As a young and eager anthropologist, I set up home in Yangon (Rangoon), having learned to speak, read and write Burmese and armed with a lot of small bills US dollars. Over the years I returned to Yangon, the suburbs and slums where I lived and took my husband and daughter there for periods of extended fieldwork. It was tough, rough, occasionally dangerous. These were the years of military dictatorship and we were all afraid most of the time.
Returning to Yangon is a delight. To walk these teeming streets I know so well, to eat food that I still crave whenever I’m ill or lonely, and to return to the great Shwedagon, creates an enormous sense of peace and homecoming. I can only imagine how much more intensely the members of the Burmese pro-democracy diaspora must feel when they first return home.
I read itineraries for Yangon that mystify me. Full of places that locals don’t care for and missing the very heart and soul of this wonderful city. I have compiled my own itinerary – a list of the pagodas, markets, outdoor, cultural and historical activities and places where you will find Burmese people living their busy, urban lives.
I avoid many of the tourist traps that you should as well – pagodas built by military dictators that are shunned by Yangonites, and particular zoos and monasteries. But come with me and discover what is unforgettable and unique about Yangon and I promise you it will leave you thrilled and transformed!
3 Days Worth of Itineraries
There are really only two main things you need to do in Yangon to get a sense of it. The first is to explore, on foot, the downtown area and the second is to go to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Both of these experiences are best done in small doses, especially during the hot or monsoon seasons.
- Day 1 involves the downtown area and the Shwedagon Pagoda.
- Day 2 involves the most important other pagodas in Yangon, the main market (Bogyoke Aung San market) and more of the downtown area, including the night market.
- Day 3 allows you to see Yangon’s suburbs, lakes, and river scenes. It also allows you time to go back to the Shwedagon a second time.
These itineraries are additive. If you have 3 days, do all three but do them in the order above. If you would prefer to take a few tours of Yangon, I have put the very best of them below.
Yangon Airport to Hotels
Before you begin on your Yangon, itinerary, save yourself a whole lot of hassle and have a driver meet you at the airport, help you with your luggage, and get you to the right address with an air-conditioned private transfer. Below is a one-way transfer, a lounge pass, and a combined transfer-lounge pass to make sure your holiday begins and ends on a great note!
One way private transfer with English-speaking driver from Yangon airport to your hotel.
- Only perfect reviews
- Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.
- Available 2 hours before your flight, must be booked within 3 days of the date of lounge access
- Free cancellation up to 24 hours before
- Remember to print the voucher and email receipt of payment
- A very good value and hassle-free way to leave Yangon.
- Begins from 6 a.m., remember to print the voucher and email receipt of payment
- Free cancellation up to 24 hours before
Best Things to Do in Yangon in 1 Day
The pulse of Yangon has always been the downtown multi-storied terraced buildings with their shopfronts on the ground floor, spilling out onto the street, and the apartments with their tiny balconies above.
The downtown area is laid down as a grid system. The name of Yangon was, until relatively recently, Rangoon. But then, until relatively recently, Yangon was also the capital of Burma (Myanmar).
There are numerous grumpy colonial memos that deplore the Burmese wanton disregard for the neat orderly rectangles of city planning. They particularly disliked the refusal of Burmese hotels to confine themselves to one ‘red-light district.’ Nevertheless, the flat grid of downtown streets certainly makes navigation straight forward!
The monsoon plays havoc with these British colonial buildings – drain pipes sprout small trees and mold grows quickly in the hot and damp climate. The streets are similarly cracked and the waters rise up from the British-area drains in neighborhoods during the monsoon.
Parking is a nightmare – cars park on both sides of the narrow streets and bicycles, rickshaws and carts
are cycled and wheeled between them. The sidewalks are so crowded it’s often necessary to walk in the middle of the road.
Traffic begins to build in Yangon at about 10 am and it only gets worse from there all day long.
Given the crush of bodies and cars, it pays to either wander and get delightfully lost down these mazes of streets, or choose your route carefully to make sure you see the main sights with a minimum of stress. You can’t but help notice the smells (the good ones!) coming from the street food vendors and under each bridge and in each small shop there are wonderful things to discover that you won’t find anywhere else!
Here are the best three guide books for your trip to Yangon
The Sule Pagoda
The main pagodas, monuments, markets, and colonial buildings are in the downtown part of the city. The best place to start your Yangon itinerary is the literal center of the country – the place from which all distances in Myanmar are measured – the Sule Pagoda.
