timings (see shuttle ticket below) that sometimes make u wait at aung minglar for 3 hours. bus 43 takes about 1 hour to get there, but give yourself some time with check in and potential delays, leaving 2 hours from sule paya before your bus leaves.
Thanks to the new bridge and upgraded road, buses to Pathein take less than 4 hours and the journey is comfortable. Add 45 minutes by taxi to get to the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal though. 6000 kyats.
Big bus companies serving the main tourist destinations (Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal) have sales offices across Yangon train station (can also buy "shuttle ticket" to Bus Terminal for 1000 Kyat here).
Update 2011: since the excellent new highway is open, the travelling time between Yangon and Mandalay is now down to 9 hours, and this already includes two stops at 45 minutes each. Similarly traveling time between Yangon and Bagan is now 9 hours with two stops.
Cash & Credit
Although rates at the airport are as competitive as in the city, travellers don't need to change to kyats because they must pay for their (pre-paid) taxis in US$. When arriving at airport and exchanging at money changer shops (not the roaming changers) which open longer, change only a few amounts to cover taxi and food expenses and possible for the next day if it will fall on a holiday. Banks actually offer the best exchange rates and the safest as compared to the street walkers. Exchange the rest in the city, but not at hotel.
A reminder, every full moon is a public holiday on top of the weekend holidays and gazetted holidays. Banks - public and private, money changer shops, and all government offices are closed.
There are no ATMs and no apparent way of getting euros, GBP or US dollars. Few hotels accept credit cards. You are limited to few expensive hotels if you need to pay by card.
When bringing cash in US currency, bring all sorts of denominations especially US$1, US$5 and US$10 bills which are indispensible and hassle free for paying hotel and museum fees. Bring the best mint condition as the cashiers are squeamish at even the slightest pen stroke and crease marked on the bill.
The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi and Yangon is the city where Toyota cars come to live out the rest of their days. Plenty of old white Toyota Corolla taxis ply the streets and will pull over if you stick your hand out. Be warned that almost all taxis are in an appaling condition, they're old, dirty and run down. Don't expect aircon or seat belts that work. Genuine taxis have red license plates, carry a laminated green slip and a large-print taxi driver identification card on the dashboard of the car but all taxis are reliable. Be warned though that around lunch time and late at night it may be hard to hail one. Taxis are always available outside the bigger hotels, on Sule Pagoda Road outside Cafe Aroma, and, during the day, outside the Southern entrance to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Away from the city centre, for example near the budget hotels in Pazundaung Township, you may have to wait a bit before a taxi shows up and it may be easier to ask your hotel to call one for you. If you're travelling in the wee hours (for example, to catch a 4AM train or flight), arrange one with your hotel the previous evening. You will always, at all hours, find a taxi outside the Central Hotel on Bogoyoke Aung San Road.
It is customary to negotiate prices prior to the trip but, other than tacking on an informal tourist surcharge, you'll very rarely be cheated. Approximate fares as of June 2012 are: city centre to airport 4000 kyats to 6000 kyats; city centre to Shwedagon Pagoda 2500-3000 kyats; city centre to Pazundaung Township 2500 kyats; city centre to Aung San Suu Kyi's house 3000 kyats; city centre to Kandawgyi Lake area 3000 kyats; city centre to Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal 5000-6000 kyats; city centre to Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal 4000 kyats. Expect to pay more, sometimes twice as much, when it rains and late at nights.
Most taxis will be only too happy to negotiate an hourly (3000 kyats) or daily (US$20-30) or longer rate. Taxis will take you anywhere and you can, in theory, hail a cab and negotiate a trip to Pathein or Bago or other destinations at a much lower price than through a travel agency. See the Get out section below for sample fares.
Update: As of July 2012, most taxis seem to charge a minimum fare of 2000 Kyat even for short trips. It seems like meters are never used, even when present, however the majority of taxis have parts of a meeting, not many seem to have a fully working meter installed.
(Note: There was a plan in place to introduce meters in Yangon taxis in 2008 and of March 2010 these were implemented into a large portion of Taxis but are rarely used. By 2012 the majority of taxis have the frame and cover of the meters, however the electronics appear to be missing)
A view of Yangon and the Yangon River
While Yangon's circular train is not particularly useful for getting to tourist sights, it is a 'sight' by itself. US$1 (passport required). Buy your ticket in a little office on platform seven. Train leaves from platform 4 or 7 several times a day. You choose clockwise or anti clockwise. Probably best just to take the next train to depart. They seem to expect you to be looking for the circular train so just those words will have people pointing you in the right direction. Prepare for three hours on a hard wooden seat. You are the entertainment from some passengers: and they are yours. Watch cherry sellers step on and off a moving train with a bowl of cherries on the head. This is not a train where you lean out the window (space) to shop. The shop pops in and out of your carriage before moving on to the next. Take a seat by the door (space): the windows are low so you get a better view near the door.
Trishaws are scarce in the city centre (and not permitted before 10AM) but more readily available in the surrounding townships. Negotiate fares in advance but 100-200 kyats for a short ten minute ride, while higher than what locals would pay, is appropriate.
Riding the bus is absolutely safe. The only drawback is the lack of understanding. Most of the locals can't speak English and the signs are written in Myanmarese text.
As you would expect, Yangon has an extensive and chaotically crowded bus system. Most are privately run and will not move until enough people are falling off the sides of the bus. Buses are cheap, but high yearly inflation is chipping that cheapness away. Most routes originate and terminate on the eastern side of the Sule Pagoda so head there if looking for a bus to the airport or to the Shwedagon Pagoda. If you don’t know how to read the Myanmarese number there is a problem. Take bus 51 for the airport, they will drop you off a little past the entrance gate.
A ferry crosses the river to Dallah (see the Get out section below) from the Pansodan Street Jetty.
Distances in the tourist areas are not large and, provided you take it easy, you can walk almost anywhere. The pavements can be very crowded though, particularly on Anwaratha Road, so expect to be constantly bumped into and to have to negotiate your way across vendors selling everything from hot samosas and curry to screwdrivers and TV remote controls to jeans. Also be aware that a lot of the footpaths and sidewalks have large holes, mismatched pavers, or missing/unstable covers over drains. Walking on the footpath after dark can be treacherous, so either carry a torch or, like most locals, walk on the edge of the roadway which normally in a (marginally) better state of repair.
Foreigners on tourist visas are not permitted to self-drive in Myanmar. Motorbikes and bicycles are not permitted within Yangon (although they are permitted elsewhere in the country).
The Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the single most important religious site in all of Myanmar. The pagoda stands on the top of Singuttara Hill, and, according to legend, that spot has been sacred since the beginning of time, just before our present world was created. At that time, five lotus buds popped up on the hill, each bud signifying the five Buddhas who would appear in the world and guide it to Nirvana. Gautama, the Buddha as we know him, is the fourth of these five (Maitreya, the fifth, will announce the end of the world with his appearance) and, according to the legend, two brothers brought eight hairs of the Buddha to be enshrined in this sacred location, inaugurating the Shwedagon Pagoda. Whatever the truth of the legend, verifiable history records a pagoda at the site since the 6th Century AD. Built and rebuilt, guilded and reguilded, almost nothing in the pagoda is likely to be old, except whatever is hidden deep inside the stupa. An earthquake (18th century) destroyed the upper half of the pagoda spire and many buildings. Burmese Buddhists are inherently practical people who constantly build and rebuild pagodas for merit.
