Yangon Downtown
  • Region Population: 7.3 million (2014)
  • Destination Lineage: Myanmar, Chinese, Indian & Angelo
  • Destination Languages: Myanmar/Burmese & English
  • Destination Religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam & Hinduism
  • How to get there: The former capital of Myanmar, and its largest city, Yangon, is often the first point of entry for most international visitors: usually arriving via its international airport or seaport. Bustling, urban, and still Myanmar’s centre of business and commerce, Yangon. This city is a melting pot – a diversity of cultures and communities in terms of people, settlements, and religions. It is also surprisingly green thanks to its stunning lakes, shady parks, and verdant tropical trees. This is why it is dubbed “The Garden City of the East”.

YANGON HIGHLIGHTS~

A surprising mix of commerce, cultural heritage, and serenity

Pagodas

Myanmar’s commercial capital is a bustling metropolis where everyone is going about their business, yet with so many spectacular pagodas to enjoy it is possible to find serenity. There are many to choose from but a visit to the country’s most prominent and well-loved landmark, Shwedagon Pagoda, is a must. Reportedly more than 2,500 years old, it towers above the green landscape of Yangon. In the heart of downtown, Sule Pagoda is of both historical and cultural significance, while Botahtaung Pagoda on the bank of the river is hollow inside allowing visitors to walk through to admire a glass case containing a hair relic of the Buddha.

Parks

For a pleasant, verdant sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of urban Yangon, there are a number of attractive parks around the city which are veritable oases. Kandawgyi Lake is surrounded by a fabulous, tree-filled park and gardens where you can also visit the iconic Karaweik Hall. Nearby Yangon Zoological Park, established in 1901, now boasts over 1,100 animals. People’s Park, to the west of Shwedagon, offers many activities from a water fountain show and a planetarium to an old steam locomotive and an old Myanma Airways aircraft. Just a short distance from downtown, Inya Lake offers activities such as swimming, rowing, and sailing.

Environs

Bago, about 80km north of Yangon has attractions including Kanbourzathadi Palace, Shwemawdaw Pagoda, Shwe Tha Lyaung Pagoda. On the way, you can stop to visit the impressive Allied War Memorial Cemetery, dedicated to the fallen from WWII. Thanlyin is about a 30-min drive from the city with attractions including an old Portuguese building, Kyaik Khauk Pagoda, and Yele Pagoda on a small island. Meanwhile, a small town on the Twante Canal is 2 hours away by boat from Yangon. Pottery is a major cottage industry there and places to visit are Oh-Bo Pottery Sheds, the local market, and Shwesandaw Pagoda.

URBAN~Home to nearly six million, this is a metropolis on the move

The city of Yangon was founded by King Alaungphaya in the 18th century. Formerly the administrative capital of the country, the metropolis remains the top commercial hub in Myanmar, with the port and the international airport as its main point of entry. The national pride of Yangon is the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda, said to be one of the oldest in Asia. Besides the many pagodas, the National Museum and Bogyoke Market also enable visitors to come closer to embracing the Myanmar culture.

Yangon has a wonderful array of colonial-era buildings to explore. The best way to discover them, and the downtown area (especially Chinatown) is on foot. The vibrant colors fo street life, markets, and people busy with their livelihoods have to be on the move, then the 46-km long Yangon circular railway offers travelers the chance to participate in, and catch glimpses of, the day-to-day lives of the city’s inhabitants and experience their warm, friendly nature.

Thanlyin Kyauk Tan
PAGODAS~A spiritual odyssey commences with the majestic Shwedagon

No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to the country’s beloved landmark, Shwedagon Pagoda. Incredibly iconic and revered locally, this place of worship is inspiring to all, even those who are not of the Buddhist faith. It can be seen from lots of Yangon’s vantage points but is best appreciated close-up. Go just before the sun sets to capture “magic hour” or join the pagoda festival which takes place in late February or early March. It is also the perfect spot to enjoy other plentiful Buddhist festivals as well as witness the processions of novice monks and numerous Buddhist rituals.

