Yangon Myanmar – With over 5 million people, Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city. It has the country’s biggest airport and is therefore its main air travel gateway. So if you’re traveling to Myanmar, you will most probably land in Yangon.
However, and like every big city, Yangon has its own lifestyle and isn’t really a typical Burmese city so don’t jump to conclusions about Myanmar when visiting Yangon. I know some places may seem chaotic but Myanmar has just as much calm and tranquillity (like in Bagan and Inle Lake) as it has chaos and hecticness!
Come prepared and you will find a lot to enjoy in Yangon. I’ll help you do that in a minute but how about a brief history of Yangon first?
Yangon Myanmar – A Bit Of History
Is it Yangon or Rangoon?
Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon got its actual name fairly recently, in 1989. For the people of Myanmar, the city’s name has always been pronounced the same way. It is when they got colonized by the British that settlers started mispronouncing Yangon’s name, which became Rangoon.
It is the military government that decided to change the city’s name or rather its restitution to its original form, from Rangoon to Yangon, that is. By the way, the same government is in power as we speak (February 2016) and since it is considered to be an outright dictatorship, many countries still question its legitimacy. For the U.S. for example, Yangon is still Rangoon.
Is Yangon Myanmar’s capital?
Yangon is Myanmar’s economic capital but it’s not the country’s official capital, and it has been that way since 2005. The military government has in fact decided to transfer the country’s administration to Naypyidaw, designating it as the new official capital and seat of the government.
Naypyidaw is situated in the center of the country of Myanmar, literally in the middle of nowhere, and it’s far from being a coincidence. It is no secret to anyone that the military government felt no longer safe in Yangon, considering the city’s dense population and the rising political opposition at the time. That’s how they planned to build a whole new city that was destined to be the new official capital of Myanmar. It’s also no secret to anyone, and especially not to the people of Myanmar, that they did that by spending billions of taxpayer dollars.
You will most certainly notice therefore that for the people of Myanmar, Naypyidaw is not very dear to their hearts. They are indeed very poor and the way their money has clearly been squandered is something they are not and will never be thrilled about.
Even if politics is not your thing or you just don’t want to talk about it, it’ll impose itself on all your conversations if you plan on visiting the country, that’s how much it is involved in the people’s everyday lives.
Where To Stay In Yangon, Myanmar?
Accommodation can be a bit of an issue in Myanmar because there are not enough hotels considering the constantly rising tourist numbers. As a consequence, hotel prices are more expensive compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. If you do plan ahead though, you can find accommodation for $8 to $10 per night.
You can book a dorm bed at 4 Rivers in Chinatown for $8 a night. It’s an overall well-rated, clean and comfortable hostel that has communal showers. For what it’s worth, I’m ensure you’ll enjoy your stay there. If you need to stay somewhere a bit more sophisticated, some friends of mine stayed at the Pan Pacific and I liked it very much.
The 8 Best Things To Do In Yangon, Myanmar
You’re all set! Now here are my 8 favorite places to visit in Yangon.
- Shwedagon Pagoda
- Kandawgyi Lake
- Hindu Temples and Mosques
- Bogyoke Market
- Yangon’s Bouquinistes
- Kheng Hock Keong Temple
- Yangon’s Chinatown
- Sule Pagoda
You can’t miss the Shwedagon Pagoda if you’re visiting Yangon, it’s a definite must-see! Entrance is not free for tourists so you’ll have to pay 8000 kyats, which is around $6. A pagoda is a place of worship where a certain code of conduct applies so as far as dress code is concerned for example, no bare cleavage is allowed for women and both sexes have to cover their legs. If you don’t have something you can wear that covers at least your knees, you’ll have to buy a longyi (the traditional Burmese dress) on the spot. That’s what I did so… how do I look?
Don’t forget to remove your shoes and socks when entering the places of worship you visit in Myanmar. You need to be barefoot so if you keep your socks on, it will be considered as an insult. You have been warned!
