Yangon is the biggest city in Myanmar, and yet many don’t stay longer than a day or two when they visit en route to Bagan, Mandalay, or Inle Lake. The former capital city is home to 7 million people of different ethnicity, a well-preserved British colonial old town center, and some gorgeous pagoda. I had spent 5 days there and let me tell you, I wasn’t done with seeing everything I wanted to! Although that might also have to do with the heat!
- 1 Myanmar currency exchange
- 2 How much do you need for Yangon per day?
- 3 Sim card for Yangon
- 4 Best time to visit Myanmar
- 5 Getting around in Yangon
- 6 Places to visit in Yangon
- 7 Other notable sites that I didn’t get to see:
- 8 Where to eat in Yangon:
- 9 Spa in Yangon
- 10 3 days in Yangon itinerary:
- 11 Where to stay in Yangon
Myanmar currency exchange
The local currency is kyat, which is pronounced ‘chat’, cannot be exchanged outside of the country. However, the exchange rate is actually best in the airport so it’s easy to do it on arrival. It’s best to bring USD to exchange, but many currencies such as Euros, Singaporean Dollars, and Japanese Yen are also accepted, as is a small amount of change (at a lower rate). It’s important to note that the notes must not be ripped and be as crisp as possible.
This information is current as of March 2018 – so don’t be freaked out by the other accounts telling you that you need to exchange a lot.
The currency exchange stalls can be found right outside departure. The area is flooded with taxi drivers and there are little privacy when you are at the counter. So if you are easily flustered or nervous, put the exact amount you want to exchange in a separate purse or envelope for a quick transaction. You can also go and exchange your kyat back here if you have leftovers.
For those who plan to use your credit, do note that it’s not accepted everywhere therefore it’s better if you have cash on you. Some shop and restaurants also accept USD and credit card, but those tend to be the one you find on TripAdvisor or highly rated online.
My friend Lola from MissFilatelista said she was able to use her card to withdrawl money from ATM without any problem! But if possible, I highly suggest booking and paying for accommodation online rather than on arrival to save the hassle.
How much do you need for Yangon per day?
For a taxi around the downtown area, it should cost under 2,000 kyat
A meal can be anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000, depending on the restaurant you eat at, though it’s very easy to eat on a budget.
For individual entrance fees, check the corresponding sights below.
A Longyi, depending on the material and whether it’s finished, costs 8,000 to 22,000 kyat and upwards.
Sim card for Yangon
Sim card can also be bought at the airport, left of the exit. For Yangon, I recommend going with Telenor, whose offers are pretty good value:
P.S. don’t underestimate the amount you’ll use like I did!
Best time to visit Myanmar
Myanmar is hottest around March and April, and it’s best to avoid it if you can. As a Buddhist country, they also celebrate Song Kra which usually falls in early-mid April, which is said to help cool down the whole city! December is probably the best time, however, it is likely to be the most crowded.
I’ve only visited Yangon – but here is a guide for you if you are looking to backpack around Myanmar.
Getting around in Yangon
Taxi in Yangon
The best way to get around Yangon will be by taxi. Uber and Grab are both available, with the former able to charge your credit card directly and the latter cash based. It’s much cheaper than hailing a cab as you would have to negotiate prices with the driver beforehand since none of the taxies runs on a meter.
Though be warned that you might have to cancel once or twice as sometimes these opportune taxi drivers accept your call from afar. The traffic can also be brutal in downtown, which predominantly consists of one-way roads.
Tip: message your driver on Uber or Grab on your location right after your book is accepted. Wait 5 minutes and if they aren’t coming, it might be best to cancel and get another. I have waited over 15 minutes twice on taxis that never came, and had a bad experience of a driver accepting then just asking me to cancel.
Buses in Yangon
Buses are also an option now that the Roman Numbers are added alongside Burmese ones. I personally haven’t taken one, and they look very jam-packed during peak hours. However, they do stop along many major sights and can be an option to look into.
Train in Yangon
I personally wouldn’t consider using the train in Yangon as a transport option as it isn’t time efficient, however, it is definitely an extremely affordable way to get around and a popular attraction itself.
For most, in particular, backpacker, this is a great way to get to and from the airport considering one of the stations is only about 1 km away. However, if you are carrying anything other than a backpack, it’s not an easy feat, plus it would be hot.
Tip: always asks the ticket officer to let you know which train to get on!
Places to visit in Yangon
There are plenty of things to do in Yangon (Yangon things to do 480/31), and I’m going to list them all here:
As the largest Buddhist Pagoda in the whole of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a jewel of the city and one of the most prominent buildings in the skyline. The golden stupa stands at 99 meters tall, surrounded by prayer halls, smaller temples, and a small pagoda.
