10 Fun Things to Do in Yangon, Myanmar (in 2017)
This post is not just about things to do in Yangon but is also a mini travel guide with information about where to stay and public transport. If you’re looking to spend a few days in Yangon, then look no further because we’ve got you covered. Also check out my post about Travel Tips for Myanmar.
Yangon may not be Myanmar’s capital anymore but is still the largest and the most visited Burmese city. With its shimmering golden pagodas peeping through a backdrop of colonial architecture and streets that are dotted with vendors selling food, fruits, gadgets and all sorts of interesting things – Yangon is a photographer’s delight. If you’re visiting South East Asia, we strongly recommend you don’t miss out on this exotic city. Of course, you can read about typical touristy things to do in Yangon, but we have made a list for you which is a mix of sightseeing activities along with a few offbeat things, with just a few temples, lakes, parks, streets and hidden finds.
10 fun things to do in Yangon
1) Visit a Road Side Tea Stall and Sip Tea
One of the first things that we noticed about Yangon is the abundance of tea stalls. These tea stalls are usually located on every block and sidewalk. It’s easy to spot them from the distance because of their tiny plastic tables, stools and chairs. These chairs look like they are right out of a baby’s bedroom! Seriously – these are the exact same chairs that my dad used rent for my birthday party when I was in school. Nevertheless, they look super cute and it’s a fun experience sitting on them and sipping tea. Tea is of two kinds – one is plain Chinese style green tea and the other is Indian style chai. None of the teashop owners that we met spoke English but understood our gestures well.
Tip: do as locals do and pour a few drops of hot green tea in your cup to rinse it before you drink the tea.
2) Catch Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda and watch how it sparkles at night
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No itinerary for Yangon will ever leave Shwedagon Pagoda out – after all, it’s the biggest and the grandest Pagoda in Myanmar. It is built on an elevated hill so you will notice it from a distance as you move around within Yangon. This 325ft stupa that’s gold-plated, shimmers in the day light and sparkles when it’s dark – is indeed a sight to behold! Legend has it that it was built more than 2600 years back and is the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.
We suggest you arrive here by 4 – 4:30 pm to walk around and admire the beauty in the day light. Find a place to sit and enjoy the sunrise as your mind relaxes listening to chimes of the temple bells. Enjoy the beauty as devotees light up a thousands of candles and incense sticks. Get ready to be awestruck by the majestic beauty as the darkness descends and everything lights up. If you have read my post on Myanmar Travel Tips, then you definitely know how to dress and what to do with your shoes when you visit Shwedagon Paya.
How to reach: Many buses go to Shwedagon Road – just ask around and you will surely find a bus. We asked a few locals and got on to a bus from Sule Pagoda that took us to Shwedagon Road for 100 MMK per person.
3) Enjoy the nightlife at Inya Lake and enjoy a lake side dinner
We ended up visiting Inya lake at night just by chance since we had absolutely no idea where to go for a few drinks. As soon as we reached, we knew we had made the right decision. Right after Shwedagon Pagoda, that was packed with tourists, Inya Lake was a complete change of scene. It appeared to be a popular hangout area for Yangon’s youth who were sitting around the lake on the grass with their guitars and openly drinking beer. We had a lovely dinner at one of the restaurants with a view of the lake. After dinner, we decided to head to the lawn area for a stroll. To our delight, there were many roadside vendors selling Dagon and Myanmar beers. While we saw conservatively dressed women everywhere else in Yangon, here we saw many local women that wore shorts. Oh and by the way, we did not see even a single tourist here.
How to reach: Hire a taxi. We paid 5000 MMK from Shwedagon Road. Carry your own beer because it’s expensive if you buy it from the vendors here.
4) Take a ride on Dala Ferry to visit Dala village
Dalla or Dala is a small village across the river from Yangon. This village is a 10-minute ferry ride away from Pansodan Pier in downtown Yangon. The ferry ride is as interesting as the village itself. Like many other places, the ferry ticket prices are different for foreigners. We paid USD 4 per person for a return ticket. In this brief ferry ride, we saw many people selling different things – clothes, cigarettes, combs, mirrors, bird eggs, fresh fruit and so much more! A trip to Dala gave us a quick snapshot of life in a small Burmese village. You can make a day trip to this village or cover it in just a few hours.
