Yangon is rich in history, awash in spirituality and a melting pot of cultures. As it transitions from a sleepy port town in to a modern metropolis, a dynamic vibe has energized the city and its people.
Once known as Rangoon, the city served as Myanmar’s capital from 1948 until 2006. These days more than 5 million people call Yangon ‘home’ and, although no longer the political capital, it remains the business and economic hub of Myanmar.
Standing tall at the center of Yangon is Shwedagon Pagoda, the most holy site in the country. The 99-meter gold-covered stupda is located at the top of a hill and can be seen for miles around. Make sure to allocate ample time for a visit as, upon reaching the base of the pagoda, you will certainly be awe-struck by its grandeur and fascinated at the activities of the local pilgrims.
Further south, near the river, is Sule Pagoda. Although the 46-meter structure is not nearly as impressive it is still an interesting place to visit and centrally located to many of the downtown sites.
To the east of Sule is a cluster of colonial buildings, the remainders of the British rule. The imposing City Hall, red-brick Post Office and sprawling Secretariat compound are just a few of the impressive colonial-style monuments still standing. As evidence of a changing Yangon, many high-rise modern buildings have been built alongside these architectural gems creating a striking contrast.
West of Sule is the city’s Little India followed by its Chinatown, two bustling neighborhoods full of food stalls and fresh markets. The mix of colours, smells and tastes in this part of Yangon is intoxicating. It is also the best place to explore the various religious groups in Myanmar with mosques, Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, Christian churches and even a synagogue in close proximity.
The area is also full of tea shops, so if your feet are tired or you need a bit of energy, pull up a chair and sample one of the many delicious snacks and a sweet cup of tea. Teashops are an integral part of Yangon culture and you’ll see business deals being discussed, friends gathering to gossip or families spending quality time together.
Yangon is also a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home. Bogyoke Market (also known as Scott’s Market) is filled with stalls selling handicrafts, jewelry, t-shirts and other items. Pomelo and AFXB are both not-for-profit shops with a range of locally-produced housewares and souvenirs. If you are an art lover, there are dozens of galleries throughout the city with Pansodan Gallery and the up-market River Gallery being two of the best.
To escape from the city, seek out one of Yangon’s parks. Kandawgyi Park, just north of downtown, is marked by its large lake surrounded by trees and a several-kilometer walking path. Further north, Inya Lake is the city’s largest lake and is a popular place for young couples to come in the evening to enjoy the fresh air. Or cross the Yangon river to the village of Dala, a leafy tree-lined delta village with a laid-back atmosphere that is fun to explore by trishaw. Another option is to board the rickety ‘circle train’ which makes a slow loop around the outskirts of Yangon. You can sit back and observe the ways of life and changing scenery of the city’s surroundings.
Serviced by dozens of international flights, Yangon is a great starting point for a Myanmar holiday and worth spending a few days exploring.