The pagoda we see right now is 99m tall, and the legends have it that two merchant brothers had met Gautama and received eight of his hair. On their return, the pagoda was built. However, studies believe that the pagoda only dates back to the 6th century at its earliest by the Mon kingdom. The remnants of the earliest ones are all under the current stupa, which was built by King Hsinbyushin after the earthquake in 1768.
Fun fact: the umbrella added by King Mindon Min in 1871 has a 76-carat diamond, as well as rings, earrings and various jewelry donated by pilgrims. Every five year, new gold is added to the stupa with the name of the donor engraved.
The Pagoda has four gates, and the southern is the grandest with a staircase that leads up to the Singuttara Hill where the pagoda is located. We had entered through the eastern gate (and carried our shoes), following the traditional clockwise direction path as per Theravada Buddhism.
Another interesting thing is that the Burmese Theravada Buddhism believes in an eight-day week astrology, with Wednesday split into morning and afternoon. You’ll find the days of the week with their guardians around the stupa, and it’s customary to follow the four elements to pay respect.
First is the earth element, whereby you offer flowers. Secondly is the water element, where you pour water on the Buddha statue and your guardian animal – so for me is the Garuda as I was born on a Sunday. Thirdly is the fire element, the lighting of a candle. Lastly is the air element, where you ring a bell. You also ring the bell thrice if you have good news to share, as a way of sharing the karma.
Another thing I find interesting is the prayer halls and resting pavilions scattered across the ground. The former are donated and the later are built for pilgrims who journeyed far to pay their respect.
Other notable mentions include the ruby-eyed Buddha in the hall directly opposite the southern entrance, which no longer turn as it used to due to bad morale. The enlarged replica of the Buddha’s footprint found in southern Myanmar, and drinking the water inside is said to be good for you.
Tip: you will be approached by guides when you are in the Pagoda. They are very knowledgeable and it is worth hiring one if you would like to be guided and learn some insider info. I’ve put some of the best interesting tidbits I learned up here, but it’s hard to remember all! Negotiate the prices – our guide was very kind and showed us some things before pitching and only asked for tips. We ended up giving him 12,000 kyat altogether, and my research shows that people paid around 10 USD for one. Pay something that you are comfortable with, but perhaps not more than what we had.
Taxi there from downtown: ~2000 kyat
Entrance fee: 10,000 kyat
Tour guide tip/fee: varies, but don’t pay more than 10,000 per person at most
Opening times: 04:00 – 22:00, last admission 21:45
Sa Ba Street Food Tour
Joining Marc on his Sa Ba Street Food Tour was one of my best decisions in Yangon! Despite having visited Thailand and Vietnam, I was hesitate to try the street food I saw in Yangon not only because of the language barrier, but the fact that I had never seen half the things on display before. There’s also the added factor of whether or not I might get food poisoning!
Luckily, Marc knew exactly where we wouldn’t get an upset stomach. He speaks Burmese, is friendly with the various stall owner, and led us to eat our way through downtown Yangon. We went from the Maha Bandula Park Street near the park where we tried the traditional Mohingar, then through the Indian neighborhood for a taste of ghost snack (a wrap), Mango Lassi and Falooda. We then move through a night food market before sitting down for some tea and salad, tasting the tea leaf salad popular in Myanmar, before I tested my courage at eating a silkworm.
We then entered China Town, trying the Shan Noodles before ending with beers and beerjito at the famous 19th street.
Note: I was offered a complimentary tour but the opinions are completely my own – we stayed after with Marc and P on 19th street until midnight because we were having so much fun.
If you have been dreaming soaring above in Myanmar’s sky on a balloon but can’t muster up the dosh for Bagan, then the tethered helium balloon at Mingalarbar Balloon is the perfect answer! Having been on neither kind of balloons before, they are both essentially the same for me and I was not disappointed.
Using the best US-imported equipment, the balloon can reach up to 400 ft depending on weather condition, and on my flight, we were up to 200 ft with a great view over the Kandawgyi Lake and Shwedagon Pagoda. There is no better way to enjoy a sunset in Yangon for 15-20 minutes!
(the conductor took this for me – he did a great job!)
As someone with a fear of height, it was a bit scary since the balloon does swap a little in the air with the wind. But we were all equipped with a waist strap then hooked onto the ropes on the stand. You have to keep one on you at all times, but once we’ve reached the top, I was able to move towards the side facing the pagoda for some lovely shots.