Today, the pagoda is an interesting place for tourists. For one, it is lit up Las Vegas style with multicoloured neon light highlighting and a galaxy of colours, textures, and shapes. It is also a jungle of spires with superior Myanmar woodcarving embellishment and somewhat playfully but incongruously mixed and matched with modern building materials such as pre-fab G.I. roofing. Unlike other religious sites, it has at once a spiritual as well as a secular feel about it. Children run up and down singing songs, monks sit on the steps chatting, young men cast amorous glances at women, women stand around gossiping, all while others are deep in prayer in front of whatever shrine has significance for them. The Shwedagon captures the essence of both the informal nature as well as the strong ties that signify the relationship that the Burmese have with their Buddhism. There is no other pagoda like it in Burma and there is no other place like the Shwedagon Pagoda in the world.
- Hours: 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. The pagoda opens at 5:00 am but, technically, tourists are not allowed in till 6:30AM. In Myanmar, 6:00 am is still dark. It is unlikely, however, that an early arriving tourist will be turned away.
- Entrance fee: US$5. Ticket booths are located at the top end of the flights of steps on all entrances. If you enter before the booths are opened, the ticket agents will catch up with you sooner or later and collect the fee. They are a team of three men, one of them carrying a thick book of receipts, all wearing I.D.. It is easy to avoid handing the US$5 fee to the government by simply asking for or buying a used sticker from another tourist as they leave the paya then going up one of the side entrances. If you get in at 5:00 am and get out by 6:00 am you'll probably escape paying the fee (but risk not being allowed in). Ticket agents will sometimes quote the price in US Dollars (as per the sign) or Kyat (either at the government rate, the black-market rate, or an inflated black market rate). Best to have both available and pay whatever is cheapest - no point giving the government more than you need to. Tickets are valid for one day only (not a 24 hour period) and must be retained throughout your visit. While a sticker is to be displayed, is unusable the next day for a new colour is introduced. Bring some sticky tape to help keep the sticker attached to your clothing (especially if it is a hot or wet day, like 2/3 of the days in Myanmar).
- Guides: Guides, official and unofficial are available for US$5 (add a US$1/1000 kyats tip). The quality is variable but most guides are friendly and trying to make their way against the odds. The pagoda is vast and complex and, if you can afford the extra dollars, the company and practical information on what's going around you is well worth the expense.
- Getting there: Taxi from the city centre costs 2500 kyats to 3000 kyats (expect higher starting prices, especially if it has rained or is after dark - 3000 kyats or so, feel free to haggle). Taxis are available for the return trip at the bottom of the main entrance. Can also take bus 204 looks like ၂၀၄, takes about 10 minutes with four stops 100 Kyats catch this on SHWE DAGON PAGODA RD across from Public Toliets just as you cross the overpass.
- Food: The closest restaurant is at the intersection of the Shwedagon Pagoda Road and U Hlaung Bo Street (at the bottom of the Southern Walkway). There are some tea shops on a small roadway that describes a semicircle just below the top of the pagoda where you can get tea and biscuits. North of the pagoda, on Inya Road and outside the Savoy, are many places to eat, including a good fast food restaurant for pizza, coffee, and sandwiches. Bring water; the heat of the sun can get to you if you visit during the daytime. No food or water is available on the platform itself but water is available on the lower reaches of the walkway.
- Disabled travellers: A road on the Southern side leads halfway up the Singuttara Hill and an elevator can take you the rest of the way. Alternatively, if not in a wheelchair, head for the Western entrance from where escalators are available all the way to the top. The escalators are free for foreigners (or rather, included in the price of the ticket).
- Dress code: Dress reasonably and keep your legs covered (long skirts, halfway between knee and ankle, are fine; shorts, on men or women, are not). Longyi is available at the ticket booth if you arrive overly uncovered.
- Shoes: As with nearly all Buddhist monuments, footwear is not permitted. With the Shwedagon Paya, almost all visitors (and all locals) remove their footwear at the gates before even setting foot inside the complex. There are places to leave your shoes at the bottom of every walkway for a nominal fee (5 kyats) but that can be a problem if, say, you enter using the Eastern walkway and wish to leave by the Northern. Carry a plastic shopping bag, pop your shoes into that bag, and carry it around with you while on the walkways and platforms. That is the Burmese way! If you can visit during the early morning or in the late afternoon / evening so the white marble tiles do not burn your feet.
Things to see at the Shwedagon
- Plan The Pagoda is actually shaped like a Greek cross. There are four entrances on each of the four cardinal directions - north, south, east, and west, flanked by gargantuan sculptures of mythical Burmese lions. These entrances open up to the four walkways as the appendages of the cross ascending to the top via flights of steps. At the top is the octagonal intersection of the cross which consists of the Stupa at the very center itself surrounded by shrines that can qualify as temples by themselves and separated from the Stupa by a vast open walkway paved with spic and span shiny marble tiles. The Stupa is further surrounded by a string of micro shrines - small celled structures housing the icon of the Buddha himself and interspersed by lion sculptures, and then further inwards, another string of micro stupas surround the Stupa superstructure.
- Walkways to The Pagoda Four covered walkways lead up to the pagoda from the plains surrounding the hills. The Eastern walkway is the most interesting, crowded as it is with vendors selling items for pilgrims (candles, flowers, gold leaf, stones and other paraphernalia of Burmese Buddhist worship) and souvenirs for domestic (and international) tourists (Buddhas, lacquer ware, and thanaka). Nothing tacky is for sale, so do stop and take a look. The other walkways are less interesting but the Western walkway has escalators and the Southern has an elevator. Walking up the Eastern walkway to the top and allowing the beauty of the pagoda it to emerge remains the best way to get up the hill!
- The entrances are a sight to behold because of the Hollywoodish overall effect they evoke. As previously mentioned, there is a pair of ginormous mythical and stylized stone lions guarding the humongous doorway framing the grand staircase as if this scene is coming out from a biblical movie set. To view clearly these mythical lions, one simply has to examine the Myanmar currency notes where it is featured practically in all denominations. The Great Stupa is very visible and at dark, multicoloured neon lightings highlight its profile in Las Vegas style.
- Another attraction of this temple in general and the walkways in particular are the 3D murals of the Jataka tales in Myanmarese interpretation showing distinctive Myanmar landscape, temple and toddy palm dotted countryside, country life, architecture, palace and court scenery and pageantry, temple scenes, period costumes, mythological nagas and nats, elephants, lions, and dragons - all literally popping up like 3D children's picture book. These 3D murals flank the upper part of the walls of all the four entrances. Viewing this is the best way for the unbelievers to be converted done much like the same technique that the pagan American Indian tribes were subjected to by the Spanish friars with their outstanding retablos (refer to the movie "The Mission").
- It is unlikely for an acrophobic person be attacked as he navigates the staircase (they are enclosed) and there is no reason to fear as when ascending and descending temples and pyramids. More likely for an agoraphobic person to be attacked by fear for this place is already crowded even at 6 am.
- The Pagoda Platform Although similar in concept to Mecca's kaaba surrounded by a vast space, the Pagoda platform where people may make rounds around the Stupa, exists as a religious space without pomp and circumstance and is one of the best places in the world to sit and people watch. Find a comfortable step, or sit yourself on the floor, and look around. Children run up and down, perhaps singing and shouting with abandon. Women cluster in groups gossiping. Couples, young and old stroll up and down. Burgundy robed monks are everywhere. Here and there, at the many shrines that dot the platform and sit around the stupa, people pray, seriously and silently. Bells ring. There is no awe here, only life, religious and secular life. Sit there long enough and someone will stop to chat with you, to ask questions, to exchange information.