Aside from its stunning good looks, what makes the Sule Pagoda unique is its long and close association with local identity. Although we don’t know exactly when it was built, local legend says it is more than 2,500 years old – making it one of the oldest structures in the country.
It was built by the Mon and it is likely not that old, but it is an old and revered stupa believed to be placed on the site of the Sule Nat spirit. It is also believed to contain one or more hairs of the Buddha. Queen Shin Sawba had the pagoda enlarged to its current size in the mid-fifteenth century.
Small shops line the octagonal facade of the pagoda and it is a busy thoroughfare. The Sule is never overlooked by Yangon residents, however. It has long been a cornerstone of national identity and an epicenter of protests and demonstrations. For example, it played a key role in the 1988 Uprising, where thousands of people were killed in the center of Rangoon/Yangon, as well as the 2007 Saffron Revolution led by the monks against the military regime.
Monks use the Sule Pagoda as a focal prayer point and as an organizing and rallying point for resistance to the regime. As a result, much blood has been spilled at this location and, like the Shwedagon, it has a special place in the history of Burma (Myanmar’s) resistance to military rule from 1962 to 2014.
Maha Bandoola Park and Independence Monument
Immediately to the south-east from the Sule Pagoda is a big green space – and the only one for quite some distance! These days it and the Sule Pagoda, are overshadowed by a new high-rise hotel and this will become more common in the next few years.
The park was first opened in the mid-1800s, during the British occupation of Myanmar. At the time, it was named after a British commander, Albert Fytche, and featured a large statue of Queen Victoria. It’s a famous spot on the Burma map and a definite must do in Yangon city.
Once Myanmar achieved independence, the statue of Queen Victoria was replaced by a large obelisk that remains to this day. The park was also renamed from Fytche Park to Maha Bandula (Bandoola) Park, in honor of the General who fought against the British to secure Independence.
Across the open space in front of Maha Bandoola Park are several prominent buildings including the High Court and the City Hall. City Hall was designed by the same architect as the independence monument, so it’s worth looking closely at both!
(I have to admit that as the headquarters of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the SLORC, and the State Peace and Development Council, the SPDC, I had come to fear these buildings. They were often tanks in the streets stationed in front of City Hall. It’s wonderful to see that level of militarization gone from central Yangon).
26th Street Market
One of the best places to visit in Yangon to indulge your senses is the 26th Street Market (also known as the Fresh Market). The colors, the smells and sounds of the market give you a good understanding of how busy Burmese people go about preparing for their evening meal and daily snacks. The bustling market runs nearly the whole length of 26th street and is a wanderer’s delight.
As you may have guessed from the market’s nickname, there’s an emphasis on fresh produce here. From homegrown veggies to seafood that’s just been plucked out of the sea, this is the local hotspot for shopping. A vast array of hin (ဟင်း) (curries), butchers, fishmongers, tea shops, juice and vegetable sellers give you a good sense of what Burmese food looks like, its key ingredients, and the spices used.
As a result, not only is it a great place to pick up some snacks or street food, but it’s also a great way to get a glimpse into local life in Yangon.
Tip: Get to the market early, as it is at its best before 10 am.
Food and Markets Tours
If you are a foodie or if you would like to understand the different foods and vegetables eaten and grown in Myanmar, there are a burgeoning number tours you may love (which shows you what the Burmese care about!). The best ones are a 4-hour food tour, a nighttime markets food walking Tour, a Delicacies of Yangon Tour, a Street Snacks tour and a tour that supports local cafes and restaurants, a Social Business Food Tour. Carving out a little time for one of these tours would increase your understanding of the importance of food, flavors, and spices in Myanmar cuisine! Check prices, availability, and reviews below:
Colonial Architecture and Pansodan Street
While British occupation was only a relatively short period in Myanmar’s long history, it certainly has left an indelible lasting impact. The architecture of Yangon has been significantly shaped by the time under British rule.
One of the most obvious legacies of the British occupation is the colonial architecture that is found throughout Myanmar but particularly in Yangon. These elegant buildings would not look out of place in any European capital – although they also display hallmarks of local building trends and styles, as well.
