Yangon Travel Guide: What to See, Do and Eat in Myanmar’s Former Capital

Yangon may have lost its status as the capital of Myanmar, but it has not lost its charm. The city blends British colonial architecture and modern developments with shining Buddhist temples and pagodas that will amaze visitors. The clear blue lakes, shady parks and lush tropical plants make Yangon a “Garden of the East”. From the air, Yangon looks serene and stunning in the sunset. The glittering golden towers mingle with residential areas, hidden by green trees. The countless golden spires that color the sky and the land give Myanmar the name “The Land of Pagodas and Towers”.

About Yangon

They changed the capital of Myanmar to Naypyidaw in 2006, but until now, Yangon is remembered as the charming ancient capital lies at the junction of Yangon and Bago rivers when people mention to Myanmar.

This is the biggest city also the economy center of Myanmar and now developing fast with the foreign investment. This thousands-year-old-city has 1% area of Myanmar’s but with 11% population. The main language is Burmese but because it was the colony of the Bristish, English is used by old educated people in city center. The telephone network is fine. Wifi is available but the access speed is slow.

Yangon, which was professionally planned by the British, is now like an elegant artist but lose the edge. The roads are straight like a chessboard without small alleys. There are slum and shabby apartment blocks that seems the "typical" areas of Chinese and Indians. The streets and houses seem all need to repaired and maintained". Besides, there are still rich, ancient and luxurious villas, architecture works seems prevail over the ones in Indochina left by the French. After a long time of "taking a break," many new projects are hurriedly constructed showing the aspiration of development accelerating of Myanmar people.

The railway system spreads to the Northern provinces. The government banned people (except civil servants) from owning and riding motorcycles in the city. However, motorbikes are still available in rural and remote areas.

Two main transports in Yangon are by taxis and buses. Civil servants and middle or high-income people take taxis while the low-income ones take buses or walk. Buses are always chock-a-block. Cars are restricted to be imported. Gasoline is standardized and there is also a black market for gasoline. The black market provides new and used cars from Thailand and China. Almost cars in Myanmar are old cars of Japan 1980, 1990, even 1950. Most of glass windows of taxis are not be closed. Cars have clattering machines, frayed furniture, and no air conditioning. All drivers need sedge fan, wiping cloth and water bottle inside the car in hot weather. Almost taxi don’t have taxi meter and you will bargain base on the distance. The good point is no traffic jam in Yangon because of few motorbikes here.

Yangon today still retains its charm, with wide roads, and smooth green trees along the roads, and the quiet lakes. Highlights include the Shwedagon Pagoda, the colonial-era Kandawgyi Lake, the Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple showcasing one of the country’s largest reclining Buddha statues…

Please be aware that you can’t wear your shoes in the pagodas and all sacred spots in Myanmar so remember to bring a bag with you or leave them outside.

We should visit the pagodas in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the strong heat in dry season.

Myanmar, Yangon
Buddhism is an important site in Burmese culture.

Why Yangon?

Shwedagon temple

Shwedagon temple is considered as one of the ancient wonders of the world. The temple is 98 meters high, and it is actually a golden light tower in the center of city and you can find the temple from anywhere in the city. Lush green trees are also an important adornment for the scene here.

According to the legend, the temple was built 2500 years ago, and is kept the hair relics of Buddha. For centuries, local people have donated their property included to build the temple as the way they accumulate blessing. They also donated gold and jewels to the temple, and until now there are more than 80,000 jewels, tons of gold in the temple, especially the diamond ball placed on top of the temple. Around the temple area are towering temples and numbers of small shops, which serve pilgrims visiting here. This is also the main focus of the whole country to pay homage to Buddha. Here, you can witness the rituals of the Buddhist Myanmar when they pray and offer offerings.

Tourists and Buddhists flocked to the temple but we cannot see any scramble here.  All is respectful and solemn worship, offering the flowers, fruits, candles and thin yellow leaves to inlay to the Buddha statues and stupas. We will not see the burning incense here and the money will be put on the merit box with the sincerely reverent. The whole morning seem not enough to visit this huge temple.

The Shwedagon temple has its most brilliant beauty in the early morning and at night, with the sparkle glowing yellow, like we are in nirvana. It explains us why people call Myanmar the Golden Land.

Myanmar, Yangon, Shwedagon temple
Shwedagon temple

The Martyrs’ Mausoleum

locates near to Northern Gate of Shwedagon Pagoda. From here, you can take the panoramic vistas over the rest of Yangon. This is a memorial built to honor the Major General - called Aung San and the founders of modern Myanmar and six of his cabinet members who were assassinated.

It is also the place where set the tomb of Queen Suphayalat – the wife of last King of Myanmar – and other famous persons of the country such as former Un Secretary General U Thant, the writer Thakin Kodaw…

The mausoleumis open only on the 19th of July every year as this is a public holiday to remember the assassination of Aung San.

