Welcome to Yangon, Myanmar; a city that fascinates as much as it frustrates, and somehow (just somehow), finds its way into your travelling heart. The former capital of Myanmar (Burma), with the most developed airport, it’s usually the first stop for most tourists to the country. But, unlike the rest of South East Asia, Yangon (like the rest of Myanmar), is still relatively new to tourism and lacks some of the infrastructure that you might be used to. Want to explore it? Well, here is our Yangon sightseeing guide, so you make the most out of your trip!
Thousands of taxis honk their way down traffic-choked streets. The sun beats down fiercely on covered shoulders. And longyi-clad people stream past us, hopping across gaping holes in the pavements as they go about their daily business.
Accommodation options between budget and blowout are slightly limited. Grab works well but taxis leave a bit to be desired and restaurants are either geared towards expats or simply snack stalls on the streets. It’s a city of polar opposites but one that we found utterly intriguing; our five days here just didn’t feel like enough.
So, what should you be doing in this city of contrasts? We’ve listed our Top 10 Yangon (Rangoon) sightseeing sites, to ensure you explore all this city has to offer.
All of our recommendations are in downtown Yangon which, generally, is the epicentre for tourism in a sprawling city of between 5-7 million people. You’ll also notice that most of our recommendations are absolutely free – Yangon is great for backpackers (or anyone, really) on a budget.
However, the best way to see some of the above sights in Yangon is through doing one of the guided tours. While Yangon is walkable solo, it can be tricky to navigate. We’d recommend this affordable day tour with Get Your Guide.
But to kick things off:
What are the Ulimate Yangon Sightseeing Spots?
- Getting stuck into Downtown Yangon
- Admire the Colonial era buildings
- Feast on the delicious local noodle dishes
- Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise
- Saunter the street art alleys
- Cruise the Circle Line
- Kick it around the parks of Kandawgyi Lake
- Drink Cho Saint at the Rangon Tea House
- Marvel at a stunning sunset from a roof top bar
- Be like Bourdain and eat grilled street food on 19th Street
There is no better way to explore downtown Yangon than a full day of hitting the pavements. Weave your way between the lower streets and into China Town, to find hawkers selling everything from tea to trinkets. At one point we ended up in a local market full of live chickens, women sauteeing spices and young men carrying oversized bags (about ten times larger than our own overstuffed backpacks) through a crazy maze of people. Take care to wear sturdy shoes though – no flip flops! – since the upkeep of the streets isn’t great and many parts are crumbling and as little precarious.
Interesting stat: Yangon has the highest number of colonial era buildings in all of South East Asia. You’ll find hundreds of British-inspired buildings on a small patch of space in downtown. Britain took over most of Burma back in 1852 and erected these towering buildings; some of which are known as ‘British Burmese style’, throughout their occupation. Highlights include the City Hall, the central train station, the high court and the infamous Strand Hotel. Actually, if you want a walking tour of those, we found a great interactive map, courtesy of Going Colonial, that we’ve embedded below.
Like most of SE Asia, slurping noodles is less of a meal and more of a people-watching pastime. Types of noodles abound – my favourite being the sticky pork noodles – and there are a number of famous hot spots. Most guidebooks will send you to 999 Shan Noodle Shop (and there is nothing wrong with that!), but our favourite was Aung Mingalar Noodle Shop, followed closely by Shan Kitchen.
Prices: The value is incredible – about 3,000 kyat (1.50 GBP at time of writing), for a steaming bowl of the best.
A must-do, which will make any good Yangon to-do list, the Shwedagon is the most impressive and influential pagoda within Yangon and perhaps all of Myanmar (of course Bagan pagodas abound, and no comparisons should be made). Most will tell you to get there at sunrise but perhaps we were unlucky – even though we went in low season it was absolutely swarming with local Buddhists, arriving for morning prayers. It might be better to head off after working hours begin, although this is a slightly untested theory!
Cost: Entrance fee for foreigners is 10,000 kyat (about 5.20 GBP) – the highest we found, but worth it to see the most important monument in Myanmar.
We loved this one so much that we wrote an entire article about it, including a handy map – read it here. But, if you want the skinny, essentially Yangon boasts a number of street alley gardens, stretching from 29th to 42nd street. Previously rubbish dumps, a local NGO converted them into ‘garden alleys’; safe spaces for kids filled with street art and increasingly attracting attention and investment from overseas. Play sepak trawaw (a volleying foot game) or football with the kids, or head to the swings while admiring the murals.
If you’re not doing overland train travel in Myanmar (and we would recommend you don’t!), the circle line is a great way to get a real feel for the city, beyond the downtown alleys. Departing from the central train station, and doing a loop of the outskirts of Yangon, you’ll share your journey with normal commuters. Expect people sitting on the train floor, eating their breakfast, and food sellers joining at different stops, with live animals and fruits of different origin. At time of writing, some of the line was under construction and it only went a third of the way; more than sufficient for a day out. When fully operational, this trip can take up to 5 hours so plan a day for it, and bring your patience. For a more in-depth account, we enjoyed this one from Backpackers Wanderlust.
