In 2006, Yangon lost its status as the capital of Myanmar to Naypyidaw, but it remains the country’s most vibrant city. Its ethnic diversity and surge of new restaurants, shops, and high-rise hotels make it the undisputed cultural and commercial hub. Here is my Yangon City travel guide with things to see and do
For all the bustle, Yangon has kept its rustic charm. Spread across the city is a collection of old-world finds, ranging from colonial buildings and traditional markets to ancient stupas and a bumpy railway. But not only that. Home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the country’s holiest site, it remains deeply spiritual.
Yet the city is not afraid to embrace progress. With it is an influx of travelers. Some visit short-term as a tourist, while others stay permanently as a digital nomad. Who can blame them when Yangon teems with unique experiences?
Are you planning a trip to Yangon? Learn about the top things you can see and do in this up-and-coming city with our Yangon travel guide.
1. Watch the Sunset at the Shwedagon Pagoda
Perched on Singuttara Hill in the middle of Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda is the holiest religious site in Myanmar. According to tradition, it dates back 2,600 years, making it the world’s oldest Buddhist pagoda.
The main stupa stands 112 meters high and sits on the topmost terrace, surrounded by several pavilions, temples, bells, statues, and shrines. It is covered entirely in gold and topped with a crowning umbrella decorated with thousands of diamonds and emeralds.
Devotees believe the Shwedagon houses eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair and three other relics of previous Buddhas, including a fragment of the robe of Kassapa, the staff of Kakusandha and the water filter of Koṇāgamana.
Sunset is the best time to visit the pagoda when its gilded spires turn a lovely shade of crimson and deep orange against the indigo sky. Stay on until evening to see the flickering candles and the pagoda lit up. But if you want to escape the crowd, go during sunrise instead.
2. Discover Colonial Architecture in Downtown Yangon
A British colony for over a century, Yangon is home to some of Asia’s most impressive heritage buildings, almost all of which are in downtown. On Pansodan Road, you’ll find a long line of 19th- century structures of European classical and neoclassical designs – red brick buildings reminiscent of post-industrial London and narrow, colorful apartment blocks redolent of old shophouses.
Perhaps the most famous building in the area is The Secretariat. This red and yellow brick complex is on 6.5 hectares of manicured lawn and was once Britain’s seat of administration in the country. In 1947, General Aung San, founder of modern-day Myanmar, and six of his colleagues met their end there, killed by a gang of armed paramilitaries.
Then there’s Strand Hotel. Built in 1901, it remains one of Asia’s most well-preserved colonial-era icons. Then, there’s also Rowe & Co, a former department store that sold British luxury goods, earning the nickname the Harrods of the East. The building is now a bank.
3. Shop at Bogyoke Aung San Market
Famous for its colonial architecture, Bogyoke Aung San Market is a multi-story bazaar with over 2,000 stores. It is perfect for shopping, sightseeing, or simply strolling around. As you meander down its cobblestone streets, you will see stacks of antiques, local handicrafts, jewelry, clothes, puppets, and fresh fruits.
Even if you’re not buying anything, you will still enjoy observing the hustle and bustle of the market and the rush of shoppers. But if you’re looking for souvenirs to take back home, check out the traditional brocaded textiles and hand-painted lacquerware. Don’t leave without sampling the delicious delicacies sold at the various food stalls.
4. Get Aboard the Yangon Circular Train
Riding the Yangon Circular train could be the bumpiest trip of your life, but it’s also guaranteed to be pleasantly exciting. If you want to delve deep into Burmese culture, this three-hour journey allows you to learn about local life.
Founded during colonial times, the 45.9-km railway loops around the Yangon metropolitan area, passing the suburbs and nearby towns. You will share the ride with locals, many of whom are merchants taking their wares to the city.
Vendors selling cigarettes, betel quid, fresh fruits, drinks, and snacks climb aboard whenever the train stops, turning the rickety carriages into a lively marketplace. Outside the windows are charming views of the pristine countryside, dotted now and then with rice paddies.
5. Have a Bite at Chinatown
Chinatown, arguably Yangon’s gastronomic hub, is the perfect go-to for beer and barbeque. You’ll find not just local dishes but pretty much anything skewered – from chicken to beef hearts to vegetables. In fact, there’s so much barbeque here that locals dubbed it Barbeque Street.
The best time to explore Chinatown is in the evening when this 19th-century thoroughfare turns into a vibrant mix of makeshift stalls selling local food and beverages. Spilling into the street are colorful plastic tables and stools where hungry locals and tourists sit down to enjoy a bite and drink with friends.
6. Unwind at Kandawgyi Park
About 12 minutes south of Yangon’s city center is the stunning Kandawgyi Park, the perfect escape from the urban crowd and chaos. Its main feature is the 150-acre artificial lake, originally constructed as a reservoir during the colonial era to provide the city with a clean water supply. Also in the park are the Yangon Zoological Gardens which include an aquarium, an amusement park, and a zoo.
On the southwestern part of the lake is a boardwalk where you can stroll or jog. Nearby are gorgeous gardens with picnic tables and benches for lounging.