A selection of old colonial buildings are heritage listed in Myanmar, including the City Hall and the Secretariat (where Aung San was assassinated), the High Court, the Regional Court, and St. Paul’s High School, however many others are falling into a state of disrepair – so it’s important to see them soon if you can. I have scrambled and wandered among these buildings over the years, watching as they became more dilapidated, covered in mold, even enormous ballrooms filled with crystal chandeliers and exquisite multi-story circular staircases. For a walk down the Myanmar of old, head for Pansodan Street, which is filled with beautiful old buildings and try also to tick off each of the buildings I’ve mentioned above as well as the Strand Hotel (see below).
Yangon Walking Tours
The Spirit of Yangon (Full Day) Walking Tour takes in many of the city’s historical monuments as well as the Strand Hotel (below)m Bogyoke Market and the Shwedagon Pagoda. Check prices, availability, and reviews here
Waterfront Area and Strand Hotel
There’s something so charismatic about a grand old hotel – and even more so if it’s set near the waterfront. That’s the case with the Strand Hotel, once the most glamorous and best hotel in Yangon. Famously operated by the Sarkie brothers – hoteliers who also owned other opulent properties like the Raffles in Singapore, there’s no doubt it was top of the hotel list in Yangon until very recently.
This was my Burmese respite, during long weeks and months of fieldwork upcountry and in the peri-urban slums. I was a graduate student and couldn’t afford to eat much here. But I could afford a cup of Earl Grey tea and a salad (fresh vegetables were hard to come by). It had air-conditioning and white tablecloths and napkins and was a mini-treat when I was tired of the teeming city!
Under the ownership in the late 19th century, the Strand Hotel was an opulent oasis. Decades later, however, it fell into disrepair and crumbled until it was a derelict shadow of its former past. Recent years have seen massive reinvestment, however, and today it is back to its former glory.
The Strand Hotel is one of the most famous landmarks along the waterfront, however, the wider area is worthy of exploring. Here, you’ll find many of the best restaurants and bars in Yangon (Rangoon city), all overlooking the river.
Here are the best three MAPS for your trip to Yangon
Bogyoke Aung San Market
If you really only have one day to spend during your Yangon tour, it’s important to fit time in for an hour at the country’s main market and famous Yangon tourist spot. If you have more than one day, skip the market and spend more time there on another day. See Day 2 Itinerary below for more about the Bogyoke Aung San market.
Independence arrived in Myanmar to much fanfare, but it wasn’t without its struggles. In fact, a number of the architects of independence – including, most notably, Aung San (father of current leader, Aung San Suu Kyi) lost their lives in the quest for freedom from British rule.
Most notably, a group of leaders – including General Aung San – were assassinated while holding a cabinet meeting on 16 July 1947. Many mysteries still surround the assassination, but the event is still commemorated in Myanmar. Aung San’s remains and those of five others who were assassinated by the bomb are interred in the Mausoleum. The Martyr’s Mausoleum is a tribute to those killed, while they are commemorated every year on Martyr’s Day.
In 1983 there was an attempted assassination of the South Korean President by North Korea. 21 people died and the mausoleum was blown up. It was rebuilt by the military regime but they refused to allow Burmese people to visit there until 2013. People came in their thousands to pay respect to Aung San, including his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi.
It’s amongst the best Yangon things to do, and a worthy addition to our itinerary, being close to the northern side of the Shwedagon Pagoda (at the north gate).
The Shwedagon Pagoda
Tied equally with the Pagodas of Bagan as the most incredible thing to do in this part of Southeast Asia, the Shwedagon Pagoda is where I first head to as soon as I enter the country. I have left it to last on your Day 1 itinerary because sunset at the Shwedagon pagoda is magical.
For a comprehensive post on the Shwedagon Pagoda – what to do there, the order in which to do things, and what it all means – click on my post: Shwedagon Pagoda: The Best Pagoda in Myanmar. In the post, you’ll also find the best tours of the Shwedagon Pagoda, including the Evening Shwedagon Tour.
If you have more than one day to discover Yangon, you will find a second, daytime visit to the Shwedagon precinct below.
Hiring a Car, Driver, and Guide in Yangon
I have always had a car and driver when in Yangon in order for me to travel during times of my choosing and just the sheer ease of getting around the spread-out places of interest in Yangon. It is possible to hire a private car and driver if you know where to go. It’s also possible to hire a private car and a guide if you would like a private tour of Yangon. Check prices, availability, and reviews below.