Note: I was offered a complimentary ride but just look at the photos: it’s the best thing other than flying a drone, which would be VERY difficult in the middle of the city and you’d need to get permission.
Cost: 18 USD, you can also book online here
Address: South central shore of Kandawgyi Lake – can search directly on google map
Opening times: 10:00, last flight 18:00 (sunset)
The center of the Yangon downtown, Sule Pagoda is situated on a roundabout at the intersection of the main roads in Yangon. It was the central point chosen by the British when they set to drain the swampy lands that would become Yangon.
The pagoda is now surrounded by shops selling various goods, and a visit inside is possible, though many commented that the pagoda looks more interesting from afar.
Entrance fee: 2,000 kyat
Though it might not seem like it, Yangon is actually home to the best preserved British colonial architecture. The city was modeled it after New York with its uniform grid system and an orientation that would provide maximum shade. A lot of the official buildings has seen been out of us with the capital move, however, some are still in use such as the high court.
Most of the biggest buildings are located next to the Sule Pagoda and the waterfront, notably the town hall which incorporates Burmese and Western design, as well as the Strand Hotel. The whole area is a kaleidoscope of old buildings, electric wires, street stores, and people, and there are no better ways to look around than to walk.
Tooth Relic Pagoda
A new pagoda located near the airport, the Tooth Relic Pagoda is a symmetrical architecture piece built in the late 20th century. Also known as Swe Taw Myat Pagoda, it was funded by the donation from the Burmese people. Its name derived from the fact that it houses a replica of the Buddha’s tooth in the middle, with the original borrowed from China to enshrine for a period of 45 days when it first opened.
The gold and white exterior of the Pagoda is no doubt what attract most tourists (including me) to visit. Each entrance is guarded by a pair of Chinthe, a leogryph (lion-like) mythical creature that traditionally guards pagoda. Each entrance is identical to the next, and the eastern entrance is particularly spectacular with stairs leading down to a locked gate.
Tip: the entrance is at the south, a road leading up to the circular road on the map on Swe Taw Myat Road.
How to get there: take a taxi from downtown, should costs around 4,700 – 5,000 kyat
Opening times: 6:00 – 18:00
Entrance fee: none for the exterior, but to go inside 2,000 kyat (foreigners only)
Circular Train Yangon
A rather curious top thing to do is the circular train in Yangon. The three-hour train ride is abroad a carriage that was left by the British and little had been done since to upgrade it. because of its popularity, it is very easy to get tickets for it. the platform you need is 7, which is the first stairs down from the pedestrian bridge that links to the Yangon Railway Station if you are approaching from the south.
Tickets are 200 kyat, which is practically nothing, and there are several ticket booth along the length of the platform. The key thing is to ask the ticket officer to tell you which train to get on, as there are several that also stops at this platform.
As the train ride lasts 3 hours, there is a toilet at the end of the platform in the direction behind the stairs – I was charge 100 kyat to use it, which was probably tourist price.
There are some children as well as vendors on the platform while I waited for the 8:20 am train, and a little girl with good English helped me get on and find a seat. The seat, as many blog posts have already mentioned, are hard plastic. If possible, try to find the carriage with seats perpendicular to a window or a seat like that, because twisting your whole body to look out is not fun.
There are quite a lot of people on the train initially, but the train starts to thin out about four stations in. I was alone with various cameras and gadgets on me but I was left alone, so there is no need to worry about your safety (at least not in the morning).
The ride was fun for the first hour, with me trying to take photos, videos, and just soaking it all in. We then reached the northern section at the Danyingon stop where there is a big market. Some would recommend going down for a stroll, I recommend snapping some photos and staying on because the next one won’t be for another hour and a market is, well, a market.
But it was interesting to see locals hauling vegetables and good on the train as well as baskets being balanced on the head.
There are a few street food vendors who have ventured up, but I didn’t try to buy anything nor did they try to sell me.
The second hour was mostly through the countryside. The farms and villages are all surprisingly close to the train tracks, so close that I could see right into someone’s house in instances. It’s good for snapping some nature shot, and you might just start to feel a little restless.
My original plan was to get off at Tandalay and walk to the Tooth Relic Pagoda, but the temperature was at 31-degree celcius and I needed to meet a friend for lunch, so I didn’t. But the third hour did get a little tedious, so it is an option.
At exactly 3 hours later, I got off at Yangon Central Station, the same little girl greeted me so I requested a selfie with her!
Ticket price: 200 kyat
Duration: 3 hours
Timetable: unclear, though I talked to Lola at MissFilatelista and it seems she got the 8:20 train, too. It gets quite hot in the carriage so I do recommend doing it in the morning. There are fewer people, too.