How to reach: Walk to Pansodan Ferry Terminal in downtown Yangon to start your journey
5) Visit Mysterious Kyay Thone Pagoda
None of the guidebooks mention this place but we strongly recommend you visit it. It is on Gyar Tawya Street, a little before Shwedagon Pagoda’s East gate. This temple is a little different than the typical Burmese temples that are built in Stupa style, instead Kyay Thone Pagoda has a Chinese architecture style. The main temple is on water with a bridged pathway leading to it, connecting to a few islands in with mini temples. There is a massive golden Buddha idol inside along with many smaller ones around it – probably depicting Buddha and his disciples. If you walk around the temple you will notice that it has a few artifacts on display, such as ancient armor, old currency notes, etc. Something about this temple stirred my curiosity and I have tried to research about this temple online but I haven’t found anything. The sign outside is in Burmese and the only way I know the name of this place is thanks to my phone’s GPS tracking system.
Below is an embedded map with the GPS coordinates, just in case you want to visit it too.
How to reach: It’s a two-minute walk from Shwedagon Pagoda’s East Gate. Click here for directions.
6) Visit China Town for a Late Night Snack (or Any Other Time)
On our second night in Yangon, our midnight hunger pangs took us to China Town as we hunted for food. While all of the restaurants near our hostel appeared to be closed, Chinatown area was alive and bustling with activity. Noisy, colorful, lively and full of food – this is exactly what we expected and we were not disappointed – especially the 19th street. Like every other Chinatown, we saw roadside food stalls of things like sausages, chicken feet, chicken legs, seafood, fresh fruit, pork intestine and some other unrecognizable meats. During the day, Chinatown looks a tad different with fewer food sellers but more of tacky gadgets sellers.
How to reach: On foot. We reached here on foot from our hostel that was near Sule Pagoda.
7) Explore Sule Pagoda and Around
If you visit Yangon on a budget, most likely you will stay in one of the budget hotels near Sule Pagoda. Although not as massive as Shwedagon, Sule Pagoda has it’s own charm due to it’s location and shape. This temple is located in the heart of downtown Yangon and it holds religious as well as political significance since many protest marches began from here. Moreover, this octagonal pagoda also serves as a roundabout with many different lanes that merge together. If you walk around this pagoda, you will see a large white obelisk, which is Yangon’s Independence Monument. There is a beautiful garden next to it with fountains – Maha Bandula Park. If you walk further, you will see Immanuel Baptist Church and a few government buildings such as the High Court, City Hall, the Secretariat and Telegraph office.
How to reach: Almost every bus crosses this important landmark, so just ask the first bus driver that stops next to you. Alternatively, you can easily hire a taxi.
8) Enjoy Burmese Food
In my opinion, one of the best ways to experience a new place is by eating the local food. Starting from breakfast to midnight snack – my food experience in Yangon is one that I’d love to repeat. If you are a sucker for curries like I am, especially Thai and Indian – you’re gonna love Burmese food. Everything here is a mix of these two cuisines with a few Chinese influences. My first meal here was boiled rice seasoned with a few herbs, peanuts, onion, garlic and chilies and I loved it. It reminded me of Indian snack – bhel puri. Over the next few days, I had different varieties of noodles, salads, curries, soups and loved them all! I never had a single bad meal in Yangon. We were served a massive traditional Burmese breakfast at the hostel where we stayed, and I always finished everything on my plate.
Tip: If you’re not used to Asian street food, then please start slow with street food in Yangon to let your stomach prepare itself.
9) Kandawgyi Lake
Although it’s a little smaller in size as compared to Inya lake, it’s definitely worth a visit because it offers stunning views of the nearby Shwedagon Pagoda, from where its walking distance. The best time to visit it in the dark when everything lights up. Unlike what we had read in the guidebooks, there’s no entry fee (or maybe we missed it) and it has a few lake side restaurants as well (a little more expensive than Inya lake). Another interesting feature of this lake complex is that it features Karaweik Hall, a palace like landmark that appears to be floating in the water.
How to reach: Walk from Shwedagon Paya or take a taxi
10) Take a ride on Circular Rail
Head to Yangon Central Railway Station which is a few minutes’ walk away from Shanghri-la Hotel in downtown Yangon, for a ride on Yangon’s circular railroad. This is an internal mode of public transport that many locals take. This ride lasts for 2-3 hours and you will get to witness many interesting sights such as fruit sellers, vegetable sellers, local markets, rural areas, villages, local merchants transporting massive baskets of goods, etc. This ride is an excellent way to get a quick glimpse of life in Myanmar away from famous landmarks.
How to reach: Walk to Yangon Central Railway Station in downtown.
What about the Yangon Zoological Gardens?
I did not visit the Yangon Zoological Gardens for a few reasons. One of them is that I prefer seeing animals in National parks, instead of zoos. Another reason is that Yangon is such a culturally rich city that I spent most of my time on the streets.
You might also like:
Shwedagon Pagoda – Facts, Fables and Tips
Myanmar Travel Tips – 15 Things you need to know
Ngwe Saung Beach – white sand beach destination near Yangon with pagodas on the beach
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A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.Sonal Kwatra Paladini