- Day Shrines There are eight shrines, one for each day of the week (in the Burmese calendar, Wednesday is divided into two parts), dotted around the eight corners of the stupa (the stupa is octagonal), and most Burmese pray at their day shrine when visiting a pagoda. If you can figure out the day of the week when you were born, light a candle, place some flowers, or pour water over the shrine corresponding to that day. Starting from the Southern entrance, and going clockwise, the eight planetary posts are: Mercury (Wednesday morning, before noon), Saturn (Saturday), Jupiter (Thursday), Rahu (no planet, Wednesday afternoon), Venus (Friday), Sun (Sunday), Moon (Monday), Mars (Tuesday). Each shrine also has a beast associated with it, the most interesting one being the Gahlon, a mythical half-bird half-beast said to guard Mount Meru (the shrine for Sunday).
- Statue of Wa Thon Da Ray the statue of Wa Thon Da Ray, the guardian angel of the earth, is to the left of the Southern Walkway. Wa Thon Da Ray is said to have saved the Buddha from burning by wrapping her wet hair around the earth. The long tresses are clearly visible in the stone statue that stands in her honor.
- The Arakanese Prayer Pavilion, a little before the Western Walkway, was a gift of the Rakhaing people of Arakan. The prayer hall itself is ordinary, but the wood carvings on the roof are exquisite, probably the finest in the Pagoda complex.
- Maha Ganda Bell Known locally as the Singu Min Bell (after King Singu, who donated it to Shwedagon), the Maha Ganda bell was cast between 1775 and 1779 and weighs 23 tonnes. Impressed by the size of the bell, the British attempted to take it as war booty after the First Burmese War (1825) but dropped it into the Yangon River instead. The story goes that the British tried everything to get the bell out of the water but all their technology was of no avail. Giving up, they told the Burmese that they could have it back if they could get it out of the water. The Burmese shoved some bamboo rafts and, lo behold, powered by rafts or by divine right, the bell floated to the surface and was returned to the pagoda! Pick up a mallet and bang on the bell for luck. Behind the bell, a small pavilion provides excellent views of the stupa (spectacular at night) and a panoramic view of the city.
- Naungdawgyi Pagoda and Sandawdwin Tazaung Left of the Northern walkway, the Naungdawgyi or Elder pagoda is supposed to mark the spot where the sacred strands of the Buddha's hair were placed and washed before being enshrined in the stupa. (Women are not allowed onto the Elder pagoda platform.) Close by is the Sandawdwin Tazaung (Hair Relics Well) which provided the water for the washing. The well is odd because it is fed by the Irrawaddy rather than by ground water and the level of water in this well rises and falls with the tides!
- Dhammazedi Inscription, A 1485 tablet that relates the story of the Shwedagon in Pali, Mon, and Burmese. One of the few verifiably antique objects in the pagoda complex.
Other religious sites
Sule Paya in the city centre
- Sule Paya (Sule Pagoda), incongruously serving as a traffic island in the middle of the busiest intersection in central Yangon, Sule Paya is a 46 m octagonal-shaped stupa that, according to the local story, was built 2000 years ago to house a strand of the Buddha's hair. Whether or not it has a strand of the Buddha's hair, the galleries of the pagoda are an oasis of calm from the chaotic traffic that passes around it all day long. Admission used to be free but foreigners must now pay a US$3 admission charge. Shoes can be left at counters at any entrance but carry a plastic bag.
- Botataung Paya A few blocks East of The Strand Hotel along the Yangon River lies the Botataung Pagoda. The original pagoda was destroyed by allied bombing during the Second World War but the site has a legendary history as long as that of the Shwedagon or the Sule Paya, and it is supposed to house more strands of the Buddha's hair brought to the site by a thousand soldiers (hence the name which means '1000 officers'). The rebuilt stupa is hollow inside, and many relics (not the hair though) are on display. While not spectacular like the Shwedagon, the river-front setting and the hollow stupa make it worth visiting.
- Saint Mary's Cathedral The cathedral's exterior has just been renovated and rededicated last Dec.'11. Still an ugly eye sore exterior but the superior Myanmarese dexterity of carving is shown in the interior's 14 Stations of the Cross. Images literally pop out of the screen in 3D fashion.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral is the Anglican cathedral built by the British. It is one of two cathedrals in Yangon, and has a beautiful interior.
- Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, located at 85, 26th Street, is the only synagogue in Yangon. It is a colonial relic, built in 1893. Its interior is beautifully maintained.
- Mailamu Paya, located in the outskirts of Yangon, is a large expanse of land on which larger-than-life and colourful statues depicting Buddha's lives are located. Mailamu Paya also showcases a pavilion on a man-made lake, and several zedis.
A statue of Buddha at the Mailamu Paya
- Zoological Gardens, first opened by the British in 1906, contains Myanmar's most expansive collection of wild animals. During public holidays, the Snake Dance and Elephant Circus are performed for visitors. Open 08:00-18:00.
- Mahabandoola Garden, located in the cantonment, is known for its rose gardens. Inside the gardens is the Independence Monument, built to signify Myanmar's independence. The garden offers a great view of the City Hall, and colonial buildings of the British.
Independence Monument and Mahabandoola Garden
- People's Park, which occupies 130 acres, is located between Parliament and Shwedagon Paya and is known for its large concrete water fountain. Inside the park is a museum. The government collects entrance fees for tourists. Open 07:00-19:00.
- Inya Lake, the largest lake in the city, recently renovated its shoreline. Some parts of Inya Lake's shorelines are accessible by foot, and are known for their gardens. Along Inya Lake's shorelines is the famous Inya Lake Hotel, now owned by Dusit and the Yangon University (in a beautiful park-like atmosphere). Surrounding the lakeside are many villas owned by military leaders.
- Kandawgyi Lake (formerly Victoria Lakes). A large fungus-shaped lake northeast of the city centre. It was recently renovated, and foreigners must pay an entrance fee. At its northwestern tip is Bogyoke Aung San Park, which is on Natmauk Road. The Lake is best known for its Karaweik (located at its southeastern tip), a replica of a traditional Burmese royal boat. There is also a boardwalk around the southern edge of the lake, affording a better view than that from the gardens. However the entry fee for the boardwalk alone is 2000 kyats or $US2. It is cheaper to walk along the road footpath (sidewalk) with free view from the outside looking through the fenced park. Caution: If intending to go to the boardwalk, be careful where you are entering because a wrong entry means money down the drain that should have been allotted to a more noble purpose such as donating to a beggar. To go to the lake itself, you have to be ready to cough out the amount stated above to be paid at the entrance located in the middle of the south side road. But if your real intention is to get close to the Karaweik, the entrance is on the southeast corner and there is a separate charge. The charge to the Karaweik is 300 kyats. The lake is separated from the Karaweik by a fence and there is no way of simply crossing over although the view from the street outside looks like they are all integrated. 300k (+500k camera fee, +1000k video camera fee).
- Martyrs' Mausoleum is a memorial built to honour Aung San and six cabinet members who were assassinated. The mausoleum is on a hill, and is adjacent to Shwedagon Paya. It offers a beautiful panoramic view of Yangon.
- Aung San's House, located at Natmauk Road (near the German embassy). This was the house were Aung San lived, with his wife and three children, shortly before he was assassinated. The house is still in original condition, with many interesting items on display, for instance Aung San's car, his library and his suit. Outside is the pond was his son Aung San Lin drowned. This accident was one of the reasons why the family moved. Entry US$3. March 2011: the house is closed 'for renovations'
- Aung San Suu Kyi's House, located at 54 University Avenue, is frequented by many tourists. The house used to be barricaded by a concrete wall and barbed wire, with surveillance and security to prevent documentation. However, since November 2010 there is no overt military presence and you are free to walk past the gates and take photographs. Getting to the area is as simple as asking a taxi driver to take you there and if driving past they will point it out to you. Approximate taxi fares from the city is 3000 Kyts.