Cost: 200 kyat (0.10 GBP)
Yangon is busy at best, frenetic at worst so you need places to unwind from the hectic pace. We loved this park – accessible from the city centre – for being totally serene. The lake is not really frequented by tourists and doing a lap of it, we met virtually no-one. As with most outdoor activities in Yangon, you’ll get pretty sweaty when making your way around so either pack lots of water or cool down at one of the lakeside restaurants with a sugary iced tea.
The lake is also a fascinating look into why we think Yangon is so unspoilt: there are so many untapped opportunities to rope in tourists – they could offer rowboats, or ferry people out to the impressive structures in the middle – but instead, you’re left to your own devices. Instagrammers will also love the lake since it offers loads of photo opportunities, including a temple-like restaurant complex (Karaweik Hall), the lake itself and vistas of water lilies.
Cost: free unless you enter the boardwalk near Karaweik Hall, which is 2, 000 kyat (1.00 GBP)
Bonus: If you like this lake, and even the short walks around it, we highly recommend that you look at traveling to the nearby Inya Lake – it’s a really famous Yangon lake, chronicled in many local novels, movies and songs.
In our five days in Yangon, we headed to this restaurant on 3 separate occasions. An outpost for tourists and expats alike, the tea house is more than just an airconditioned sanctuary in the city centre. It’s the ideal place to try mohinga, a fish-based soup that is the national dish of Myanmar. It specialises in delicious, milky Burmese tea with a full menu on different ways to drink it, varying in sweetness and richness (my recommendation: cho saint). It offers a dizzying array of ‘street snacks’, from banana croquettes to potato samosas that will satisfy any appetite. And honestly everything on their menu filled us with delight. Go here as soon as you can – you won’t regret it, as it’s a must do in Yangon!
Cost: Depends on your meal
There are now many rooftop bars in Yangon, all with varying levels of sophistication and, of course, price. But it’s the rundown, slightly over-the-hill Alfa hotel that is a little known gem of a spot for a sundown cocktail. The hotel itself is still in circa-1980, with pine panelling, a slightly dodgy elevator and yellowing carpets down every corridor, and the Sapphire Lounge bar doesn’t offer too much more: some twinkling fairy lights and a slightly shocked-looking bartender. You’ll probably have the place virtually to yourself (there were two other guests there, in a place that seats over 150), and you’ll have the best view of Yangon, all for the price of a cheap cocktail or a Chang beer.
Cost: 5,000 kyat for a strawberry daiquiri of questionable taste (2.50 GBP)
The late and great Anthony Bourdain loved Yangon. His favourite place to eat? 19th street. Go there at dinner time and you’ll find barbeque stands pop up on both sides of the street, peddling grilled meats and vegetables. As with all street food, you’ll need a stronger stomach unless you stick with the tried and tested, in this case Kaung Myat, which was Bourdain’s favourite pick.
Cost: 1,500 – 5,000 kyat (0.75 – 2.50 GBP) depending on what you order
Looking for the best hotels in Yangon?
We stayed at the Hotel G Yangon during our stay, and can’t recommend it more! An expat enclave in a nice neighbourhood, the staff are incredibly friendly, the décor is pretty trendy and the restaurant (Babett Eatery) offers great international and Myanmar cuisine.
Getting around Myanmar
Travel in Myanmar isn’t always the simplest, however check out Bookaway for the latest options. We really enjoy the 24 hour support that you get – just added peace of mind… and also many routes they offer have great cancellation policies – which is a bit of a relief, when you need to change travel plans. Trust us, that happens more frequently than you’d expect.
Frequently Asked Questions
When to go to Yangon
So there are three seasons for Yangon, the wet season which occurs across the months of June, July, September and October – where it is hot and wet. The dry season, from November to February – our favourite with the temperatures hot in the day but cool by night.
And then there is the hot season – between March and May, where the humidity rises alongside the temperatures.
We found Yangon city to be pretty walkable, obviously depending on your fitness level and where you are staying. Alternatively, you have the option of taxis – both through the popular Grab app or just hailing one off the street. For the latter, we highly recommend you ask your hotel to call one for you – most taxi drivers don’t speak English and it can be confusing to agree on a price or a destination!
Yangon is one of the safest cities in Myanmar but you should always exercise caution.
Who is the most famous person from Myanmar?
Aung San Suu Kyi, is a Burmese politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner and reknowned author. She became one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners because of her 15 year house arrest during the country’s uprisings.
She is currently State Counsellor, a position within government that is similar to Prime Minister of Myanamar.
The above list doesn’t fill your days? Here are a few more Yangon attractions
- See the Sule Pagoda, situated smack bang in the middle of town
- Visit the Bogyoke Aung San market, to buy a few souvenirs and get in some shopping in Yangon
- Check out the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, with it’s huge 65 meter long reclining Buddha
- Visit the national museum, including the Myanmar art gallery – with its great contemporary art collection
- Check out the Taukkyan War Cementry, to learn more about the battle of Burma – this should be done as a day trip
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