Yangon Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Yangon in 2 Days
If you have more than 1 day in Yangon, you have time to accomplish all of the Day 1 activity above as well as getting to see the variety and depth of Theravada Buddhist experiences in Yangon. Yesterday you saw two of the oldest pagodas in Yangon – the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Sule Pagoda. Today it’s possible to spend more time at the Shwedagon pagoda and its entire Buddhist precinct as well as visiting the other main pagodas of significance in Yangon. Then it’s on to Yangon’s main market Bogyoke Aung San market and finally, a trip to China Town Yangon at night with its markets and food stalls.
Get ready, today you’ll see some of the most unmissable Myanmar must-sees in a full day of Yangon sightseeing.
Mohingya (မုန့်ဟင်းခါး)at a Tea Shop
But first, the day begins the same way that it does for millions of Burmese people: in a teashop eating Mohingya for breakfast. There’s always a certain joy that comes with experiencing a taste of local life… especially when it’s as genuinely delicious as tea and mohingya!
You’ll find tea shops all over Yangon, from the humble to the hoity-toity. The Rangoon Tea House is marked on the Day 2 Yangon Itinerary Map as one good example. Whichever you choose, you’ll be treated to delicious tea prepared the local way – generally with sweet condensed milk.
But to really enjoy it like a Myanmar local, you’ll have to have it with Mohingya, which is arguably the country’s national dish. This noodle soup features intense flavors of a hot and sour fish broth along with lemongrass and turmeric. Burmese people believe it is perfect to wake up to in the morning, and certainly can’t be missed during your Yangon travel. I admit it is a bit of an acquired taste – the Burmese idea of a fantastic meal is to have all of the tastes – hot, salty, sweet, sour, bitter – explode in your mouth at the same time!
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a destination in itself. The pagoda is part of a sacred geography, replicating the sacred geography of Mount Meru, the center of the universe, and where the universe is laid out below the Pagoda.
When you take your shoes off at the entrance to a pagoda compound, you begin your journey on Buddhist sacred ground and begin to climb the stairs, mimicking the upward journey or meditation towards Enlightenment.
As you descend from the upper tiers of the Shwedagon you enter the lower realms that are less spiritual and ethereal and more human.
Below the pagoda are gardens, monasteries, shops making and selling religious paraphernalia. These shops used to sell wondrous things – 100-year-old alms bowls, puppets, and opium weights. Whilst you will still enjoy wandering through the layers of stalls here, it is becoming increasingly commercialized.
Further below you reach the monasteries and religious schools that ring the sacred pagoda grounds in cities like Yangon and Mandalay. The military regime needed the support of the Sangha (the monkhood) and it built lavish Buddhist monasteries all around this precinct.
There’s no doubt this is one of the top Myanmar attractions, as well as the most beautiful place to visit in Yangon.
Read my comprehensive guide to the Shwedagon Pagoda here: Shwedagon Pagoda: The Best Pagoda in Myanmar.
Kaba Aye Pagoda
The gold-covered Kaba Aye Pagoda is also a part of our 2 day Yangon itinerary. This glistening pagoda was built in 1952, to commemorate the 2,500 year anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Since then, it’s a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over the world. Of course, non-Buddhists are also welcome to visit the Pagoda. It’s not the most beautiful pagoda but there are interesting four-sided Buddha sculptures in its hollow interior.
Bohtataung Pagoda and Bohtataung Jetty
After Shwedagon, my favorite pagoda in Yangon is the Bohtataung Pagoda. Not only is it a beautiful sight, but you can take the opportunity to discover the Bohtataung waterfront area nearby.
The Bohtataung Pagoda is one of the most significant spiritual sites in Myanmar. Local legend says that a pagoda was first built on the spot some 2,500 years ago (around the time of the Buddha’s enlightenment), and housed a single strand of Gautama Buddha’s hair. Unfortunately, the historic Pagoda was destroyed during World War II, however, it has been painstakingly rebuilt.
The Golden Hall, the cut-glass shards reflecting light everywhere and the syncretic blending of Buddhism with the cult of the 37 Nat spirits, are all reasons I am more attached to this pagoda that others in Yangon apart from the Shwedagon. I think I also like it because it has always felt like an up-country pagoda that you might find in a large village, sitting quietly in a densely populated city.
The Myanmar pagoda overlooks the river and is nestled in one of Yangon’s liveliest hubs. In particular, nearby you’ll find the Bohtataung Jetty, where riverboat cruises leave during the day or evening. If you’ve got an extra hour or so to spare, it’s a great addition to your Yangon itinerary.
The Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda is another unmissable temple in Yangon, as it houses one of the most sacred reclining Buddha statues in the country. The 66-meter statue was originally commissioned by a local businessman in 1899, but it took some seven years to be completed.
When it finally was unveiled, it didn’t take onlookers long to realize something was a bit unusual about the Buddha – he looked very angry! Showing anger on your face is a major cultural no-no in Myanmar, it is equated with madness. The angry expression on the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha image remained for some fifty years until in the 1950s his face was recrafted by craftsmen from the Dawei region. Today, the reclining Buddha is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar.
Nga Htat Gyi pagoda
Another beautiful statue of the Buddha can be found at the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda, near the Ashay Tawya Monastery. In this sculpture, the Buddha is seated with his legs crossed and arms resting in his lap, towering at over 65 meters tall. The seated Buddha was donated to the temple over a century ago in 1900, replacing an earlier, smaller Buddha which had been gifted to the Pagoda in 1558.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
Initially called Scott’s market, Yangon’s main market was renamed in honor of the founder of Independence and the Burmese Independence Army, General Aung San. (Bogyoke is the Burmese word for ‘General.’)
While enjoying your 2 days in Yangon, you simply can’t miss this sprawling market. Every square inch is covered by hawkers selling their wares, which includes everything you could ever want (and plenty that you’d probably never want!).
It’s arguably the most famous market in Myanmar and one of the most bustling. Once a famous location for black market currency sales, gems, and a variety of other illegal goods, today things are a little more legitimate and you’ll find a plethora of antiques, crafts, clothing and more.
You’re bound to be a little disorientated and more than a little overwhelmed as you first join the chaos, however, it’s totally unmissable and the ideal place to pick up some souvenirs and try out some good-natured haggling.
The market has a large central indoor space with rows of small shops, loosely grouped into particular goods, such as gold, gemstones, silk, clothing, and antiques and souvenirs. The circumference of the market contains paintings, small cafes, juice stores, and other food stores. Haggling is expected.
If you’re ever wondering what to do in Yangon, head to Bogyoke Market (unless it is Monday). The market is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
China Town Night market
As well as the multitude of ethnic groups hailing from different areas of Myanmar, the country has also seen significant migration from elsewhere in Asia and further afar. Over many generations, Chinese migrants, in particular, have left an indelible mark on Yangon.
This is at its clearest in the China Town region near 16th Street, west of the Sule Pagoda. It is the busiest section of Yangon and is quieter at night. Here, you’ll find a smattering of restaurants and temples, as well as a pretty fabulous market. If you’re in the mood for some of the best food in Yangon, head to China Town at night.
Don’t forget to walk down 19th street for beer and bbq stalls. People often ask me what do people do for fun in Myanmar? Head to 19th street in the evening and find out!
There is a wonderful small group night food walking tour of China Town that takes in the markets of Shwebontha Street, snack and tea shops, roadside stalls, charcoal grills and a couple of temples. It takes 2.5 hours and is good value for money. You can check prices, reviews and availability here: Yangon: Evening Streets by Night Food Walking Tour
Yangon Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Yangon in 3 Days
While many visitors to Yangon will get the chance to tick off the “must-sees” during their Yangon itinerary, I highly recommend spending some time seeing a different side of the city. It’s always fascinating to see how people really live, and day 3 of our itinerary will give you a pretty good look at a different side of Yangon.
Today, you’ll join the university students by taking a wander along Inya Lake, while pausing to take in arguably the most famous home in Yangon – that where current leader Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned. You’ll take a deeper dive into the history of her famous family, and learn more about the past of Myanmar at the impressive National Museum.
Finally, this Yangon itinerary includes the chance to ride the ramshackle Circle Line Train and watch the sunset in one of the most gorgeous parts of the city. If you’re not already, day 3 in Yangon is sure to leave you totally enamored.
It might shock you to find out that Yangon’s largest lake – Inya – is actually artificial. It was created by the British back in 1882 to provide water to the city; today it’s a popular recreation spot for visitors and locals. There’s a sailing club, as well as a 15-hectare park that’s popular with students from the nearby University. So, if you’re craving a bit of fresh air after a few days in bustling Yangon, this is a great place to visit.
It’s also the place to do a bit of celebrity house touring, Myanmar style, as the area is also home to some of Myanmar’s most expensive and glamorous real estate. There’s the former home of Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the mansion once owned by the former military dictator, Ne Win.
