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. It was originally written in 2016 but has been updated every few months with new information. If you’re looking to spend a few days in Yangon, then look no further because we’ve got you covered.
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. If you’re looking for more information about what to do in Myanmar, check out this backpacker’s itinerary for exploring the country in 8 days. Here’s what to do in Yangon, Myanmar if you’re there for a few days:
Fun Things to do in Yangon, Myanmar
- 1) Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda and See How it Sparkles at Night
- 2) Sit on a Tiny Chair Along the Road and Sip Tea
- 3) Head to Inya Lake and Enjoy Yangon’s Nightlife
- 4) Ride the Dala Ferry to Visit Dala Village
- 5) Visit the Mysterious Kyay Thone Pagoda
- 6) Visit China Town for Shopping or a Late Night Snack
- 7) Explore Sule Pagoda and Around
- 8) Try Yangon’s Spicy Street Food
- 9) Visit Kandawgyi Lake and See Karaweik Hall
- 10) Ride the Circular Rail for a different view of Rangoon
- 11) Balloon Ride over Yangon and See Shwedagon Pagoda
- What about the Yangon Zoological Gardens?
- Where to stay in Yangon – Suggested Hotels in Yangon
- Where to go after Yangon?
- Myanmar Visa Tip
1) Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda and See How it Sparkles at Night
Perhaps one of the most famous Yangon attractions, Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the top things to do in Yangon. No itinerary or city guide for Yangon will ever leave Shwedagon Pagoda out – after all, it’s the biggest and the grandest Pagoda in Myanmar.
Shwedagon Pagoda is built on an elevated hill so you will notice it from a distance as you move around within Yangon. We saw it on the way to our hotel from Yangon airport and couldn’t wait to go back. Yes, it is one of the most famous sights in Yangon.
This 325 feet 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.
2) Sit on a Tiny Chair Along the Road 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 these tea stalls from far 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.
In these roadside stalls, you will mostly find two kinds of tea – 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.
3) Head to Inya Lake and Enjoy Yangon’s Nightlife
We ended up visiting Inya lake at night just by chance and it ended up one of the best evenings that we spent in Yangon. We arrived here because 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. Inya Lake was a complete change of scene right after Shwedagon Pagoda because it wasn’t packed with tourists at all.
Inya Lake 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 beer and Myanmar beer. If you’re looking for things to do in Yangon at night, then a visit to Inya Lake is something that you should totally do.
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. A visit to Inya Lake is one of the best things to do in Yangon if you want to avoid tourists.
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) Ride the Dala Ferry to Visit Dala Village
A small fishing village across the river from Yangon, Dala village is the perfect spot for a day trip 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, if not more. 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. For more information, you can check my blog post about Dala Village.
How to reach: Walk to Pansodan Ferry Terminal in downtown Yangon to start your journey.
5) Visit the 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 Shopping or a Late Night Snack
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 in downtown Yangon. Although not as massive as Shwedagon, Sule Pagoda has it’s own charm due to it’s location and shape. There are many places to see in Yangon that are around Sule Pagoda. Both Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda are the famous pagodas in Yangon.
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) Try Yangon’s Spicy Street 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) Visit Kandawgyi Lake and See Karaweik Hall
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. Kandawgyi Lake is one of the best places to visit in Yangon if you want to enjoy the weather in the midst of nature.
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) Ride the Circular Rail for a different view of Rangoon
If you’re wondering where to go in Yangon for people watching, then you can Head to Yangon Central Railway Station to ride the circular rail. Yangon Central Railway Station 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.
11) Balloon Ride over Yangon and See Shwedagon Pagoda
Guess what – Bagan isn’t the only place in Myanmar where you can go for a balloon ride. As of this year (2017), you can fly over Yangon and see the city from up above for a price that’s insanely affordable if compared to Bagan.