Myanamr, Yangon, The Martyrs Mausoleum
The Martyrs’ Mausoleum

Yangon Lake

also called Kandawgyi Lake or Victoria Lakes, Great Lakes locates east of Shwedagon Pagoda with water coming from Inya Lake flowing through a system of water pipes. This 61-hectare lake is surrounded by the 45-hectare Kandawgyi Nature Park and the 28-hectare Yangon Zoo with a zoo, an oceanographic institute and an amusement park.

This is an artificial lake was originally built to create a clean water supply for the British colonial government at the time.

The lake is famous for its boardwalk which wraps around the water and be the best place to go for a stroll in the evening. You can also find musical performances held in the park while walking here. If you want to try a favorite local activity in Yangon then you can go down to here and feed the resident amazing catfish with bread.

Even though it is not the biggest one, the lake is definitely the most famous one of the city.

Kandawgyi Lake Yangon
Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon

Sule Pagoda

was built some 2,500 years ago and is one of the most famous temples in the Yangon city. This pagoda is also known as Sule Paya is made up of a 46 meter stupa with that an octagon shape. You will walk around the pagoda, gaze at all the architectural motifs inside the main building and the walkways are an oasis of calm in the middle of the bustling city.

Myanmar, Yangon, Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda

Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple

is one of the largest religious buildings in Myanmar and known for the statue of a reclining Buddha which is 217 foot long. The statue with the amazing details is considered one of the most splendid Buddha statues in the world. When it first made, the face was quite severe but after several times revised, it now so lively and you can enjoy all the intricate details and design touches up close such as the long eyelashes of Buddha and the inscribed feet. The temple locates outside of downtown but your visit will be worth with its impressive beauty.

Yangon, Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple, Reclining Buddha
Recline Buddha Statue in Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple

The Swe Taw Myat Pagoda

is one of the nicest in Myanmar and is made of gold leaf and white stucco which glows in the afternoon sun. It is also covered in eye catching motifs in different colors. You also can discover the local life in different alleyways to go into the pagoda as it has number of entrances. People said that the temple preserve a tooth of Buddha. It is a very sacred place not only in Yangon but also in Myanmar.

Botataung Pagoda

is one of the most important religious monuments in Yangon. It was built to honor 1000 military leaders in Myanmar who made guard of honor and paid their respects to the relics of Buddha. It is said that eight strands of Buddha’s hair were brought over from India more 2000 years ago. The hairs are not shown to public but still preserved in the pagoda. Botataung pagoda is also famous for the name “1000 soldiers”.

Kaba Aye Pagoda

is the place where you will find a peaceful courtyard here that seems a world away from the busy streets of the city. You can take in the Buddha centerpiece which is made of silver from here that is believed the most precious to the Buddha followers.
The Maha Wizaya Pagoda locates on top of a small scenic hill and it is rather modern. You can take in the amazing views over Yangon from the top of the hill. The turtles crawl around the temple or swim in the lakes below the lush trees. Step inside, you will see the picturesque blue domed ceiling that is covered in motifs.

Yangon Circular Train

Myanmar is known for epic railway journeys. Many of the train lines here were built during the British colonial period.

Coming to the railway area to experience the truly local life of people here always attract tourists from all over the World. Or taking the short jaunt of 3 hours on the Yangon Circular Train offers you the best view of emerald green rice paddies and rustic villages that dot the railway line. 

Myanmar, Yangon Circular Train
Yangon Circular Train

Inya Lake

created by the British as a reservoir in 1883, is Yangon's largest artificial water body. It has recently been renovated so that you can now easily walk along its pretty shores.

The lake also backs on to lush gardens and the area is known for its scenic villas which are owned by many of Yangon’s elite.

Walking around this lake is a must-see for Yangon wandering tourists. The scene of sunrise and sunset here is extremely beautiful and picturesque brilliant.

Kandawgyi Park

is one of the best places to visit in Yangon if you want to get out of the center of the bustling city.

The Kandawgyi lakes are located quietly, reflecting the color of the sky with the golden tower of Shwe Dagon Pagoda on the top of the green forests along the river banks.

In the large area of the garden, you can find many beautiful flowers, the natural scenery of the lake and the shady trees that make you feel relaxed.

The National Museum

built in 1996, is a magnificent five-story building, showcasing the rich collection of Myanmar's history and culture in the fields of archeology, ethnography, and tradition, religion and culture - art...

Here you will also find a whole range of Burmese artifacts as well as galleries filled with antiques and other regalia that date back to the Konbaung Dynasty.

It has one of the best collections of antiques in Southeast Asia and this is the place cannot be missed if you interested in Burmese craftsmanship and heritage items.

Myanmar, Yangon National Museum
Yangon National Museum.

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