54 University Avenue (Aung San Suu Kyi’s House) and Golden Valley Township
Aung San Suu Kyi is the most recognizable face of modern Myanmar, having been imprisoned for a decade and a half after winning government following the 1988 Uprising. She became one of the most famous political prisoners in the world and was released to great fanfare in 2010 – although she has attracted significant criticism in recent years. Several international courts are trying allegations of attempted genocide of the Rohingya of western Myanmar in the years that Aung San Suu Kyi has been the nation’s Foreign Minister.
The house where Aung San Suu Kyi lived and was later imprisoned still remains on the leafy University Avenue. It is not open to the public, however, you can see the high walls which for many years kept Aung San Suu Kyi from freedom. The famous front gates were auctioned a few years ago.
The house is located in the Bahan area, near the Golden Valley Township (now renamed Shwetaunggya), one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in all of Myanmar. It’s well worth wandering through to admire the extravagant mansions. It’s still possible, in the leafy windy lanes, to find young monks playing football, young men serenading with guitars, moldering teak mansions about to be converted into hotels, and the gamut of wealthy suburban Myanmar life.
The suburbs of the Generals, the National League for Democracy and the Shwedagon Pagoda precinct, Bahan is worth spending time walking and watching.
National Museum of Myanmar
Visiting a country’s National Museum is a great way to get to know its history, and Myanmar’s is no exception. In fact, considering Myanmar’s long and complex history, I’d say a visit to the museum is a must to understand the background of this amazing place.
The National Museum of Myanmar is located in the Dagon district and houses more than 5,000 objects relating to the nation’s history. The oldest objects in the collection are thought to be some 40 million years old, although the majority relate to the last 1000 years of Myanmar’s history.
A variety of material culture from entertainment, such as puppetry, to the everyday household items made from bamboo, wood, and iron, the monastic alms bowls will give first-time visitors to Myanmar good sense of what is found in homes, monasteries, and villages throughout the country.
Of all the objects, the most famous is the Lion Throne, which is the only surviving throne of eight that were once used by Burmese monarchs. The throne was taken out of Myanmar after King Thibaw was dethroned in 1885, and was eventually returned to Yangoon in 1948.
Myanmar National Museum Tour
There is a great tour that takes you to the National Museum and the Art Galleries of Yangon (which for me are a real highlight of Myanmar). If you are interested in seeing Burmese material culture such as puppets, everyday household items and monks alms bowls and other aspects of monastic life, consider a National Museum of Myanmar Tour. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Bogyoke Aung San Museum
Another worthy addition to your 3 day Yangon itinerary is the Bojouq (or Bogyoke) Aung San Museum. This museum is housed in Aung San’s former residence, which is where he was living at the time of his assassination in 1947. The museum first opened in the 1960s and displays various exhibits relating to his adult life.
For those unaware, Aung San is considered the father of modern Myanmar – and is also the actual father of Aung San Suu Kyi. For many years, access to the museum was heavily limited to only three hours per year, however today it is open daily for the public to learn more about this critical figure in Myanmar’s history.
It is also an opportunity to see the type of gracious tropical mansions built by the British with their teak floors, staircases, and beds.
Yangon Circular Line Train
In order to avoid the military regime’s surveillance of me when I was conducting fieldwork in peri-urban slums on Myanmar’s outskirts, I resorted to the Circle Line Train. I don’t understand why the word circle in Burmese is usually translated into English as ‘circular’ but there are many odd translations in the burgeoning Myanmar tourism industry.
The train is so slow I could jump off in fields beside the train and enter townships unseen (see my book on Myanmar on Amazon: Karaoke Fascism: Burma and the Politics of Fear).
In a world where bullet trains and ultra-modern railways are the norms, Yangon’s crumbling Circle Line Train is a large step back into the pages of history. While the train may not have the mod cons, it oozes charm and charisma and offers a totally different way to travel around Yangon.
Looking at the old trains – mostly built in the 1960s – it’s hard to believe that some 100,000 people rely on it every day. The journey between the rural outskirts and Yangon may be slow, but it’s determined – and crucial for daily commuters. For tourists, the appeal is in experiencing something that seems out of a bygone era. Plus, as modernization spreads rapidly throughout Yangon, the crumbling old train’s days are probably numbered. See it while you can, as it’s one of the best things to do in Yangon.
You may not want the full 3 and half hour experience (although I love this slice of unedited everyday Yangon life). I suggest getting on the train at Yangon Central Railway Station and getting off at one of the larger stations along the way. Then grab a taxi and head to Kandawgyi Lake.
