My shirt is soaked with sweat. Pollution sits on my skin like an invisible sheen. A layer of grime that builds up every time I leave the air-conditioned sanctuary of our hotel. And my nose is crinkled up. Assaulted by the smells of street food vendors, jockeying for position on the overcrowded pavements. Yet, from afar, I can hear a glorious sound. It’s the tinkling of laughter, specifically children’s laughter. And it’s emanating from a little-known alleyway, decorated with street art in Yangon.
We have made our way to 29th street, just off Seikkantha street, to discover the first of the street art alleys of the formerly-known Rangoon. We hadn’t heard of them before landing in this fascinating city. But over a breakfast of banana pancakes and mango lassis, Kiwi expat and brasserie-manager, Celia, had mentioned they were a cool thing to do on a morning in the city. And boy, was she right.
The background – history of the alley gardens
They are 6 demarcated ‘alley gardens’. They stretch from 29th to 42nd street. All offering a glimpse into the everyday life of Yangon locals. Previously used as rubbish dumps and places for rats to fester, a local organisation called Doh Eain converted the first ‘trash alley’ to ‘garden alley’ in 2016 by planting a vegetable patch. It turns out that kids started playing in the garden. Then the media got wind of it and hey, presto investment trickled in and more gardens were opened.
What to expect
We wandered the streets of Yangon looking for the little passageway that gives you entry to each of the gardens. Dodging taxis and evading fruit sellers, we found the signs (only in local language), and slipped through into the first one.
Now, when you’re talking street art, it might be worth setting your expectations beforehand. This is not Berlin-style graffiti and Banksy is nowhere to be found. I’d venture that the art is more childlike. Something you might expect in a young kid’s bedroom or adorning the walls of a cool kindergarten. We saw multi-hued life-size giraffes, secret doorways covered in spring blossoms and huge murals depicting fairy tales and fantasies. The later alleys, like the one between 41st and 42nd street, are starting to attract international artists; as that alley was designed by a Danish architect and filled with pieces from an Australian artist.
The main draw-card might be the art but we were more fascinated by seeing ‘behind the curtain’ of life in Yangon. Beyond the storefronts and makeshift stalls is a city of 5 million people eking out a living but, equally, enjoying life in the back lanes. We were met with a group of kids on the rickety swings, who took great pains to try out their limited English on us, and chuckle a little at us trying to take photographs in ‘their street’.
We encountered other children kicking around a deflated ball in a rousing game of football. The were pretty shocked when I kicked the errant ball back their way. And after a bit of time on the sidelines, my husband was coaxed into a game of sepak takraw (kick volleyball – a foot game using a rattan ball) with two middle-aged gents. Luckily his football skills helped him keep up, after a bit of trial and error!
Where to find the street art
We had a few rough pointers from Celia but consulted the Doh Eain website for more conclusive info. Generally all the streets are in downtown Yangon, within easy reach of the Sule Pagoda, but they can be a little tricky to find. We’ve tracked them all on an interactive Google Map for you below. Just head to the streets in question and keep a keen eye out for any inlet. Especially if you can see fresh white paint or murals ahead!
Soaking up the street art in downtown Yangon is less about the art and more about the street itself. It’s the ideal pastime for you if you enjoy meandering city streets which, by the way, was our favourite way to explore Yangon. But if you’d like any more tips about seeing the street art in Yangon or some of the best things to do in the city, drop a comment below or get in touch with us and we’ll give you our thoughts.
If you’d prefer to add this as part of a tour exploring Yangon, why not check out this one with Get Your Guide that covers all the major city attractions, but you can customise to add in the Yangon street art. For more inspiration on what to add to a city tour, check out our 10 things to do in Yangon guide.
Alternatively, why not check out some of the best other attractions to visit in Yangon.
Getting around Yangon
We absolutely loved walking the streets of Yangon. Even though it was pretty hot and humid, there is something magical about stomping the streets of this vibrant city. You’ll meet wonderful locals who’ll be interested in your why you’re visiting Yangon, or might even be invited to join a game of sepak takraw.
If you’re heading a bit futher than you care to walk, we’d suggest that you make sure that you’ve got the Grab app on your phone (essentially Southeast Asia’s Uber). It’s a brilliant service and the taxis are very cheap and reliable.
Getting around Myanmar
Whether you’re wanting to visit the mesmerising temples of Bagan, or wanting to go on a much longer Myanmar itinerary there are two main options for you to consider, and then one final alternative which is definitely for the more adventurous.
Buses: We were really pleasantly surprised by how good the buses were in Myanmar. Although the roads aren’t the best and so journeys can take a bit of time, the buses (especially JJ Express) that we took were modern, clean and safe. To check out the latest prices for buses from Yangon or across Myanmar, check out the latest prices on Bookaway. We really enjoy that they have 24 hour online support and many routes have great cancellation policies. Adding some peace of mind.
Flights: If you’re a bit more pushed for time then it’s definitely worth considering taking internal flights to cover some of the longer distances. The local airlines offer a reliable and safe service. Check out the latest prices on Skyscanner here.
Trains: We were originally meant to take the train from Yangon to Bagan, but after reading more and more stories about 20+ hour journeys that were ridiculously bumpy and uncomfortable, we decided to give it a miss. Although if you’re keen for a train ride that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, check out the prices and options here.
Where to stay in Yangon
Although we had heard from other travellers that they struggled to find good affordable hotel and hostel options in Myanmar, we found it quite the opposite. So here are some of our top recommendations for where to stay in Yangon:
Budget: If you’re on a tighter budget, one of the best hostels in town is Scott 31st Street. Great atmosphere, in a great location, good wifi and clean rooms. Everthing a traveller needs.
Mid-range: We stayed at the Hotel G Yangon during our stay and it was an excellent choice. Set in a very lively neighbourhood, with a food market at the end of our road and amazing dining options nearby.
Luxury: And if you’re looking for the best 5* accommodation in Yangon, you’ll want to stay at the Sule Shangri-La. Located near to Hotel G, it’s in prime position, not far from the Sule Pagoda.
When is the best time of year to visit Yangon?
If you’re looking for the best weather that Yangon has to offer, then the best time to visit is from November to February. However, you may find that there are more travellers in these peak months, and accommodation can be more expensive.
Alternatively, look at the hotter months before the rainy season arrives, from March to May. We travelled around the country in May, had absolutely perfect weather and often found that we had attractions all to ourselves!
We’d definitely suggest that you avoid the rainy season from June to October, as the rain can be pretty heavy, especially if you’re planning to visit other parts of the country.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
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