Also see: Our photography tour to Myanmar
For most visitors to Myanmar, Yangon is just a Port of Entry to arrive in the country. After a quick visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, they move on towards other destinations such as Inle Lake, Bagan or Mandalay. But there is much to do and see in Yangon other than Shwedagon Pagoda. Here is a quick guide to spending two days in the city.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.
Yangon, Day 1
Start your day early in the Streets of Yangon. One of the most cherished experiences of Myanmar is watching the Buddhist monks and nuns walk silently in a line as they seek alms. They are normally out at the break of dawn with a small pot hanging on their shoulders. With a large number of monasteries spread across the country and very densely present in the cities, there is no specific place you need to wait for them. Just ask your hotel staff for the nearest place where they normally walk by. You can silently watch them come and go or follow them without disturbing them. Of course, you are welcome to contribute.
Breakfast. Only places that open early in the morning are the Burmese Tea Houses by the street side. They are are doubtlessly the best places to get some local breakfast or short eats, such as noodle soup (mohinga) or rice. Your hotel may be a better bet if you are looking for something more international.
Bogyoke Market. This is probably the most popular shopping hangout for local people as well as tourists. Visiting souvenir hunters usually gather here. But it is also a place where local people come to buy supplies. You can easily set aside an hour if you want to just stroll by. Add one more hour if you are looking to do some shopping.
Downtown Walks. If this is your first visit to Myanmar, there is a good chance that you have just arrived in Yangon the previous evening and looking to see the life in a new country. What better way to do this than walking around a bit? The best walks in downtown is along BoGyoke Road, starting from Bogyoke Market and heading towards west. Along the way, you will see several numbered narrow streets to your right, usually packed with shops. These streets are a mix of residential apartments, shops and some backpackers’ guesthouses. The densely packed buildings often go six to eight stories high and without a lift! You will often see ropes hanging from the upper houses for taking delivery from street vendors. Walking across these numbered streets, occasionally switch to the parallel roads – Anawratha Road or Maha Bandula Road before returning to Bogyoke Road.
Along the Bogyoke Road, you will see a lot of activity of vendors selling fruits and snacks. There are a few British Era buildings that stand apart from the rest with their red brick walls. This area is also the face of modern Yangon, with its coffee-shops, air-conditioned restaurants and some big buildings.
At the end of Bogyoke Road, turn right to Lower Pazundaung Road to see a Yangon without its flashiness. This road is a mix of residential and commercial spaces with many empty sections. Keep your eyes open for some abandoned train tracks that are now overrun with plants. You can end the walk after a few hundred meters into Lower Pazundaung Road.
Sule Pagoda is one of the major landmarks in downtown Yangon, very close to Bogyoke Market. It’s another place you may want to pass by during the walk. There is an entry fee to go inside the pagoda complex, which is generally deemed not worth the money.
Lunch at Feel Myanmar. If you are looking to try some Burmese Food, visit Feel Myanmar Restaurant. This is a large space with a huge choice of Burmese Curries. You can order a selection of curries of your choice from the counter, where everything is at display, before taking a seat. Curries are served with rice or noodles. Arrive early if you can, as the place can get very crowded with local visitors.
Circular Train. Yangon’s best local experience is in the circular train, which connects the suburbs with downtown area. Afternoon is the best time to catch this, as this is the time when the train isn’t very crowded but has enough activity to keep your senses happy. The full circle ride takes three hours. You can consider getting down somewhere on the way if you find it too long, but it is worth spending that time in the train. Especially interesting are a few busy market-stations along the way, after which there is a sudden burst of activity.
Taking the circular train is a great way to have a quick glimpse of rural life around Yangon.
Shwedagon Pagoda. The holiest place in all of Myanmar is also the prettiest, most dazzling and colourful place in Yangon. The golden pagoda glitters in floodlights in the evening hours, making it the brightest place in Yangon after the sun goes down. This is also the time when most people come to pay a visit, offer flowers to Buddha or light a candle. The almost-100m tall gilded pagoda is studded with precious stones on its hti (tip of the pagoda) and your guide can show you the light emanating from the jewel on the top.
Dinner at The Thiripyitsaya Sky Bistro, Sakura Tower. Sakura Tower is the highest building in downtown area, and perhaps also in all of Yangon after Shwedagon Pagoda. The views of Sule Paya and Shwedagon Pagoda from here are excellent. Visit after dark to see them glowing in flood light. Dinner is relatively expensive and can set you back anywhere between US$10 to 20.
Yangon and Bago, Day 2
Shwedagon Pagoda in the morning. If you haven’t been satiated with the one visit to the pagoda last evening, consider getting there early in the morning as well. The lights come on at the pagoda very early in the morning, and the first set of visitors start coming in as early as 5am. It’s quieter now compared to the evening hours and gives you a chance to admire its glory in silence.
Drive to Bago. Lucky 7 Teahouse is a place highly recommended for breakfast. They serve a Burmese breakfast. If they are not open by the time you leave for Bago, you can visit one of the many wayside stopovers on the road. Bago is a small town about 1.5 hours away from Yangon. It served as a capital of kings of Myanmar once. Today, it is a quieter suburban city which has a very active markets and many religious centers. The drive takes you through several small towns and expanses of paddy. You may also see many Buddhist monks walking in a long line, seeking alms along the way.
Rangoon War Memorial. On the way to Bago is Rangoon War Memorial, located in the village of Taukkyan. The site contains the graves of thousands of soldiers who died during the second world war in Burma and has names of many more soldiers inscribed.
Bago. Bago is a good half-day visit, or whole day if you take it easy. Start with the large sleeping Buddhas of Shwethalyaung and Myathalyaung. Visit the tallest Pagoda in the country – Shwemadaw, which is visible from most parts of the town. Continue to Mahazedi Pagoda in a leafy setting and then to four Buddhas at Kyaik Pun. Visit the large Kya Khat Wain Monastery around 11am, in time for the monks to come out for lunch. From here, head to the market area to walk through a vibrant and colourful market. You can easily spend an hour walking through the market before heading back to Yangon. Lunch can be had in one of the many restaurants that serve Burmese Food. There are a few restaurants in the town that primarily cater to tourists as well.
Potters’ Workshops. In a small village half-way through the journey back to Yangon, you will find several shops selling earthenware. Stop and look out for workshops in the area where they produce a large number of mud pots and other things made from clay. If you are in a good time, you can watch them burning pots in a big fire and large number of pots ready to be baked.
It should be evening by the time you return to Yangon. Once it begins to to get dark, it would be a good time to walk on Bogykoe Road in search of street food or teahouses. Or if you prefer, you can also get into to the comforts of an air-conditioned place that might serve coffee/beer and snacks.