Yangon Circular Train Ride Tours
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this alone, there are a number of tours that will take you an and off the circle line train. The most comprehensive of these is the Yangon by Slow Train: Meet the Locals Tour. A 6-hour inexpensive tour that gets you to places most tourists don’t see. You can check prices, reviews, and availability here. The other two tours that involve the circular train ride and also take you to important cultural and historical sites are (1) the Yangon Multicultural Tour and Circular Train Ride. You can check prices, reviews, and availability here and (2) the Full-Day Yangon City Tour and Circular Train Ride. You can check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Sunset at Kandawgyi Lake and the Karaweik
There’s no better way to wrap up your 3 days in Yangon then to watch the sun slowly settle over the enchanting Karaweik Hall and Kandawygi Lake.
Modeled on the royal barges that Burmese Kings once used to travel throughout the country, Karaweik Hall is a truly spectacular sight. Covered in gold leaf and with its typically intricate style, it seems to hover gracefully over the Kandawgyi Lake. It’s beautiful at any time, but during the Golden Hour just before sunset, it really glitters. Then, of course, there’s the sight of the sun dropping behind it.
Just watching the sunset is a sight to behold, however, you may also like to catch a show with traditional dancing and music to go along with it. It’s the perfect end to an amazing three-day itinerary for Yangon.
Best Half and Full-Day Yangon Tours
Best Half-Day Yangon Tours
The following two Yangon half-day city tours sell out quickly. They are very well-reviewed, reasonably priced, pick up from your hotel and can be canceled free of charge up to 24 hours before the Tour.
The Half-Day Yangon City Tour takes 4 hours and begins with a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda. There is then a walking tour of the downtown area focussing on the colonial architecture and the riverfront. St. Mary’s Cathedral completes the tour. Check prices, availability, and reviews here.
The Yangon: Private Half-Day City Tour is a 5-hour Tour that manages to squeeze in a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, Bogyoke Market, the Nan Thida ferry terminal and a tea house. You can check prices, availability, and reviews here.
Best Half-Day Yangon Tours
The following four full-day Yangon sight-seeing tours have only perfect reviews. They pick up from your hotel and they have free cancellation of the full amount you have paid up to 24 hours before the Tour. As they are small group tours, they sell out quickly.
Private Full-Day Yangon City Tour. This is my favorite full-day sightseeing tour because of the number of significant Yangon sights it manages to fit in. You will visit Yangon’s five main pagodas: Shwedagon, Sule, Chuk Htat Gyi, Botahtaung, and Kaba Aye. It includes visits to the Karaweik and Bogyoke market. Lunch is also part of the tour. You can check prices, availability, and reviews here.
The Yangon: Private Full-Day Tour is an 8 hour Tour. This tour leaves at 8 a.m. and heads first to the Shwedagon Pagoda and to the National Museum. Following lunch, there is a tour of the colonial architecture of the downtown area, and a visit to Nanthida Ferry Terminal. You then catch a ferry, visit St. Mary’s Cathedral and have dinner. Entrance fees and lunch are included. You can check prices, availability, and reviews here.
The Yangon: Private Full-Day City Highlights Tour is a 9 hour Tour. Beginning at the Bogyoke Market, the tour walks to downtown Yangon and to Pansodan Street, then tours the Karaweik, Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda and the Shwedagon Pagoda. It includes a visit to the Rangoon Tea House. You can check prices, availability, and reviews here.
The Yangon City: Full-Day Tour takes in four pagodas, including ending the day at sunset at the Shwedagon Pagoda. It also tours the Sule, Chauk Htat Gyi, and Botahtaung Pagodas. Bogyoke Market and the National Museum and Karaweik are part of this tour. It is possible to visit the Strand Hotel when walking along the riverfront. A tea shop visit and entrance fees are included. You can check prices, availability, and reviews here.
Further Links and Information
- For a comprehensive guide on how to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda and what it all means, see my post here: Shwedagon Pagoda: The Best Pagoda in Myanmar
- For the ultimate Bagan Itinerary that visits every significant architectural monument over 3 days and gives advice on the best balloon ride over Bagan, read: Bagan Itinerary: Best of Bagan Temples in 1, 2, and 3 days.
- For another spectacular and must-see Asian temple, see the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobodur here
- More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page
- Get Your Guide Myanmar activities are here.
- Get Your Guide Yangon activities are here.
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