Address: platform 7 at Yangon Central Railway Station. Tickets to be brought in booths on the platform
Kandawgyi Lake and Karaweik Palace
Not too far from the Shwedagon Pagoda is the Kandawgyi Lake. It was built by the British as a reservoir, with a circumference of 8 km.
Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, most of the boardwalk was under construction. I walked along the eastern and southern shores and the only section opens are the one on the eastern edge of the park and the one on the southern shore directly across from the Karaweik Palace. The conditions of the former is quite bad so be careful.
I ended up walking from one to another along the road, which isn’t the best idea in the heat on top of the fact that the road was undergoing construction. Hopefully, the situation will change soon as the series of the boardwalk that connects the two are being renovated. However, the view of the Karaweik Palace is unrivaled and is great for sunset.
The Karaweik Palace, in all its golden glory that echoes the Shwedagon Pagoda, is actually a recent addition. Built in the 1970s, it is a reconstruction of the royal barge and holds nightly culture shows with buffet dinner.
It’s worth noting that the aquarium on the map in the northwestern shore is not yet complete, and the hotel opposite it is undergoing renovation after a fire in November 2017.
Note: neither of the parks I visited require an entrance fee, but the information online points to the park where the barge is located require a 3,000 kyat admission fee
Bogyoke Aung San Market
It isn’t a complete trip to Southeast Asia without a visit to the market. The design resembled that of a western one, with high vaulted ceilings supported by the metal lattice. The market is definitely catered towards tourists, selling jewelry, golds, as well as longyis. There is surprisingly less room for bargaining or haggling unless you are purchasing more than one item.
The market is quite big and if you are keen on shopping for the best longyis, then budget around 2 hours to see all the stores! If you are looking for something more boutique and handpicked, then head to the one below.
Address: No(66,67,68,69,78,79), East D, Bogyoke AungSan Market, 11141, Pabedan, Township, Yangon 11141
Opening times: closes on Monday, 10:30 – 17:00
A fair trade boutique souvenir shop, Hla Days is located next to Rangoon Tea House and an excellent place to buy none-food related souvenir. Though it is on the pricier end, the items are more selective and make for easier browsing and buying. They also accept USD and Credit Card, making it easier for shoppers.
Address: 1st Floor,81 Pansodan Street, Lower Middle Block, next to Rangoon Tea House, Yangon 11182
Opening times: daily 10:00 – 21:30
Lim Chin Tsong Palace
The beautiful Chinese building caught my attention as my taxi drove me from the airport to my hotel. It was built by the Chinese merchant Lim Chin Tsong in the 1910s, a fusion style of Chinese and western modeled after the Summer Palace in Beijing. Though it is not a unique style, the palace is unique in Yangon. The palace has since become a Japanese radio station, a dormitory for university students, and now an art school.
Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to visit as it is closed on a Sunday, though you can get glimpses of it on the highway on a car.
Opening times: unknown, but close on Sunday
Maha Bandula Park
A beautiful park southeast of Sule Pagoda, the Mahan Bandula Park is a testimony to the history of Yangon. Originally a swampy park, it was first named Fytcher Park after being built by the British after the Chief Commissioner of Burma. It housed a statue of Queen Victoria, which was gifted by merchants from Armenia trading in the region. When Myanmar declared independence in 1948, the statue was returned, an obelisk was erected to commemorate the Anglo-Burma war and the name changed to Mahan, after the general who fought in the war.
The park is now a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the shade and particularly crowded during sunset.
Other notable sites that I didn’t get to see:
Chauk-htat-gyu Buddha Pagoda
The pagoda that is home to the famous reclined Buddha statue. The statue is among the largest in Yangon at over 215 feet long!
Kaba Aye Pagoda / Gaba Aye Pagoda
Another great pagoda that I didn’t manage to see, the Kaba Aye Pagoda was built in the 1950s and is also home to a recreation of the Maha Pasana Cave in India.
The water of the Kandawgyi Lake is diverted from this much bigger lake north of it, and while I hadn’t stroll around, I had passed it during my ride to the airport and back, and it looks like a great place for an evening stroll!
Where to eat in Yangon:
There aren’t a lot of famous places to eat in Yangon, and to be fair most people do end up recommending the same places and so will I. Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Sa Ba Streetfood tour because I was able to sample street food at local and authentic places that I otherwise wouldn’t visit myself, given the language barrier, knowledge gap, as well as the uncertainty of food poisoning. However, I would still like to reflect my opinion on the following places:
Rangoon Tea House
Here’s a fact: I went to Rangoon Tea House three times in my five-day visit. That is how much I enjoy it. Though catering to a western clientele, the food is Burmese and reasonably priced. Coupled with lovely ambiance and air conditioning, it’s hard not to keep going back for the delicious food. Even my Burmese friend took me there!
