While heading off the beaten path in Southeast Asia, my husband and I decided to explore Yangon, Myanmar to get an idea of what life was like in this country – which has only just recently opened its doors to tourists.
The experience was wonderful, disheartening, beautiful and eye opening all at once – with poverty and failing infrastructure, next to gorgeous pagoda’s and colonial style architecture dotting the city. The major benefit of travelling to Yangon was the complete lack of tourists and all that comes with tourism. Expect reasonable cab fares, nobody trying to rip you off, little to no crowds, and a genuine feeling of being in another country, experiencing another way of life.
*note the current Rohingya crisis happening in Myanmar, and plan any necessary safety measures when visiting in 2019
Aside from boasting the largest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia, Yangon’s true gem is the golden Shwedagon Pagoda – Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. Top tip: go at 4am when it opens and is at its most peaceful. Experience the sunrise, and enjoy the coolness of the white marble flooring while you can – by noon you’ll not be able to walk around on it.
Also aim to witness quietly in the background moments of prayer, meditation and the ‘bathing of the Buddha’ by day of the week at Shwedagon. Washing the Buddha at the corner of your birthday is considered lucky and good for karma.
The Circular Railway
This is a must experience while in Yangon to truly get a feel for local life. While I don’t usually go on tours, this one from Viator was small (3 of us) and the guide was phenomenal – giving us so much information and having an answer for every question we had. Top tip: dress light, as there’s no air conditioning on these old Japan Railways decommissioned trains.
What an attack on the senses! From fermented fish smells, to the strong heat of the day, to the colourful mangoes and various fruits – this was an amazing experience. Top tip: grab a tea and sit and people watch. The best part of this market is watching the locals buying/selling, chatting, laughing and just living life. Most of the buyers purchase produce here in bulk for the Yangon area, so I wouldn’t necessarily say the main point of coming is to stock up on fruit and vegetables. Just try to take it all in, and be prepared for the smells! Also – try the crickets!
Watch this video for an inside look at how Paan (indian chewing tobacco) is prepared.
19th Street, Chinatown
When the sun goes down, there is no better place to be than in the middle of all the action on 19th Street. Raw meat is on display up and down the entire road, ready to be barbequed for hungry locals and tourists alike. Tip: Grilled fish is to die for, especially when paired with a cold beer. Looking for an indoor eating experience? Head to Shwe Maw Shan for traditional Shan noodles – spicy noodles from the Shan state in eastern Myanmar.
A peaceful respite from the busy city, the Strand Hotel is a beautifully preserved colonial hotel – opened by the Armenian Sarkies Brothers (owners of Raffles Hotel in Singapore) back in 1901. It’s charm remains intact, with authentic period furnishings to take you back in time. My previous visit was before the renovations, and I believe it is now more elegant than ever.
Have you been to Yangon? Share your experience in the comments below!