26 Dec Travel Tips for Yangon, Myanmar
This is a guest post from friend and intentional traveler, Karen Bortvedt, with tips from her recent trip to Myanmar. Karen is currently serving with the Deaf Development Program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia through Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, formerly Burma, formerly Taungoo (and this history could go on and on) is a fascinating blend of buildings that have gone unchanged for nearly a century, plus modern bars and cafes. Once the most cosmopolitan city in the region, Yangon’s present situation is equally as fascinating as its history. Many travelers use Yangon as a transit city as they head out on one of the many night buses to Inla Lake, Mandalay, or Bagan. But Yangon is definitely worth more than a second look.
Top Three Tourist Sites Around Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda is possibly the largest draw in the city and is worth the visit. It costs $8 to see the temple. The ornate stupas and alters are a site to be seen.
If you have an umbrella, bring it along as the beautiful white tiles, gleaming gold pagoda, and glitzy shrines reflect the blazing sun onto unprotected skin. It is also best to make sure most of your skin is covered, as this is a religious place for locals and it is important to respect their culture. That being said, you check your shoes at the entrance (or tuck them into your bag) so be sure to bring shoes that are easy to stow away.
This can be an all day or half-day excursion. There are various mini-museums and photo displays throughout the temple and no shortage of things to see.
Bogyoke Aung San Market is another must do in Yangon. This market sells everything and spans for blocks. You can purchase your very own longi or any other souvenir your heart fancies. Vendors selling drinks and snacks are littered throughout, and numerous stalls sell meals, so you can keep up your shopping energy. Some negotiation on prices seems to be acceptable and expected.
Bago is a short day trip away from Yangon and home to around a dozen impressive pagodas, lounging buddhas and the ancient palace – which is actually a replica but still impressive to see.
There is a bus that departs from near the airport that is only 1,000 Kyat one way, though the English on board is limited. Once you arrive in Bago, you can hire a tuktuk for the day (a moto with a cart attached with wood planks on which to sit). The tuktuk drivers know the many temples and where tourists want to go. They also know places to stop of a quick lunch. This is definitely an all day activity and an umbrella is again advisable as the sun is strong.
Restaurants in Yangon
There are many dining options with a variety of price points. From the street food to fancy places that rival prices of those in large European cities. One that was worth visiting multiple times, for price, ambiance, and taste were Shan Noodle 999. Located behind city hall, they have delicious and very low priced food (vegetarian friendly). And, like all folks we met in Myanmar, their staff are amazing. They even mixed my friend’s noodles for her one time because she must not have been doing it correctly.
Pansuriya is another great place if you want somewhere to spend an afternoon reading, writing, or just relaxing. They have tasty traditional food and great tea. Their co-owner is often there during the day and is always happy to chat.
Rangoon Tea House on the main drag is a must hit for one reason: chocolate-filled samosas. Their food is good, prices are a little higher than the other two, and the ambiance is similar to any hipster hang-out in the USA but those samosas are almost worth a plane ticket back for another helping.
This and that: Travel Tips
Money: ATMs seem to now be readily available in Yangon and dispense kyat. Most establishments are able to break the size of bills that ATMs give, but cash is still the primary currency. (Some have said ATMs will not allow withdraws on cards that are issued from US banks affiliated with the military but that is one anecdotal experience.) Additionally, it is always wise to bring along some cash. US dollars can be exchanged but they must be pristine with no damage, creases, or marks (seeing any kyat in this condition is rare). Some locations will also allow payment in US dollars.
Getting Around: Taxis are the primary form of transportation in Yangon for the tourist crowd. They are very inexpensive. In town, 2000 kyat seems an average. Even staying about 45 minutes outside town, with minimal traffic, we usually paid only 4000. Ask drivers up front how much and don’t worry about letting one drive off who asks to much, there is likely already another waiting behind him. Also, get business cards from your hotel so you can show it to the driver if they do not know the place by name. It is much easier than trying to show them on a map and they will likely call directly to the hotel for directions.
Buses are common but without understanding the language, and being skilled at jumping onto a moving vehicle, they may be hard to navigate. Walking is also common to see with sidewalks on most streets, often shared with vendors but still enough room to roam. Just be sure to watch the traffic as well as the lights – or better yet, cross with locals as they understand the traffic patterns.
People: Unlike some S.E. Asian countries where people seem fed up with tourists, Yangon seems to have the nicest general populace. Complete strangers would walk up and ask if we needed help and offer detailed instructions. One stranger even negotiated a taxi rate for me and explained to the driver where to go – completely unsolicited. And, the colors and bustle of Yangon are worth sitting and watching for hours. Mahabandoola Park is one of many great places to check out. The elevated crosswalks, markets, and river front also offer great locations for just watching the world walk by.
Lodging: Yangon has a wide variety of lodging at this point. Allegedly, it is one of the more expensive S.E. Asian cities; but you can find affordable places, some may be farther outside the main hub of the city. But don’t let the supposed high hotel costs keep you away!
Need a place to stay in Yangon? Search here for a hotel or hostel (Disclosure: we will get a commission on your booking, at no additional cost to you). Or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb.com (sign up for a new Airbnb account with this link and for a limited time, you can get up to $40 off your first booking).
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