A balloon ride in Yangon with Mingalarbar Balloon costs just $22; where as the price in Bagan is $300. Please note – this is not a hot air balloon ride but it is a tethered helium balloon that goes up and down so that you can enjoy the panoramic views.
While you’re up there, you will see the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda that seems to be physically ruling over the city with many lakes and gardens around it. You will also see Kandawgyi Lake’s golden Karaweik, Yangon River and the downtown Yangon’s colonial architecture.
If you’re visiting Yangon for a short time, then this is perhaps one of the best ways to see the city. If you’re lucky and plan it well, you will also witness one of the most spectacular sunsets that Yangon has to offer.
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.
Where to stay in Yangon – Suggested Hotels in Yangon
Traveling in Myanmar is very cheap but the rooms and hostels are very expensive. Myanmar is one of those very few countries where I recommend you book your accommodation in advance. Try finding something that is near Sule Pagoda so that you can be in the center of Yangon and can easily travel around on buses or walking.
Budget Hotels and Guest Houses in Yangon
We stayed in Chan Myae guest house near Sule Pagoda and paid around $15 – 20 per night for two. You can also check out Scott @ 31 Street guest house and hostel which is in the same area. Another guest house that we recommend is Ocean Pearl Inn and they provide a free pick up from Yangon Airport. Downtown Yangon is a comfortable area but can get very crowded and stressful. If you’re looking for a peaceful area, then try Thanlwin Guest house which is near Inya Lake.
Hostels in Yangon
If you’re looking specifically for hostels, you can check out Backpacker Bed and Breakfast + Hostel – they have dorm rooms as well as amazing private rooms. You can also consider Pickled Tea Hostel, which is close to Shwedagon Pagoda and has newly built dorm rooms. A few other hostels that you can consider are – Little Yangon Hostel or 21 Hostel. Yangon also has a super fancy hostel – 30th Corner Boutique Hostel, which is obviously more expensive than the rest.
Mid Range & Luxury Hotels in Yangon with a view of Shwedagon Pagoda
One of the best hotels to stay in Yangon for mid range is Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon, which is near the Botanical Gardens, Kandawgyi Lake and offers a view of Shwedagon Pagoda. A few other options are Esperado Lake View Hotel, or Best Western Green Hill where you can find a room with a view of Shwedagon Pagoda. All these hotels have rooms from $60 – $100 depending on the size and season.
If you can afford luxury, you should try Belmond Governor’s Residence which is located in Yangon’s embassy district. At $330 per night, it is definitely expensive but will transport you to the old school Rangoon and the colonial times.
Where to go after Yangon?
Ngwe Saung Beach
Ngew Saung Beach is a low key beach destination that is easily accessible from Yangon. You can rent a car and drive to it or can catch an overnight bus. It is in the Irrawaddy region of Myanmar and has a spectacular white sand beach with a sandbar that connects it to Lover’s Island.
Mandalay is Myanmar’s second biggest city and can easily be reached by train or bus from Yangon. It is an excellent base for those who want to visit Bagan, the most popular travel destination in Burma. Apart from pagodas and monasteries, you can also enjoy the nearby Doke waterfall. Check out this post to know about things to do in Mandalay.
Bagan is an archeological gem of South East Asia and has a lot of temples, pagodas, stupas and spectacular ruins. Sadly it is influenced by overtourism and many visitors get scammed.
Inle Lake is a unique travel destination in Myanmar with huts that are built over water. It is a very popular destination for backpackers.
The Golden Rock
Shwedagon Pagoda isn’t the only famous pagoda in Myanmar, the Golden Rock is almost as famous! Almost hanging and precariously balanced on top of a hill, this golden rock with a pagoda on top is a sight to behold. Check information about visiting the Golden Rock of Myanmar here.
Myanmar Visa Tip
Myanmar offers eVisa to citizens of most of the countries for 90 days. Check iVisa for visa requirements to see how to obtain a visa for your nationality.
Have you visited Yangon and have a few tips to share of your own? Please let me know in the comments section.
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