On the lake’s eastern edge is the gilded Karaweik Palace, a two-story ornate building designed like a royal barge in the shape of a mythical bird. Karaweik serves as a cultural hall, hosting buffet dinners and traditional performances. From there, you can see the towering spires of the Shwedagon Pagoda, which look resplendent at sunset.
7. Visit the Sule Pagoda
Standing 44 meters in the heart of Yangon downtown, the ancient Sule Pagoda contrasts beautifully with the modern shops and buildings surrounding it. It is perhaps the only pagoda in the world in the middle of a busy traffic circle.
Because of its central location, Sule Pagoda has been the rallying point of some pro-democracy demonstrations, including the 1988 uprisings, the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and the Spring Revolution in 2021.
Visit Sule at dusk because most visitors have left, and the stream of traffic in the intersection has died down. The lovely sunset hues and flickering city lights make the pagoda look more ethereal.
8. Marvel at the Massive Reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi Paya
The 66-meter reclining Buddha in the Chaukhtatgyi Temple is famous not only for its massive size but also for its kind expression. The original statue, first completed in 1907, underwent facial reconstruction in the 1950s after people complained about its aggressive countenance.
The present Buddha image bears a milder look, highlighted by long eyelashes and large glass eyes. On the Buddha’s head is a crown embedded with diamonds and other precious stones, while on its feet are intricate inscriptions. Across Chaukhtatgyi Temple is the Ngahtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 14-meter seated Buddha.
9. Stroll Along Yangon Walls
Stretching from 29th to 42nd street, the Yangon Walls (stylized as YGN Walls) is an outdoor gallery of street art featuring vibrant and fascinating murals by local artists. This ongoing project aims to transform neglected spaces (back alleys) where people dump their trash into a ‘garden alley’ that shows off the city’s artistry and environmentalism.
As you meander down the street, you’ll see murals depicting Burmese fairytales, scenes from popular Burmese movies, and Burmese girls in traditional clothing. A portion of the walls also portrays an urban jungle theme with exotic animals, plants, and birds.
In some parts of the back alley are vegetable patches and a play area with swings and slides. It hosts a yoga, dance, and Zumba class every Sunday morning. Make sure to look out for Atelier, a gallery and art concept store that displays their local artworks.
10. Go on a Boat Ride at Inya Lake
Six miles north of downtown is the serene and picturesque Inya Lake. Spanning 958,000 acres (3.88 square kilometers), Inya is almost five times larger than Kandawgyi, making it Yangon’s largest artificial lake. Surrounding it are pretty gardens, high-end restaurants, fancy accommodations, and private residences where the city’s wealthiest residents live.
Probably the most well-known landmark along the shoreline of Inya Lake is former prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence, where she spent 15 years of house arrest. The prestigious Yangon University lies on the southwestern bank of the lake. Next to it is a 37-acre public park, popularized as a romantic rendezvous by Burmese pop culture.
If you’re interested in seeing Inya by boat, drop by the Yangon Sailing Club on the lakeside. The club is also open to non-members on Friday nights for a drink. For those who prefer to explore on foot, it takes about two hours to complete a hike around the lake.
11. Check Out the Botataung Pagoda
Botataung translates to ‘1,000 military leaders’, named after the thousand honor guards who welcomed the eight hair relics of the Buddha brought to Myanmar from India more than 2,000 years ago. The pagoda housed all eight relics for six months before they got sent to other shrines. Today, just one of the sacred strands remains there.
The Botataung Pagoda stands on a hillock overlooking the Yangon River. Compared to the Shwedagon, it is quieter and almost devoid of visitors.
The pagoda’s most impressive feature is its hallow 131-foot stupa which contains a winding hallway decorated with gold leaf sheets. Lining this corridor are glass showcases displaying ancient relics and artifacts, including small Buddha images made of silver and gold.
12. Explore the Maha Wizaya Pagoda
Yes, another pagoda. But the Maha Wizaya Pagoda is quite different from the other pagodas. Built in the early 1980s to celebrate the union of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, it is one of the country’s newest religious sites.
Unlike most pagodas in Yangon, Maha Wizaya is a captivating mixture of traditional and modern designs. The stupa has a hollow core, its interior ornamented with a forest of artificial trees and a domed sky-blue ceiling showing zodiac symbols. The pagoda grounds offer gorgeous city views and serve as home to some turtles roaming around or swimming in the pool.
13. Delve Deep into History at the National Museum
Even if you’re not a hardcore historian, you will find the displays at the National Museum intriguing. Many of them are from the royal family collections, including massive ornate beds, lavish palanquins, ivory kitchen chairs, silver and gold rugs, stunning ceremonial dresses, and a jumble of elaborate spittoons and betel-nut holders.
The highlight is King Thibaw Min’s awe-inspiring 26-foot-high, bejeweled Lion Throne. On the upper galleries, you will lehttps://nomadgirl.co/diy-travel-guide-to-bagan-myanmar/arn about the history of Myanmar’s diverse ethnic groups through exhibits on natural history, prehistory, art, and cultural pieces. There are also various Buddha images worth checking out on the fourth floor.
Myanmar has plenty of other exciting destinations to visit.