Three Days in Yangon Myanmar AsiaRoom and Keys.me
Previously named ‘Rangoon’, the former capital of Myanmar, (previously called ‘Burma’) Yangon, is still somewhat off the beaten path for many travelers in Southeast Asia. The reason for said name changes along with the changing of the capital amongst other things, are due to the former military government wanting to change the ‘colonial’ names given by the British Empire. As you may have guessed, Myanmar and Yangon have a complex history and are still in a way ‘finding themselves’; pardon the cliché.
Yangon is still by far the biggest city in Myanmar and maintains the feel and appearance of a capital city. It is the main tourist destination in the country and despite tourism only being encouraged since 1992 it has seen a constant growth in tourism since. That being said, the country still welcomes less tourists than just about all other countries in the region. I think this is a bonus, Yangon still feels untouched by tourism and I felt like I was exploring unlike many of the surrounding countries I have visited. However, this may not last long.
The city is a contrast of beautiful colonial architecture mixed with rundown houses and endless street stalls. The streets possess smells of local food and are stained red due to the popular pastime of chewing betel leaf, which is spat out wherever the chewer sees fit, leaving red splats all over the sidewalks. Getting around the city is fairly easy due to the grid pattern design. Most tourist spots are walkable for anyone of average fitness and I found this was the best way to get a feel for the people and culture. Alternatively, taxis can be hailed relatively cheaply, but don't expect air con. One thing to note is that bicycles and motorbikes are illegal in the city.
Things to Do
To fill your days there's plenty to do, start off with the jewel in Yangon’s crown, the ‘Shwedagon Pagoda’. Stretching 99 meters tall, this golden stupa is the most sacred in Myanmar and rivals any religious site in Southeast Asia, if not the world. Legend states that it was built 2600 years ago, although historians believe it was built in the 6th century. The pagoda is the most visited tourist spot in Myanmar and it is understandable why. The architecture, art and essence of the place really stay with you. I also found that locals were particularly proud that foreigners were coming to see the pagoda, with many asking for photos. I recommend visiting in the evening and staying until darkness as the lights and reflections of the gold and jewels are a stunning sight.
Sticking to pagodas for now, a second one worth a visit is the ‘Sule Pagoda’ which is less grand than Shwedagon but is located downtown and is 2500 years old. It has been the site of many historical and political events and is worth reading up on before passing by it on a stroll downtown.
Bogyoke Market, Yangon Myanmar
Two more places downtown to visit are Saint Mary's Cathedral and Bogyoke Market. The cathedral was built by the British over 100 years ago and sums up the contrast of architecture and history that Yangon has to offer. You can go inside and admire the architecture or even enjoy one of the daily masses. Just round the corner from the cathedral is Bogyoke market, named after an army general. The market contains many trinkets and souvenirs including arts, crafts and clothing. It's the best place to buy gifts for loved ones or sample authentic goods.
After exploring downtown Yangon you may want to get away from the hustle and bustle for a while. The best way to do this is taking the short 6 mile trip to Inye Lake. This 37 acre park is beautiful and renowned for being romantic amongst locals. It also housed Aung Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner and politician who was under house arrest for 15 years there. If you are unaware of her, I recommend reading about her story which is still ongoing today. After visiting the park and lake, head north in a taxi to Taukkyan Cemetery. The memorial remembers allied soldiers from the commonwealth who died in Burma during World War 2 and like war memorials the world over, is truly moving.
Circular Train, Yangon Myanmar
My personal highlight of Yangon particularly if you enjoy seeing how locals live, is the circular train. The train leaves from Yangon Central Railway Station and takes you on a 3 hour, 46km loop of the suburbs and surrounding villages. The train costs 18 cents and leaves from platform 7, it is largely used by locals to get downtown to sell and buy produce. You get to see the day to day lives of these people and get to view the outskirts of Yangon rather than just the center.
These are my must see sites for Yangon, they will take three days to do and see comfortably. Depending on your plans I highly recommend heading back to the train station and jumping on the night train to Bagan for another train ride you will not forget.
Yangon, Myanmar can be very wallet-friendly if you use this guide. AsiaRoom and Keys.me prides itself on being the most affordable hotel, guesthouse, bed and breakfast, home, and resort online source for rooms.
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