- Bahadur Shah Zafar Grave, located at Zi Wa Ka Street, is a grave of last of the Mughal emperors in India, as well as the last ruler of the Timurid Dynasty. After Indian rebellion of 1857, he was exiled to Rangoon, in 1858 along with his wife Zeenat Mahal and some of the remaining members of the family. Bahadur Shah died on 7 November 1862. Today you can see his tomb, and if you are lucky, a guide may be there to give you a lot of information about this Sufi saint. There is no entrance fee, but you can give donations to local Sufis.
- Defence Services Museum, was located in Yangon but has moved to Naypyidaw in 2010. It has been reopened in Naypyidaw in march 2012, in the Zeyathiri Township. It has an Air Force, a Navy and an Army part. The name for the Burmese army is Tatmadaw.
- Martyrs' Mausoleum, near the south gate of Shwedagon. Contains the tombs of Queen Suphayalat, wife of Burma’s last king; nationalist and writer Thakin Kodaw Hmaing; former UN Secretary-General U Thant; and Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi. In 1983, the structure was bombed by North Korean agents attempting to assassinate the visiting South Korean president. He escaped, but 21 others were killed. The structure was completely rebuilt, and is now much less grand than the original.
- National Museum, located on the relatively quiet 26 Pyay Rd., in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, displays many Burmese historical artifacts, including regalia of the last Konbaung Dynasty. The museum is open 10:00-15:00, and is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and gazetted holidays. This museum has one of the most quality collections in Southeast Asia - the best of Myanmar artistic heritage and superior craftsmanship - both Myanmar masters and unknown craftsmen but unfortunately it is in a wrong Third World hands. The architecture itself of the museum is a pathetic, awkward, tacky, and crude interpretation of modern architecture. The showcasing itself is the worse of the state of the art - captions and storyboards as if done by high school students for a school open house fair, graphics, most are handwritten, specimen documents in blueprint or photocopies, showcase cabinets that cry louder and take the thunder of attention from the display itself for its too much intricately and unnecessarily carvings. Jewelries and regalia kept in reflecting glasses and prison cell-like rooms complete with steel railings. One comment in the visitor's log indicates in big letters "LET THERE BE LIGHT!" due to poor lighting on the display. Halls and halls of exhibits have dimly lit display lights. Photography is prohibited.
- Note: Do not buy books in the museum shop. Buy them at Innwa Bookstore with its varied selections, and other stores along Pansodan Rd. As an example, a book that costs US$38 in the museum costs only US$22 at Innwa.
- Strand Hotel, located at 92, Strand Road, is the oldest and most famous hotel in Myanmar, built by the Sarkies brothers in 1901. It is a national landmark and was renovated in the 1990s after years of neglect.
- The Circular Train is a fascinating way to get a glimpse of daily life in Yangon. A ticket costs US$1 (you must show your passport) and is available at the Station Masters office at (Platform No. 7 at Yangon Station). The station itself, in true British colonial style, is a grand building that combines functional Western styles with Burmese architectural elements (layered ornamental roof). Vendors, vegetable sellers, monks, commuters, all use the train which passes through the many villages that surround Yangon. The scenery changes from urban to rural fairly quickly and villages with ponds, kids, and cows passing by. The journey takes three hours.
- At the Yangon Station, the train departs from either Platform No.4 or No.7, one going clockwise and the other going anti-clockwise. It is best is to choose the one that arrives first. Do get on the train at fast pace, as the train stops at the station for a short while only and leaves whether people have fully boarded the train or not!
- The Dallah Ferry - to Dallah, a small village across the river from Yangon, is an interesting ferry ride, particularly if you won't have the opportunity to catch a local ferry elsewhere in Burma. The ride is brief but filled with all the craziness of a Burmese ferry: you can buy freshly sliced watermelon, cheroots and cigarettes, tea, all kinds of interesting looking food, various knick-knacks from the many vendors who pack the ferry. The ferry has no seats but small plastic chairs (kid-sized!) are available for rent for 5 kyats (odds are that the chair rental agent won't take your money) and larger deck chairs for 15-20 kyats. The ferry ride seems more like a floating market than a means of transportation! Combine the ride with a trip to Thante (see Get out below) for a half or full day trip. There is a pagoda (what else) at Dallah worth a visit but otherwise the village is not really a destination. The Dallah ferry leaves from the Pansodan Road Jetty across from The Strand Hotel. Tickets are US$1 from a window reserved for foreigners (locals pay 30 kyats) and you may be required to show your passport.
- Food Market Tour and Cooking Demonstration offered by the Governor’s Residence Hotel to experience the local way of life and the produce on offer in the local markets of Myanmar. Costs $60 for a half day tour including lunch ($40 excluding lunch) but excluding the drinks. The cooking demonstration takes place upstairs in the hotel's Mindon lounge where you will learn to cook a traditional Myanmar salad.
- Cultural Shows in General Yangon, which is supposed to be the cultural capital of Myanmar is sadly having a shortage of it. The de facto capital could be Mandalay where the remnants of anything that has to do with royalty - which is associated with arts and culture and whose patronage served as the model or foundation of what is now is claimed as Burmese Culture - are still surviving. While the British during the colonial era were too busy with something else such as India or getting much even richer propagating the empire to developed Yangon firmly as a cultural capital.
- Cultural Buffet Dinner-Shows There are only two cultural dance shows lumped with buffet dinner sponsored by restaurants with the commercial profits in mind limited to snippets of folk and royal dances. The National Theater holds events only on special occasions, the rest of the year, they are not busy since their is no critical mass of audience to support them. This is a great way to learn about the local dishes. The waiters are happy to write the dishes name in Burmese. This really helps when ordering in other restaurants.
Handicrafts, precious gems, clothes & collectible. Shopping is fun in Yangon because of the variety of things available and because, unlike in neighbouring India, the hard sell and hassle is missing. Bargaining is expected, although tourists will be charged significantly higher prices. Street vendors in the centre are not allowed to open shop until 18:00, by government mandate.
Although not as well known as Bangkok or Hong Kong, Yangon is an excellent place to have a shirt tailored. One can have a shirt with a traditional Burmese collar (mandarin collar) made for around US$6. 4-5 days should be sufficient for a shirt to be made.
- Chinatown offers a wide selection of street vendors, where colonial coins, paintings and other souvenirs can be bought. Open 15:00-21:00.
- Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market) is an excellent source to buy Burmese handicrafts, such as wood carvings or lacquerware. Beware, however, because some lacquerware is not traditionally-made, and will wear away quickly. The market is also known for its clothing and fabrics.
Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market)
- Shwedagon Paya's entrance hallway offers many 1-room shops that sell Burmese antiquities, including paper mâché owls, wood-carved statues and Buddhas.
There are several shopping malls in Yangon, such as the Dagon Centre and the FMI Centre. Many of the items sold are from Thailand and China, and usually have fixed prices.
Yangon has seen an explosion of restaurants in the last ten years and almost any type of international cuisine - eclectic Western, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and Korean - is available. Local cuisine reflects the multi-ethnic nature of the city and the country and, along with Bamar food; there are a large number of Indian and Chinese restaurants as well as a few places specializing in Shan food. Fast food restaurants (usually with table service) serving burgers and pizza, and a few cafes complete the scene. Biryani, a rice and meat dish with roots in the Mughal Empire, is a specialty and there are many Biryani restaurants (dan-PAO-sain in Burmese) in the city centre, especially along Anawratha Road. The three main competing restaurant chains (all halal but vegetarian biryani is usually available) are Yuzana, KSS (Kyet Shar Soon), and Nilar.