However, Yangon is host to many sacred places each with its special appeals, such as Sule Pagoda, Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda, Kabar Aye Pagoda, and Botahtaung Pagoda to name a few. Located in the very heart of downtown, near Independence Monument, High Court, and City Hall, Sule Pagoda is said to be even older than Shwedagon Pagoda. Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda is home to an enormous reclining Buddha. Other famous pagodas to visit include Mae La Mu, Kabar Aye, Koe Htet Gyi, Swal Daw, Ngar Htet Gyi, Arr Lein Ngar Sint, and Mindama.

PARKS~

Find sanctuary in what is dubbed the “Garden City of the East”
independent monument yangon

Yangon is an incredibly busy city with a surprising number of parks and gardens. Downtown is a bustling hive of activity yet here you can visit the Maha Bandula Park. Home to Independence Monument and some imposing statues of the mythical chinthe (lion), it is an oasis of green with refreshing fountains.

Beyond the main city centre, Yangon is suitably surrounded by lush gardens and leafy trees which are a result of the yearly monsoon rains. Take a gentle stroll in the tropical woods surrounding big green spaces like Kandawgyi Lake, Bogyoke Park, People’s Park, and Inya Lake. At dawn, encounter locals practicing Tai Chi and Yoga as the sun rises and the mists lift.

KANDAWGYI GARDENS

Kandawgyi garden is a popular 260-acre park, lake, and recreation area. It offers a fabulous view across the water towards the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, an orchid garden, a playground for children, a mini zoo, souvenir shops, many local restaurants, and Karaweik Hall, an impressive replica of the royal barge where you can enjoy dinner with traditional dances. Moreover, very close to Kandawgyi is Myanmar’s second-largest zoo, Yangon Zoological Park, with a collection of nearly 200 species of animals.

Kan daw gyi

HLAWGA NATIONAL PARK

Located in Mingaladon, about 25km north of Yangon, Hlawga National Park is a nature reserve covering 1,540 acres including a wildlife sanctuary and buffer zone. There is also a museum of replica traditional Myanmar buildings and a 62-acre zoo with a rock garden. In the park, Hlawga Lake is home to over 70 kinds of herbivorous animals, 90 species of birds, and flocks of visiting migratory birds. It is an ideal place for nature lovers, picnickers, birdwatchers, and botanists alike.

deer inside yangon zoo

NATIONAL RACES VILLAGE

Situated in a lush park near Thanlyin Bridge, is National Races Village. It is a place that embraces the diversity of Myanmar where visitors can wander through the traditional houses of the country’s eight major ethnic groups: the Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan to discover the traditions, cultures, crafts and ethnic clothes of each race. The park also has miniaturized landmarks from around the country, a playground, a beautiful lake, a crocodile farm, and a bird sanctuary.

yangon zoo
yangon general hospital
HERITAGE~Culture and history buffs will love the vast array of varied, decadent architecture

Downtown Yangon is widely thought to have the highest density of colonial period buildings in Southeast Asia and the preservation of the heritage is partially thanks to the country’s decades-long isolation. The Yangon City Heritage List consists of nearly 200 edifices including religious structures, ancient pagodas, and British colonial buildings. A number of walking tours exist, mapping out some of the key heritage sites, and it is well worth taking in the city’s finest examples of largely decadent architecture.

There are many to choose from but don’t miss the imposing red-brick High Court by architect John Ransome, the legendary Strand Hotel by the Armenian Sarkies brothers, the eponymous former emporium that was designed by Isaac Sofaer, a Jewish immigrant from Baghdad, and the sprawling Victorian elegance of The Secretariat (where General Aung San, father to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was assassinated in 1947) and Yangon City Hall completed in 1936 by Myanmar’s own, U Tin.

PLACES~

Get to know the city’s diverse facets for a more rewarding stay
Yangon street vendor

Yangon, at one time called Rangoon, was founded by King Alaungpaya on the site of a small settlement called Dagon when he conquered Lower Myanmar in 1755. The city is home to institutions such as the National Museum and Bogyoke Museum displaying the country’s historical events but it’s best to discover Yangon by being on the streets mixing with the people.

Throughout the metropolis, numerous food stalls, historical sites, art galleries, souvenirs, and markets are yours to explore. Many places still retain some of the charms of a bygone era and there are many ways to become acquainted with the city.