The people of Myanmar practice Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists believe in four Buddhas, Siddhartha Gautama being the first one. The Shwedagon Pagoda is known for housing relics of the four enlightened teachers, namely eight of Siddhartha Gautama’s hairs.
You can enjoy these pictures of the pagoda but I highly encourage you to visit it!
It can take up to half a day to visit the whole site so plan ahead if you’d like to do so, there’s definitely a lot to see. You can go there early in the morning to avoid any tourist rush or later in the afternoon to see the pagoda light up beautifully.
I also recommend you access the pagoda through the west entrance and head out through the east one. From there, if you walk for a few minutes, there will be another temple to your left and you can visit it for free.
Let’s say you’re in the mood for a walk and a picnic on a beautiful day and you don’t know where to go… Kandawgyi Lake is what you’re looking for! There’s also a bridge that spans the lake; it’s not the most well-kept bridge of the country but it does its job. I mean I saw people jogging on that thing so it must be sturdy enough for walking. I thought I was going to end up in the lake a few times but I managed to stay as dry as possible.
Hindu Temples and Mosques
It’s interesting to see many religions (almost) peacefully coexist in Yangon. I’m sure you won’t miss the beautiful mosques and Hindu temples scattered throughout the city.
This coexistence hasn’t always been perfect. You’ve probably heard about the massacre of the Rohingya people, the stateless Muslim people who are still persecuted today in Myanmar. In fact, their plight has left the country with an Islamophobic aftertaste that doesn’t seem to be going away. But let’s focusing on the positive side and admit that Yangon is a multi-cultural city with beautiful mosques and Hindu temples spread around the city.
There are many markets in Yangon but Bogyoke is the most well-known. Its full name is Bogyoke Aung San, after General Aung San, considered the father of the nation of modern-day Myanmar and whose daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is now serving as the National League for Democracy chairperson.
Bogyoke Market has almost everything you’d possibly want to buy, even luxurious Burmese gemstone jewelry. The country is renowned for its emeralds and rubies and apparently, you can get good deals on those if you’re interested, although it’s probably better to be well-informed about products and prices before buying anything.
A few feet away from Bogyoke, near the 25th street, booksellers sit behind bookstalls and make every bookworm’s day. This is actually one of my favorite places in Yangon because I’ve had many interesting conversations with those booksellers who not only spoke good English but were educated people who had demonstrated a lot of courage and determination to defend their freedom.
I was told many gripping stories about these people’s admirable (to say the least) opposition to the military government who persecuted and threatened them. They said they were still being oppressed by the ruling junta but that they weren’t afraid anymore. One of them told me: “Our resistance to keep our freedom of speech could get us behind bars, but self-censorship is equally confining. I cannot accept that anymore. No one should.”
Kheng Hock Keong Temple
This Buddhist temple is a bit different from other places of worship in Yangon. Its architectural design and colors speak Chinese! The fact that is situated in Chinatown is no coincidence I guess.
I’m not sure if it’s just because it was near the hostel I was staying in but I enjoyed meditating in this temple. Check it out, it’s a small temple but its is filled with an absolutely intense energy.
Chinatown is probably where you’ll stay if you’re traveling to Myanmar on a budget (it’s where the 4 Rivers hostel is). It’s a very lively neighborhood where countless boui-bouis stay open almost all night long. I really loved its warmth and coziness.
And don’t forget to try the local dish! Shan noodles are made of sticky noodles, tomato sauce, a sprinkle of crunchy peanuts, some chicken or pork and a few other ingredients. Very tasty!
Sule Pagoda is another important pagoda in Yangon. Access is not free of charge and I think it was around 4000 kyats, which is about $3. I didn’t visit it myself but here’s a picture of it in case you’re interested.
I hope you liked this blog post and that it’ll help you plan your next trip to Yangon. Two days should be enough to see all that’s interesting about it.
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See you around,
PS : If you are looking for more interesting info about Myanmar, feel free to read this blog post: Myanmar Facts.