Street Food is generally not very varied. The whole stretch of more than a two mile-long Anawratha or Mahabandoola Rds. is dotted with hawker food stalls, but unfortunately the environment of Yangon streets is not conducive to al fresco eating due to the high density of dust in the air and the proliferation of smoke belching buses and cars. Betel-nut spitting pedestrians do not add to the ambience either. Myanmar street food is mostly deep fried, and often served in a puddle of oil. Dishes are washed at the roadside "dunk" style, without soap and without running water.
Budget food is not as cheap as you can think of in Vietnam. Noodle soup that you can buy in Hanoi for US$0.50 is US$2.00 here. Myanmar is a country with a good steep yearly inflation rate.
- Seven One One Restaurant (Anawratha Road) is a clean, well-lit street side restaurant very close to Motherland Inn 2. From Motherland Inn, just walk up the Lower Pazundaung Street to the first intersection, turn left onto Anawratha Street and walk another 100-200 metres (past the railway tracks) and Seven One One will be to your right. This is an ethnic Indian locality of town and this place makes some sort of Indianized Burmese cooking (neither Indian nor Burmese for sure!) which is downright delicious. Any dish with their "hot & sour" sauce is particularly excellent! Prices are cheap, ranging from 1000-1500 kyats for a meal.
- 999 Shan Noodle Shop (No. 130, 34th Street) offers very good noodle dishes for around 1000 kyats.
- Feel (No. 124, Pyihtaungsu Avenue, Dagon Township) offers a wide variety of Burmese curry dishes (~2000 kyats) displayed in the back. Salads and fries can be ordered easily.
- Hla Myanmar (Shwe Bad), 27 5th St, West Shwegonedine, Bahan Township (a fair walk from the northern entrance of the Shwedagon Pagoda). 10AM-7PM daily. This is just a simple restaurant, but a good one for those on a budget. They are specialized in Bamar (Burmese) curries, so this is a good opportunity to have what the locals eat. You can just point at the curry of your desire and then take a seat at one of the brown chairs. It is quite hard to find, so ask the locals for directions. It is well-known among locals, because the famous actor Shwe Ba used to have his house in the area (and the restaurant is sometimes named after him). K2500.
- Family Thai & Chinese Restaurant Located at the shopping mall next to Parkroyal Hotel. Get on the escalator until the top floor (food court) and you will see the restaurant on your right. Around 1000-1500 kyats per meal.
- Kyet Shar Soon Biriani (franchises in Mingalar Taung Nyunt, Pabedan, and Kyauktada Townships), established in 1947, offers a dish of halal Burmese-accented biryani for around 700 kyats.
- Shwe Pu Zun, Tel. (01) 222305 or (01) 211709, 246-248, Anawratha Road, Lanmadaw Tsp., ice cream and dessert shop known for its faluda (cold vermicelli drink).
- YKKO (No. 286, Seikkanthar Street (Upper Block), Kyauktada Township), is a well-established restaurant that is known for its kyae-oh, a Burmese noodle soup.
- Street vendors sell samosas, onion balls and other Indian snacks around Anawratha Street between Sule Paya Road and Shwe Bontha Street in central Yangon. Under 200 kyats.
- Nilar Biryani, 216 Anawratha Road, Yangon, ☎ + 95 1 253131, . An old and venerable Biryani restaurant serving chicken, mutton and vegetable biryani in seconds. Fast, delicious and cheap!"
- Golden City Chetti (Dotted around Yangon) offers Indian food at very reasonable prices and free top-ups on the Veg thali.
- New Delhi, Between Shwe Bontha and 28th on Anawratha Rd. Better and cheaper than Golden City. Small Indian place, well known to the locals and tourists. Great taste and value.
- Soe Pyi Swar, 136 Latha St., ☎ 01-385872. Vegetarian restaurant. Not bad, but a little strange. It seems the value of vegetarian in Burma is to copy every meat dish every thought of! They also serve more usual veggie dishes. (A few doors north on the same block is another veggie restaurant marked only by Chinese characters. They seem a bit fresher...)
- 50th Street (50th Street), the only stand alone Western Style Cafe, Restaurant and Bar in Yangon. Amazing architecture and ambiance. Free wi-fi, multiply sport TVs, pool table and dart board.
- Karaweik Buffet Restaurant, Kan Pat Street, Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township, (01) 290546, located on Kandawgyi Lake, a buffet restaurant inside the Karaweik, offers a wide selection of Asian dishes, and a 1-hour cultural show from 19:30 to 20:30. It is 15000 kyats/person. As a note, this restaurant is government-owned.
- Sabai Sabai (Dhammazedi Road), the best Thai restaurant in town. Expect to pay about 7000 Kyat/person for drinks, soup, starter and main. Most main dishes are around 4000 Kyat. This clean and atmospheric place is a favourite amongst expats and businesspeople. Beware, closed between lunch and dinner time (3PM to 5PM). Closes at 9PM. Most taxi drivers know of the place. It's in an area with plenty of other mid-range restaurants.
- Cafe Aroma, Sule Pagoda Road (Opp. Traders Hotel). Decent coffee by Burmese standards, excellent shakes and fries."
- Monsoon (85-87 Thien Byu Road), Offers Myanmar, Laos and Thai cuisine. Restaurant and Bar in Yangon. Great ambiance and comfortable air conditioned surroundings with free Wi-Fi. Main dishes are around 4000 kyats and dessert around 3000 Kyat.
- Le Planteur Restaurant and Bar, 22 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, next to Golden Hill Tower is one of the best restaurants of Myanmar. It specialises in fine French cuisine with an Asian touch. The location of the restaurant (a former Australian Embassy) is spectacular, and the service is impeccable. Tel: 95-1-541-997. .
- Signature Garden Restaurant (Corner of Kaba Aye Pagoda Road & Kan Yeik Thar Road, Kandawgyi Relaxation Zone, Bahan Township) is a fine dining restaurant in Yangon and feel the experience 2 Levels of Culinary Enlightenment.
- L'Opera (C62, D, U Tun Nyein Street, Mayangon Township) is the best Italian restaurant in Yangon. Tel: 95-1-665 516. .
An interesting experience is to have High Tea at the Strand Hotel, on 92, Strand Road. High Tea is US$18 including 10% tax & 10% service charge, astronomical for most Burmese, but is served in the restaurant of one of the classic examples of the Colonial Hotel in Southeast Asia. One can choose from either Burmese or English high tea.
Nightlife in Yangon is rather limited by Western standards and can be hard to find. Local bars or "beer stations" as they are called close early (around 9PM to 11PM), but offer drinks at bargain prices. Expect to pay about 500 Kyat for a pint glass of beer (Myanmar Beer). Local whiskies cost 2000 Kyat a glass. Expect to get a lot of attention when going to the local beer stations since theses places are not frequented by foreigners, but people are curious and friendly! Drinking is not culturally accepted for women in Burma, so don't expect to pick up any girls, because there won't be any on the beer stations. The beer stations represent a place where the local men meet to talk, chew betel nut (very popular in Burma) and drink.