MARKETS

There are many markets worth visiting but the most popular one in Yangon is Bogyoke Market. Built-in 1926 under British rule it was formerly known as Scott’s Market. With more than 2,000 shops and a big selection of handicrafts, souvenirs, clothes, gems, jewelry, antiques, and art galleries, you can while away your time browsing, searching for that perfect gift for your family, or eating at one of the many traditional Myanmar and Chinese food stalls in the market.

bogyoke market

RIVER CRUISES

A diverse way to experience the beauty of Yangon is to take a river cruise, particularly in the early morning as the sun warms the air or the final hours of a sultry day. Departing either at Botahtaung jetty or Maw Tin Jetty you can discover the spectacular scenery of Yangon’s waterways, observe the little-known lighthouse of the Twante Canal, see Shwedagon Pagoda from a different perspective and enjoy the glow of the lights along the river banks as night falls.

Dala Ferry

NIGHTLIFE

Rather subdued in comparison to major cities in neighboring countries, Yangon’s burgeoning nightlife is evolving and becoming increasingly vibrant. Besides local beer stations, KTV (karaoke) lounges, local concerts, fashion shows, and traditional dance performances, there are restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, and discos catering for hip Yangonites, ex-pats, and tourists. Quite a number, especially those that have sprung up in the past couple of years, either offer splendid views of the city, embrace its colonial heritage, or are lakeside venues.

night at Yangon street
shwedagon

ENVIRONS~

Venture outside the metropolis to sample a diverse way of life

Visitors soon appreciate Yangon’s pivotal contribution to the political, economic, cultural, and social fabric of Myanmar when they witness its hustle and bustle. Evidence of the city’s cosmopolitan history is witnessed in the architecture, while religious diversity is shown in structures such as Baptist and Methodist churches, Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, Sunni and Shia mosques, Hindu, Parsi and Sikh temples, and a Jewish synagogue which exist alongside the many Buddhist pagodas.

However, if you venture a short distance from the metropolis you can enjoy a different pace and way of life of nearby towns and villages and observe their somewhat quieter and provincial reality.

TWANTE

A 2-hr boat ride across the river is Twante where a large part of the population is engaged in making pottery. Hop on a local ferry from Pansodan Jetty in Yangon and then grab a taxi to reach Twante village. It is worth visiting Shwesandaw Pagoda while you are there and after that, you can take a trishaw or a horse and cart to the pottery area to observe the craftsmen busy making earthenware in a very traditional manner.

Shwedagon Pagoda

THANLYIN

A major port city of Myanmar, Thanlyin is located across the Bago River from Yangon. It was occupied by the Portuguese in the early 17th century and continued to be of key significance until it was destroyed by King Alaungpaya in 1756 during the Mon revolt. The main tourist attraction in Thanlyin itself is Kyaik Khauk Pagoda but you can also visit the nearby National Races Village. Thaketa Crocodile Farm and Kyauktan Yele Pagoda, built on a small island of Kyauktan township.

Than Lyin Yele Pagoda

BAGO

Bago, 80km from Yangon, was once the ancient capital of the Mon Kings and of the second Myanmar Empire founded by King Bayinnaung. Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda and Kyaik Pun Pagoda are its most visited attractions but Maha Kalyani Sima, Mahazedi Pagoda, Shwegugale Pagoda, and Snake Pagoda are also worth seeing. On the way to Bago, you can pay respect to the 27,000 fallen soldiers (who died during WWII’s Myanmar Campaign) at the suitably impressive yet tranquil Allied War Memorial Cemetery

htauk kyan war cemetery
myanmar tradition
TRADITIONS~Experience the amazing by embracing the old ways with local inhabitants

Yangon, a vibrant city in flux and undergoing modernization, is also a spiritual melting pot of long-held traditions including festivities mostly associated with Buddhist beliefs and traditions. Particularly worth attending is the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival. However, international events like the Chinese New Year (among others) are also very enthusiastically embraced. Thingyan in April is the Myanmar Water Festival and honors the Myanmar New Year. The 10-day holiday celebrated throughout the land.

May sees Buddhists commemorate three milestones – the birth of Buddha, enlightenment, and Nirvana at his death –  by pouring water on the sacred Bo Tree. Waso Festival in July marks the beginning of three months of Buddhist lent when monks receive new robes. Thandingyut, the Festival of Lights in October is a marvel as throngs of devotees light candles at pagodas. Similarly, Tazaungdaing in November is a light festival but also features an all-night robe-weaving competition at Shwedagon Pagoda.

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