Some of my favourite dishes there are the Coconut Chicken Noodles, the chicken rice and their teas:
P.S. for those from Hong Kong, the tea tastes a bit like Vita Soy!
Address: Ground Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Rd (Lower Middle Block), Yangon
Opening times: daily 7:00 – 22:00
999 Noodle Shop
A very safe and budget choice for travelers, 999 Noodle Shop seems to be universally recommended and all I can say is that it’s not bad. I ended up not getting Shan noodles, which is what it is famous for, and opted for some good old rice noodles. It’s not dissimilar to what I can get in Hong Kong, but it’s of decent quality and good value for money.
Address: 130b, 34th Street, Yangon, 緬甸
Opening times: Sun – Thurs 6:00 – 19:00; Fri- Sat 6:00 – 22:00
Despite not being a Burmese restaurant, I like that Sharky’s is a farm to table restaurant. This basically means that the food is locally produced and fresh. There are two Sharky’s in Yangon, one next to Rangoon Tea House, and another just north of People’s Park not far from Shwedagon Pagoda. The latter is an Italian restaurant and we did quite enjoy the pizza.
Address: Dhammazedi Road, Yangon, 緬甸
(the one downtown is right next to Rangoon Tea House!)
The party street equivalent in Yangon, 19th Street is where the beer, cocktails, and barbeques flow in abundance. I visited with Saba Street Food Tour and it was already bustling with activities at 9 pm. Each restaurant isn’t very big, therefore if you arrive late, you really don’t have a chance to be picky about where you will spend the rest of your evening!
P.S. there are a few beggars around, but pickpocket is generally not a thing, though you would have to be firm with them as they’ll circle back.
Spa in Yangon
Myanmar isn’t exactly famous for spa or massages, but when in Southeast Asia, it’s hard to resist the allure of a cheap massage. Sapel Foot Spa is highly rated on TripAdvisor and it’s clear why. With warm service, clean and relaxing environment, and professional staff, it’s an ideal place to go after a long day’s walk to relax and unwind. A basic foot massage includes neck and shoulder, and would only set you back for 18,000 kyat, not bad at all!
Address: No.57, 15th Street, Lanmadaw Township, Lower Block, Ground Floor, Yangon, 緬甸
Opening times: Sun – Thurs 10:00 – 0:00; Fri – Sat 18:00 – 0:00
3 days in Yangon itinerary:
If you only have 3 days in Yangon, it might not be possible to do everything I have listed above, but you will be able to give it a good go! Below are my suggestions:
Circular train early in the morning (8:20 is pretty good!), 999 Noodle Shop for lunch, take a break or go shopping at BAS market before heading to Shwedagon in the late afternoon and wait there to see the sunset! Then either dinner at Rangoon Tea House.
Get to the Tooth Relic Pagoda before it gets too hot, then hitting the two pagodas and even the Lim Chin Tsong Palace on the way back (all by Taxi, of course). You can skip lunch or head to one of my recommendations, but I am gutted that I didn’t try the Strand’s afternoon tea! After that, stroll along the Kandawgyi Lake before seeing the sunset with Mingalabar Balloon, then head to Sapel’s for a foot massage before hitting up 19th street if you are not too tired.
Visit the pagodas that you didn’t get to yesterday and lunch at a place of your choice (I’d probably be back at Rangoon Tea House). Then you can wrap up some last minute shopping at Hla Day before strolling around downtown. In the evening, join the street food tour with Sa Ba Street Food (or do their morning tour if you are leaving that day!)
Where to stay in Yangon
It is most convenient to stay around downtown, where the traffic is manic with so many one way roads. It allows you to walk around the area whether in search of food or sight-see without needing to get yourself a taxi. It is also easy to get a taxi with Grab or Uber if you need to!
Hotel Yangon Heritage was my choice during my visit, located on one of the streets that lead to the Sule Pagoda with reasonable price as well as being heritage. There’s nothing to fault it, aside from the fairly steep stairs (but the staff will carry your luggage for you) and lack of window view.
If you are looking for something a little more boutique, Hotel G might be further away from downtown, but it’s one of the only designer hotels in the area.
The Strand is right by the port and a heritage building itself and is reputed to be the best hotel in the region back in the days and a total treat to stay in. alternatively, Shangri-La is located across the road from Heritage Yangon Hotel and right next to a modern mall.