Most upscale clubs are located in 5 star hotels. Nightclubs located in 5 star hotels include The Music Club (at the Parkroyal Hotel; entrance fee US$6, hotel guests free), Paddy O'Malley's (at the Sedona, entrance fee US$5 including one drink) and Pioneer (not at the Yuzana Garden Hotel anymore, it has moved to the east of the city centre). There are also stand-alone nightclubs (BME1 and BME2 in the North of the city). Local entertainment plazas that include Karaoke, fashion shows, bar and disco include Asia, JJ's and 225. Closing times are from 11PM to 3AM, and entrance usually costs between US$3-5. Beer is around US$1-2. Most up market discos and nightclubs are frequented by numerous Burmese prostitutes who will be very eager to talk to foreigners. The Dagon Red beer is a very fine beer and a great value!
Accommodation in Yangon is comparatively much much more expensive than Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia or Laos and is of a much much lower standard (= no free market economics, army controlled pricing). Rooms are in abundance and, except in the height of the tourist season (December and January) and then too only in the popular backpacker hotels, advance reservations are almost never necessary. Tourists are expected to pay in US$ (bring only newer US$ banknotes in good condition with large portraits of the presidents), and will be charged significantly higher than locals. Be aware that many military generals are sharers in the hotels, and that many hotels are under a 30-year government lease. After the lease expires, the hotels are put under governmental control.
The budget hotels (under US$20) are mostly a bit away from the city centre. The upside is that the hotels are quieter, the city centre can be quite noisy, and you get a little more room for your dollar. You'll need a cab to get to the main sight, the Shwedagon Pagoda anyway. The downside is that most restaurants are in the city centre, a long walk or cab ride away and choices outside the centre are limited, usually with the only choice being a restaurant attached to the hotel with indifferent cuisine and which may be closed if business is slow. Pazundaung and Botataung Townships seem to have the highest concentration of budget hotels. Some rooms, the cheaper ones, in many budget hotels have no windows at all and if you are claustrophobic, make sure you don't end up in one of those! There are a few budget central hotels but, except for a couple, are quite shabby.
Mid-priced hotels (US$20-50) are scattered about the city, with one set concentrated in the few blocks around Sule Pagoda and a second set just north of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Luxury hotels are concentrated around the Kandawgyi Lake or city centre.
Rates for hotels are usually quoted as single/double. The room is usually the same but you pay a little extra (about US$5-10) if two people share the room. Breakfast is always included and the quality and variety increases with the cost of the hotel. In a budget hotel, expect a banana, an egg, some bread and coffee made from 'coffee mix' (a pre-packaged mix of coffee powder, milk powder and lots of sugar).
An important factor in choosing a hotel is the availability of electricity. Electric supply is controlled in Myanmar and every part of Yangon has a fixed schedule when electric power is available (usually about 24 hrs every 48 hrs or less). Mid-priced hotels usually have their own generators while budget hotels either do not or have a limited supply (lights will work till 11PM, fans may or may not work, air-conditioning never does even if fitted in the room unless state supplied electricity is available). Do ask when you book what the electricity situation is and, if there is no generator, what you can expect on the days that you are there.
Many budget and mid-range hotels have a restaurant on the premises. But there is no guarantee that it will be open, especially off-season.
- Beautyland Hotel II, 188-192 33rd St. (3 blocks from Sule Pagoda, in the middle of 33rd St.), ☎ 951-240054,240227, . checkout: noon. Friendly and helpful staff in a central location. They have a range of rooms: non-air-con, Air-con with TV, air-con with TV & window. Breakfast included. US$30-32 (double), Single USD$ 22-24.
- Garden Guest House, 441-445 Mahabandoola Street (West side of Sule Pagoda), ☎ +95 1 253779. Small rooms in dingy surroundings but with a great location and a great price. Worth it if your budget is tight and you're not fussy about decor. Breakfast is included but is very basic (four slices of bread - toasting is not possible-, butter and jam, tea or coffee). US$5-16.
- May Fair Inn, No 57, 38th Street, Yangon, ☎ 95 1 253454. Good central location. Dated rooms but clean bathrooms. The owner is a bit wacky but her daughter is full of useful information. They don't serve breakfast. 10/12/15 US$.
- Motherland Inn 2, 433 Lower Pazundaung Road, Pazundaung Township, ☎ 95 1 291343, . Expensive for a guesthouse but sill a popular backpacker's place with private & shared baths, and on-site restaurant. They offer free pickup and dropoff from the airport with an early morning breakfast. A long walk or short taxi journey from the city centre. They also have the rarely advertised $US10 dorm. Otherwise the rooms start from $20 Single(fan, shared bathroom) (April 6 2012). Seems past its prime, and the low ceiling rooms are sometimes without windows. Internet is 1000Ks/hour; a cheaper option is the internet cafe opposite. US$16-28.
- Ocean Pearl Inn, 215 Byotataung Pagoda Road, Pazundaung Township, ☎ +95 1 297007 ([email protected]), . . All rooms have baths, air-conditioning and hot water. 15 minute walk to the city centre. US$10-15.
- Sunflower Hotel, 259/263 Anawratha Road (Opp. New Delhi Restaurant), ☎ 95 1 240 014 ([email protected]). Set on the busy intersection of Anawratha Road and Shwe Bontha Street, a few minutes walk from Sule Pagoda and the railway station, the hotel has a great location but can be noisy. Cheaper rooms have no windows and a damp mustiness about them, and others are large and roomy with air-conditioning and satellite TV. Tasty breakfast included, but some of the reception staff can be surly. US$15-28 Single, US$22-37 Double, US$29-44 Triple.
- Three Seasons Hotel, 83-85 52nd. Street, Botataung Township, ☎ +95 1 293 304 (fax: +95 1 297 946). Rooms with shared and private bath. Friendly Indian owners and a good place to stay if you plan on spending a few days in Yangon and need a place to call home. Closer to the centre than Motherland Inn 2 but still a bit of a long walk. US$7-20.
- White House Hotel, 69 Konzaydan St. (a few streets away from Sule Pagoda), ☎ 00951240780/00951240781 ([email protected]). An 8-storey elevatorless backpacker's hotel, the place has a lot of character run by a very friendly and helpful family. Penthouse dining area offers amazing views of the city. Reception area finished in mosaic marbles of different stones all over - floor, wall, and ceilings. You would feel like you're somewhere in Spain; some sort of Gaudi inspired cave-like room. 24 hours electricity. Dispenses a great city map with local bus numbers and routes. Most of all, has the best breakfast buffet in town free to all guests - a US$6++ value (and the 'fresh fruit juice of the day' is a good start for breakfast) - big on marmalade selection, big fruit dessert selection, big veggie meal selection, plus a good homemade banana or apple pie, watermelon juice with lots of pulp, maybe fried rice now, noodle tomorrow, and some local fare like coconut soup and potato fritters. It compensates for the lack of windows, TV, internet, WIFI, aircon, and private bath. US$10 dorm, US$12 to US$17 single, US$15 to US$20 double (Mar.'12).
- Hotel Everest, Bogyoke Aung San St, 51st & 52nd St (a few streets away from Sule Pagoda). The place is not beautiful, but the staff is very friendly, if you look for a cheap room and are not a diva and can handle some shabby walls , you can check in here. $US6 single, $US13 double including breakfast.
- Clover Hotel, 7 A, Wingabar Road, Bahan Township (just opposite the Japanese embassy), ☎ +95 9 73177781, +95 9 73177782, +95 9 73177783, +95 9 73177784, . This new hotel was started just in May 2011. With over 40 rooms, the hotel is equipped with basic amenities like hot water, 24 hour electricity and air conditioning. The cafe on the rooftop has a great view of the Shwedagon Pagoda too. US$30-75.
