When Singaporeans think “holiday in Asia”, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan usually spring to mind. I mean, who doesn’t love a quick weekend trip to Bali or Bangkok?
One of the most exciting things about travel though, is being able to explore somewhere new. If you’re feeling adventurous but still want to stay in the region, Yangon is worth checking out.
Let me start off by saying that this isn’t a place for a relaxing holiday. The commercial capital of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is bustling with activity, and while some parts are pretty (pagodas!), the overall infrastructure is quite worn down.
This gives the city an old-world charm and makes for a no-frills adventure to remember. Here are 10 things to do and eat in Yangon when you visit for the first time:
1. Stay In A Bed & Breakfast/Hotel With A View
Shell out for a nice hotel, or tackle your trip backpacker-style and stay in a Bed & Breakfast. I opted for the latter purely because of my budget and found a great option in central Yangon.
As the name suggests, the Backpacker (Bed & Breakfast) includes a yummy breakfast in the morning that you can enjoy with a view. See what I mean about the infrastructure?
The room was pretty basic, but since I knew I was going to be out and about for most of the day anyway, it really didn’t matter.
Backpacker (Bed & Breakfast): No.40, Shwe Bon Thar Road, Pabedan Township, Yangon downtown, 11101 Yangon, Myanmar | Tel: +95 9 263 728 438 | Website
2. Explore The Streets By Foot & Take In The Colonial Architecture
Stepping out onto the streets of Yangon can be an assault on the senses at first; there’s just so much going on.
Instead of just hopping into a cab, spend half a day exploring the lanes and alleys on foot so you can take everything in – the food carts, roadside tea shops, makeshift markets and the locals just chilling pretty much anywhere and everywhere.
As a former British colony, Yangon is actually home to the largest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia.
While most look pretty rundown and dated, they make for a blast to the past and truly exude a vibe that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
3. Have Lunch At 999 Shan Noodle Shop
Burmese cuisine isn’t something commonly found in Singapore (unlike Thai and Indonesian food), so you can be forgiven for not knowing what to expect. It’s mainly an amalgamation of its neighbours (Thailand, China, India) but is still unique in its own right.
For first-timers to Yangon, I highly recommend getting Shan Noodles (from K2,000 per bowl) from 999 Shan Noodle Shop to ease your palate into the cuisine. The restaurant is popular with tourists which helps since most of the staff speak good English and the menus are also in English.
Shan Noodles is a popular dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and you’ll find it on most menus in Yangon.
It’s basically rice noodles that can be enjoyed dry or with soup and comes with chicken or pork marinated in a tomato sauce. Topped with chopped peanuts and spring onions, it’s served with pickled mustard greens on the side.
999 Shan Noodle Shop: 130B, 34th Street, Yangon, Myanmar | Tel: +95 1 389 363 | Opening Hours: 6am – 7pm (Daily) | Website
4. Plan A Visit To The Famous Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon is still a developing city and tourism is slowly but surely on the rise. One of the capital’s biggest tourist sights that you’ve probably heard of is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
The impressive golden structure is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it’s believed to contain eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama Buddha, amongst other Buddhist relics.
It’s truly a sight to behold and is surrounded by other shrines and quiet spots for worship. You’ll have to pay K8,000 per person to enter the compound and do remember to wear appropriate clothing.
Shoes and socks must be taken off but instead of leaving them at the entrance with hundreds of other pairs of shoes, I suggest bringing a plastic bag along to put your shoes in and carry with you.
Shwedagon Pagoda: Bahan Road, Yangon, Myanmar | Opening Hours: 4am – 10pm (Last entry 9.45pm) | Website
5. Visit The Sule Pagoda (And Many Other Pagodas)
People mainly head to Yangon for the history of the place and to visit the pagodas. Located right in the heart of the city, the Sule Pagoda is hard to miss.
It’s been an important focal point for both Yangon and Burmese politics and is worth a quick visit when you’re there. You’ll have to pay K3,000 per person to enter and once again, remember to wear appropriate clothing.
If a day at the Shwedagon Pagoda was enough for you, you can still marvel at the beauty of the Sule Pagoda from afar at night when it’s illuminated, brightening the Yangon skyline.
Sule Pagoda: Junction of Sule Pagoda Road, Yangon 11141, Myanmar | Opening Hours: 4am – 10pm (Daily)
6. Catch A Breather In The Maha Bandula Park
If you’re already at the Sule Pagoda, stop off at the nearby Maha Bandula Park after for some shade and a breather. The park is easily identifiable by the tall Independence Monument and water fountain in the middle of it.
The monument commemorates Burmese independence from the British in 1948 and stands as a reminder of the promising future ahead for the people of Myanmar.
Maha Bandula Park: Maha Bandula Park Street, Yangon, Myanmar
7. Enjoy Burmese Barbecue & Beer For Dinner At 19th Street
Yangon has its very own Chinatown which has become THE place to have dinner at. Head to 19th Street in the centre of the Chinatown area where most of the locals gather to eat and drink beer.
The street is lined with stalls serving up delicious barbecue and skewers, and it’s always crowded around dinnertime.
You have to order BBQ grilled fish when you’re there, and the Grilled Fish with Spicy Sauce from Lashio Gyi Yunan BBQ & Restaurant was a winner.
Marinated in a red chilli paste, the fish had a nice spicy kick to it that was perfect with an ice cold beer (go for Myanmar lager).
Lashio Gyi Yunan BBQ & Restaurant: No. 90(A), 19 Street, La Tha Township, Yangon 11131, Myanmar | Facebook
8. Haggle For Souvenirs At Bogyoke Aung San Market
No holiday is complete without some shopping, and after filling up on all the history and culture that Yangon has to offer, you must plan a visit to the Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Enter the two-storey colonial building and wander the cobblestone streets lined by shops selling antiques, clothes, Burmese handicrafts, jewellery and lots of amazing art. Just remember to haggle!
Bogyoke Aung San Market: No (66, 67, 68, 69, 78, 79), East D, Pabedan Township, Yangon 11141, Myanmar | Opening Hours: 8am – 5.30pm (Tue – Sun), Closed on Mon
9. Treat Yourself To Modern Burmese Cuisine & Tea At Rangoon Tea House
One of the more modern restaurants in Yangon, Rangoon Tea House is well-worth a visit for a totally different aesthetic. The space boasts an elegant blend of classic and modern Burmese culture, and you’ll find many delectable things on the menu.
You can’t leave Yangon without trying some tea, and if you’re too shy to hang with the locals at tea shops by the road, order a cup here with your meal. The tea menu is extensive and traditional, with a hot version going for K1,500, and an iced one for K2,000.
Rangoon Tea House: Ground Floor, 77 – 79 Pansodan Road (Lower Middle Block), Yangon, Myanmar | Tel: +95 9 979 078681 | Opening Hours: 7am – 10pm (Sun – Thu), 7am – 12am (Fri & Sat) | Website
10. Head To Another Burmese City/Town By Railway
Since you can probably see most of central Yangon in two or three days, I highly recommend squeezing another Burmese city or town into your Myanmar itinerary.
Stop by Yangon Central Railway Station to book your ticket the day before you plan on departing; the staff there doesn’t speak much English (if any), so just be patient and you’ll manage.
It would probably be easier to fly to other popular Burmese destinations (Inle Lake, Kalaw, Bagan), but hopping on one of the old-school trains is an experience in itself.
I took the overnight sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan, and the railway runs through beautiful countryside and several traditional villages; sights you won’t get to see from a plane.
Yangon Central Railway Station: Kun Chan Road, Yangon, Myanmar