Let’s start from the city centre, where your first pitstop should be Sule Pagoda, a stupa located in downtown Yangon in the middle of a roundabout. Sule Pagoda was said to be built more than 2,000 years ago and is supposedly older than its more famous counterpart, Shwedagon Pagoda (more on that later). As with local temple architecture, the pagoda is split into four entrances that correspond to the four directions — north, south, east and west. Inside, you’ll be greeted with structures covered with gold foil that glisten and shine with sunlight — an impressive sight to behold. Entrance fee costs about US$2 (you can pay with local currency) per person and do note that you might be hustled by the vendors and monks there to pay extra for offerings to pray at the site.
Across the street from Sule Pagoda, you’ll find a stretch of greenery with an obelisk in the middle. A nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, the park is named after General Maha Bandula who fought in the Anglo-Burmese War between 1824 to 1826. The obelisk on the other hand, which is also known as the Independence Monument, commemorates the independence of Myanmar from British colonial rule in 1948. Plus, you’ll be treated to an amazing view as the surroundings are dotted with colonial buildings such as the City Hall and Supreme Court. Note: The public park is closed off by gates at night.
Fans of colonial architecture will definitely need to pay a visit to the Strand Hotel right by the Yangon River. Fun fact: The Strand, as it is also known by, was built in 1901 and later owned by the Sarkies brothers, the same people behind the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A five-star hotel and heritage colonial landmark, the Strand Hotel is also known for its high tea. Between 2.30pm and 5pm, The Strand Café serves up an impressive array of local and international food — from tea leaf salad and deep fried sticky rice balls to scones and sandwiches — that will delight your taste buds. You can choose between the Classic (US$20) or Myanmar (US$18) menu (or go for both). Else, you can treat yourself to a cocktail or two at the Sarkies Bar or have a go at fine dining at The Strand Restaurant.
Previously named as the Scott Market, the bazaar was renamed Bogyoke (General) Aung San Market after the late General Aung San who fought for the country’s independence (Aung San Suu Kyi is his daughter). The market spans across two floors and a couple of blocks with countless merchants selling goods such as food, textiles, coffee and locally mined precious stones such as jade and ruby. If you didn’t know, Myanmar is especially known for its quality jade and ruby, so it’s a great place to purchase jewellery made with these gems. Note: Bogyoke Aung San Market is closed on Mondays. After that, you can take the overhead bridge across the street to Junction City. It’s an air-conditioned mall that sells high street to mid-luxury international and local labels. Junction City even has a BreadTalk — and the brand’s iconic floss bread tastes just like the ones you’ll find in Singapore.
Now with the sun setting on the horizon, it is time to explore the most famous landmark in Yangon — the Shwedagon Pagoda. After climbing a long flight of stairs barefoot from one of the four entrances, you’ll enter the central area that houses the main stupa. There you’ll be greeted by an impressive gold gilded (yes, real gold) structure. With the sun setting and the weather getting cooler, it becomes incredibly peaceful to just sit on the floor and marvel at the architecture. The pagoda is also believed to hold four Buddha relics and has become an important temple for Buddhists. Besides the main stupa, you’ll find smaller terraces and statues around it. Each of them were donated by the various states in Myanmar or by private donors, and are equally ornate. Entrance fee costs US$8 per person and you can head to its website for more information.
If you’re on a budget or have a few hours to kill, the Yangon Circular Railway is a quick way to explore different facets of the city. You can start from the Yangon Central Railway Station where you purchase a ticket at about MMK$200 (S$0.20) according to a blog post by Daily Travel Pill. The three-and-a-half-hour journey will take you across 39 stops to different parts of Yangon beyond the metropolitan area. You can hop off at different stations and explore what each of them has to offer. Don’t expect air-conditioning and plush environments like what you experience in Singapore though. The trains are probably as old as the railway, which began operations in 1954.
Located between 18th to 24th street, Yangon’s Chinatown transforms into a bustling nightlife area come dusk. You can expect streets lined with eateries and bars that serve up grilled skewers and cheap beers, including local brews Myanmar Beer and Dagon Beer. Even if you’re not up for a meal, you can take a seat by the street and people-watch with a cold pint — much needed with Yangon’s warm weather.
Founded in 1952, the National Museum of Myanmar in Yangon spans five storeys. There, you’ll learn a great deal of the country’s history and culture, beginning with the evolution of the written script (Myanmar alphabet) to the various cultures and dressing of the many ethnic groups across the nation. One of the most impressive exhibits you’ll encounter is the Royal Lion Throne used by former Burmese monarchs — a large, detailed piece that is rife with cultural symbolism. Entrance fee costs MMK$5,000 (S$4.49).
Fancy indulging in a complete cultural experience, with a meal complete with traditional dance performances? Well you can do so at the Karaweik Palace. The structure is actually a floating palace situated on the eastern side of Kandawgyi Lake. Between 6pm to 8.30pm daily, you can enjoy a buffet spread of traditional Myanmar cuisine while watching a bamboo dance from the Chin people and other performances. The buffet cost US$24 per person. Head to the Karaweik Palace’s website for more information.
Before you leave Yangon, you must have a go at some local delights. The first of course is its national dish Laphet (pictured), a salad made with fermented tea leaves and completed with crunchy peanuts, fried legumes, sliced tomato and shredded cabbage. Another favourite is the Mohinga, a comforting fish soup served with noodles generally enjoyed for breakfast. You can try these two dishes at popular establishment Rangoon Tea House, before washing the meal down with a cup of one of the 16 milk tea variations available. Finally, you must try the Shan noodles — rice noodles accompanied with a light, aromatic broth made with meat and tomatoes — with a side of deep fried tofu at Shan Yoe Yar restaurant. The Shan state borders China, Laos and Thailand and its cuisine has become a favourite nationwide for its flavourful, soulful dishes, especially the Shan noodles. Other hotspots for Shan noodles are Aung Mingalar Shan Noodle Shop and 999 Shan Noodle Shop.