- City Star Hotel, 169/171 Mahabandoola Garden Street (behind City Hall, near Sule Pagoda), ☎ +95 370920 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 381128), . Clean, well kept, and comfortable rooms with TV, minibar, free coffee. 24 hours electricity. Certain taxi drivers in Yangon claims this hotel is government owned, but it's hard to verify if this is correct: the hotel staff will certainly deny it. $US27 single, $US32 double inc. breakfast.
- Classique Inn, 53(B) Shwe Taung Kyar Street (Golden Valley Road), Bahan Township, ☎ +95 1 525557 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 503968), . A small boutique hotel with well furnished rooms in the quiet area north of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Located in embassy district (about one mile from Shwe Dagon Pagoda) just a few doors down from Bahrain embassy. It is a cute, small, quiet hotel made with teak and decorated with traditional Burmese lacquer ware. Only a couple of minutes away lies Bogalay Mohenga shop which sells great mohinga (perfect for breakfast). Owned by the wealthy family of a Ministry of Energy official. US$25-80.
- May Shan Hotel (formerly Guesthouse), 115-117 Sule Pagoda Rd (next door to the Indian Airlines Office), ☎ +95 1 252986 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 252 968), . Clean, well kept, but small rooms right outside the Sule Pagoda. Has its own generator, and the staff are friendly. All rooms have air-con, satellite TV, bathroom attached with hot and cold shower. A bit run down. US$15-25.
- Panda Hotel, 205 Min Ye Kyaw Swa Road, Lanmadaw Township (corner of Wadan Street), ☎ +95 1 212850, +95 1 229360 ([email protected], fax: 95 1 212854), . Comfortable, if faceless, modern business hotel located at the edge of the city centre. You will need a Taxi to get around (easily available in front of the hotel). Broadband wireless internet access available in the lobby area. Offers great views of the city especially from the upper floors. All rooms have satellite TV, air conditioning and attached bathrooms. A very popular place and can be booked on agoda. official Website - . US$25-38.
- Thamada Hotel, 5 Alan Pya Phaya (Signal Pagoda) Road (Across from the Park Royal and the Railway Station), ☎ +95-1-243 639. Clean and central, but basic, the Thamada's price (about 26$ a night in summer 2011 booked through hoteltravel.com). The first international Hotel in Yangon, and while it obviously has been taken over by a "private" businessman, it still has a strong "government-smell". but good value for money anyway US$25-35.
- Central Hotel, 335-357 Bogyoke Aung San Road (Next to Trader's Hotel), ☎ +95 1 241 001 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 248 003), . this well located hotel provides near luxury facilities at midrange prices. Rooms are clean and big (don't expect a view though) with satellite TV and air-conditioning. The rooms are spacious, but a little old. The hotel has room service and a popular coffee shop and Chinese restaurant. 24 hours electricity. Beware that this hotel is owned by the government (Yangon City) and an army colonel. US$30-35.
- East Hotel, 234-240 (1)Quarter Sule Pagoda Road, Kyauktada Tsp (Opposite of Trader's Hotel, 2-3 blocks behind Sakura Tower), ☎ +95 9 73135311,73135299 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 371358), . It's a relatively new hotel, opened in Feb 2011. Rooms are clean, air-conditioned, with hot and cold shower. Important note: bathroom has no door, only a shower curtain and a wall to block off the toilet area. Free Wi-Fi and 24hrs electricity. Hotel staffs are friendly, able to communicate in English. US$65 inc. breakfast.
- New Aye Yar Hotel, 170-175 Bo Aung Kyaw Street, Botataung Tsp (Two blocks west and one block south from Sule Pagoda), ☎ +95 1 256938 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 256576), . checkin: 24hr; checkout: 12PM (flexible). Five minutes walk from Sule Pagoda and around the corner from the Strand, this well located hotel caters to business travellers. A small but good restaurant is on the premises, the hotel is centrally air conditioned, and all rooms have satellite TV. (good but inexperienced service is second to none) US$30-35.
- Winner Inn, 42 Than Lwin Road, Bahan Township (corner of Inya Road), ☎ +95 1 535205 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 524196), . Close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a quiet hotel favoured by German tourists. All rooms with attached bath, air-conditioning and satellite TV. Restaurant on the premises but, if it is not open, there is a bit of a walk to the nearest restaurants near the Savoy. Internet (2000 kyats/hr) available. US$20-25.
- Inya Lake Hotel, No. 37, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, .The Inya Lake Hotel, Yangon is situated on the borders of the Inya Lake, just 15 minute drive from the city centre. The colonial styled hotel, with its teakwood floors and oriental feel, is located in the middle of the 37 acre tropical landscaped garden. Also caters for seminars, conferences and banquets.
- Parkroyal Yangon, No. 33, Alan Pya Paya Road, . A five star quality hotel with 272 rooms. Dining & Entertainment - La Brasserie International Restaurant, Phoenix Court Chinese Restaurant, Shiki-Tei Japanese Restaurant and The Lobby Bar. The well known disco Music Club is in the basement.
- Nikko Royal Lake, No. 40, Natmauk Road, . A 10-storey hotel offering 310 rooms. Opposite of the hotel is the Kandawgyi Lake. From US$55.
- Summit Parkview Hotel, 350 Ahlone Road, Tel: (95-1) 211888, 211966, Fax: (95-1) 227995, Fax Reservation: (95-1) 227990, (95-1) 227992,  Just west of Shwedagon Pagoda and with excellent views of that pagoda. Good restaurant and bar.
- Sedona, No. 1, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, . The Sedona, located near Inya Lake, is built using Burmese architecture and offers 366 rooms. From US$60.
- The Governor's Residence, 35 Taw Win Road, Dagon Township, ☎ +95 1 229860 ([email protected], fax: +95 1 228260), . A renovated teak mansion, formerly the guest house for Kachin State officials, and located in one of Yangon's most exclusive neighbourhoods, the hotel offers 48 rooms and pleasant gardens. Swimming pool and several excellent restaurants on the premises. Close to Shwedagon Pagoda but one can walk to the city centre as well. An Orient-Express hotel. US$ 250-300
- Savoy Hotel, 129 Dhammazedi Road, ☎ +95-1 526289 526298 526305 ([email protected]), . Housed in an old colonial building with period furniture and decorations, the Savoy is one of the most charming hotels in Yangon. A short walk to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a swimming pool, and an excellent restaurant. Lower than quoted rates are often available on the Internet so book before you leave home. US$75-150.
- Traders Hotel, No. 223, Sule Pagoda Road, . The original upscale business hotel in Yangon. Swimming pool, all services and an excellent restaurant. The location, at the intersection of Sule Pagoda Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road is hard to beat US$100+.
- The Strand, No. 92, Strand Road, . A five-star colonial hotel built by the Sarkies Brothers in 1901. From US$450.
- Yuzana Garden Hotel, No.44, Signal Pagoda Road, Mingalartaungnyunt Township, ☎ + 95 1- 248944 ([email protected], fax: 95 1- 240074), . 37 rooms in a renovated colonial building. US$100-180.
Internet cafes have proliferated in recent years and Yangon has quite a few that provide access at a reasonable speed for a reasonable price. Beware that you may be out of touch as the government has blocked most email sites (yahoo, AOL, etc and gmail only works occasionally). Skype is currently (March 2011) under threat from the government too. Many hotels also provide internet services but these tend to be more expensive and slower than the public cafes. The cheapest rate is around 400 kyats per hour - there are plenty of places so shop around and save some cash.
- Cyber Cafe II, (Sule Pagoda Road across from Traders Hotel). One of the best internet providers in all of Burma. Reasonably fast access. 400 kyats / hr.
- Tokyo Donuts, Anawratha Road (Between Sule Pagoda Road and Phayre Street, on the Southern side of the road). 0900-2100. A donut shop with a dozen terminals inside. Accessible USB ports and seems popular with locals. Free Wi-Fi. 400 kyats per hr.
- Despite all the poverty, Yangon is one of the safest big cities in the world. It is most unlikely that one can encounter a bag snatcher, pickpocket or a con artist in a crowded place.
- Most people, including single female travellers, will not have any problems roaming the streets alone at night, and carrying large sums of money around rarely poses a problem. Crimes against tourists are taken very seriously by the military government and punishment is often disproportionately severe. This, in addition to the strong Buddhist culture in the population, means that Yangon's crime rate lower than the likes of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, and violent crime is especially rare.
- However, there have been isolated incidents involving tourists so it is best to take normal big-city precautions like avoiding lonely areas at night and always being cognizant of your valuables. As with everywhere else in the world, there is no substitute for common sense.
- Be aware of over friendly locals that offers to take you around or places in which they are heading towards, as they may actually turn out to be local tour guides. From the Yangon Airport if you are catching a taxi, you might be a approached by people giving directions to you and showing may even ride in the taxi to your hotel with you and throughout the journey will try to push their tour package. However, if you are up for the adventure travelling the way locals do riding the old bumpy buses; negotiate for a price with the locals. It is easy finding a local tour guide as they will approach you at tourist attractions. Travelling around Yangon for half a day would cost around US$5-10 while a full day trip or half a day trip to another city such as Thanlyin from Yangon cost around US$10-15 (as off July 2011).
- The most common crime in Yangon is being short-changed by a money changer, so count your Kyat carefully when you exchange money. Opt to exchange at the Bogyoke market, where the rates may be slightly worse but the jewellery shop owners won't rip you off. Do not fall for the "bad serial number" excuse -- another attempt to con you. (only "CB" serial numbers are bad). Be especially careful with the money changer around Sule Paya - they count the money right in frontl of your eyes, but will trick you while doing that (they have fast hands!). Travellers are strongly advised not to change money here.
- Another concern, though this is very unlikely to happen, is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were a number of bomb incidents in 2005 - three bombs left in shopping malls caused numerous casualties in May, and in October, a smaller explosion occurred outside Traders Hotel. The perpetrators have not been identified and there have been no bombings since. In 2007, Yangon was the scene of numerous protests against the country's military junta and these protests were broken up by gunfire and by mass arrests. One Japanese photographer was killed. While it is unlikely that a tourist will be targeted by either the military or by protesters, events in a dictatorship tend to be unpredictable in how they evolve so, in the unlikely event that there are protests during your visit, be circumspect and avoid political rallies.
- Prostitution and drug trafficking are illegal though there are plenty of prostitutes in Yangon, often in bars owned by senior officers of the Army. Drug trafficking is punishable by death.
- Yangon's tap water is unsafe to drink. Always buy bottled water. Yangon's warm and humid weather makes it imperative to carry water around.
- Tuberculosis and AIDS (known as "A-I-D Five" among locals) afflict a disproportionately high percentage of the people. However, HIV infection is not at the epidemic level (infection rates are much less than 1%). In addition, there is a risk of dengue fever. Malaria is a risk in rural areas.
- Medical care is limited, but is most expedient at private medical clinics. Government hospitals are usually unreliable and require bribes. Do not seek medical care at the General Hospital (on Bogyoke Aung San Road, sandwiched between Bo Ywe Street and Lanmadaw Street); it is unsanitary and inefficient. Most guest houses and hotels will be able to provide you with the address of a private doctor with experience in treating foreigners. Be sure to take the proper vaccinations before you leave for your trip. Carry a small first-aid kit with you containing at least painkillers, band-aid, ORS and a loperamide-like medicine. Anti-malarial pills and DEET are recommended.
- Many hotels, shopping centres and restaurants offer toilets. However, aside from hotels, expect squat toilets throughout the city. Always bring toilet paper when going out. Try to avoid the need to use public toilets at regularly visited sites, such as pagodas and temples. Here the longyi or the Burmese version of the sarong works well. Since Myanmar men squat when they do their business, they can totally do so. Pants constrict the legs to squat properly and steadily creating the possibility of not making a correct trajectory on the hole.
In case of emergency, always take precautions and register at the Embassy of your nationality.
- Australia, No 88, Strand Rd, faces the Strand Hotel.
- Bangladesh, No 11B Thanlwin Rd.
- Cambodia, No 25 New University Ave Rd.
- Canada, The Australian Embassy can provide assistance.
- China, No 1, Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Rd, is a clearly visible building with red paint.
- France, No 1, 102 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Rd, is near the outskirts of the city.
- Germany, No 32, Natmauk Rd, is near the Kandawgyi Lake.
- India, No 545-547 Merchant St.
- Indonesia, No 100 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Rd.
- Israel, No 15 Kabaung Rd.
- Italy, No 3 Inya Myaing Rd.
- Japan, No 100, Natmauk Rd, is near the Kandawgyi Lake.
- Korea, No 97 University Ave Rd.
- Laos, A1 Diplomatic Quarters, Taw Win St.
- Malaysia, No 82 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Rd.
- Nepal, No 16 Natmauk Rd.
- Netherlands, The German Embassy can provide assistance.
- New Zealand, The UK Embassy can provide assistance.
- Pakistan, No 4A Pyay Rd.
- Philippines, No 50 Sayasan St.
- Russia ,No 38 Sagawa Road
- Singapore, No 238 Dharma Zedi St.
- Sri Lanka, No 34 Taw Win St.
- Sweden, The UK Embassy can provide assistance.
- Switzerland, The German Embassy can provide assistance.
- Thailand, No 94 Pyay St.
- United Kingdom, No 80, Strand Rd, adjacent to the Australian embassy.
- United States, No 581, Merchant St. The lane leading to the Embassy is barricaded, although it is still accessible.
- Vietnam, No 72 Thanlwin Rd.
Allied War Cemetery and Memorial, Taukkyan
- By Yangon International Airport - No more departure tax as was previously stated in various fori and travel guides (witnessed as of Mar.'12). Taxi to airport is 7000 kyats per head including baggage. In actual, it may even be the same hotel manager who will drive you to the airport making some moonlighting. There is a beautiful 3-storey mural - a nice composition of Burmese countryside & lifestyle in the style of idyllic romanticism worth taking souvenir shot as you go to immigration clearance on the second floor departure area.
- Bago (Pegu) - an important town with pagodas and monasteries located 60km north of Yangon and an easy day trip.
- Mandalay - overnight buses, and expensive government trains, leave for Mandalay daily. Bus tickets can be booked at the number of travel agents just north of Yangon railway station.
- Pathein (Bassein) - famous for its paper umbrellas and stunning religious architecture, and an overnight boat ride away (or 4 hours by rented car, more by bus) to the west. From Pathein it's only a few hours by bus or pick-up truck on to the beaches of Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung.
- Taukkyan - about an hour's drive (35km) from central Yangon, and site of the Taukkyan War Cemetery.
- Thanlyin - once an important city on the Irrawaddy Delta, and gateway to Kyauktan (Syriam), a small island in the Yangon River, which is the site of the 4th century Ye Le Paya.
- Twante - the most accessible delta town from Yangon, and makes for a nice half day or full day trip.
- Mawlamyine - A pleasant sea-side city with a few daytrip possibilities. 9-hour express train runs here each morning about 6:15AM (and an 11-hour slow train at 7AM). Ordinary tickets (with no seat reservations) cost foreigners $US5, while upper class tickets are $US14. You get your own seat and it's slightly less crowded, but there isn't much else different between the classes.
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