It may no longer be the capital, but there is no doubt that Yangon remains Myanmar’s number one city. On the surface (and the internet), you’d be forgiven for thinking that not a great deal is happening in the city, but delve a little deeper, speak to some locals and expats and you’ll find a whole lot more happening than you would have initially thought.
Most tourists arriving in the country spend two or three days here before continuing their journey further north and, in truth, that is a good amount of time to see what the city has to offer. Although, those willing to spend a bit more time in the city will be greeted with some hidden gems.
Where to stay in Yangon
Most guesthouses and backpacker style hostels are around the Downtown area, and with this being the most happening part of town, it is a good area to stay. It also means that you can reach most places within the city by foot, which is handy because although they’re cheap, Yangon’s taxis aren’t the most modern you’ll ever encounter and nor are the buses! For location, try to stay near to Sule Pagoda as this is the most central part of town and is close to the Chinatown and Little India districts.
Top 6 Hostels and Guesthouses in Yangon
The Backpacker Bed & Breakfast is a favourite amongst travellers who love it for its good WIFI and cleanliness. The dorm beds have privacy curtains and lockers which offer security and peace of mind. It is located close to the market and breakfast is inclusive of the room rate. This is a place that gets awesome reviews and for good reason, it seems! Dorm beds start at $5USD and double rooms come in at $21USD.
BaobaBed Hostel is also a popular option located in the Downtown area. Dorm beds begin at $6USD per night and there are also privates available. The staff are rated as particularly helpful and will go over and beyond to make your stay as good as it can be. It is a great place to meet solo travellers and there are plenty of toilets so there is rarely a delay around the time of the morning rush!
If you prefer to stay out of town, check out the lovely Thanlwin Guesthouse near Inya Lake with dorm beds from $10USD and private rooms from $45USD. All of the room rates include breakfast. Although in a less central location, the relaxing vibe of Thanlwin is sure to win you over! Read our full review here.
A great option for solo travellers, Little Monkey Hostel is a modern accommodation option located in the heart of Yangon. The staff know the local area really well and are able to recommend fantastic eateries as well as the best things to do in the city. Dorms begin at $6USD and include breakfast which showcases some of the local cuisine.
Although a little more rustic in decor, 21 Hostel is a great place to kick back and relax in the Downtown area of Yangon. The staff are very helpful and more than willing to assist with tour bookings and the organising of onward travel. There is also baggage storage for after you check-out. Dorm beds start at $6USD per night.
One of the most memorable hostels in town must surely be family-run Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel. The accommodation offers both private rooms and dorm beds with AC. Perhaps the coolest thing about this place is the decor, the murals in the rooms are awesome! This easygoing hostel is a great place to escape to after a long hot day in Yangon. Beds start at $6USD a night.
Things To Do in Yangon
Visit Yangon’s Pagodas:
The first stop for any new arrival (and if it isn’t then it should be) is the city’s focal point, the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. This 2,600-year-old “Mountain of Gold” sits high up on a hill overlooking the city and is hugely important to the local people – so much so that your taxi driver will most likely say a little prayer to himself each time he passes it.
If you are not interested in the religious element of this magnificent structure, then at least see it for its aesthetics alone as there are few sights in the world that are as breathtaking as this. The best view is by night, particularly looking up toward the temple from Pyay Road.
Closer to downtown there are another two pagodas that, even if you have suffered temple-fatigue across the rest of South East Asia, are well-worth a visit. In the south-east of the city is the Botataung Pagoda, a beautiful complex that sits on the Yangon River and is said to contain a relic of the Buddha’s hair. There is also Sule Pagoda, a striking, golden roundabout that sits in the very centre of this easy-to-navigate city.
Please note: We have had reports in our Facebook community of fake monks and guides that hang around the temples in Yangon. They offer information about the temples, then demand payment, getting aggressive if you don’t offer them enough. Be firm with anyone who starts giving you unsolicited information.
Visit Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple:
Although a familiar sight all over South East Asia, reclining Buddha statues can still be impressive, especially when they are the size of this one! This Buddha is 66 metres long and is one of the largest in the country.
Although western visitors may feel trepidation at entering a holy place purely for the purpose of tourism, the locals are very accommodating and keen to share their culture with visitors. As with any temple, you will be required to remove your shoes and socks.
Eat your body weight on a street food tour:
Although not internationally famed for its cuisine, Myanmar has some true culinary delights that it is just itching to get out on a global scale. During your visit to Yangon, why not explore with a local and get to know the city and the food at the same time!?
With everything from lightly spiced samosas to Shan noodles, there is something for everyone. Don’t miss a stop at the Chinese bakeries either, you will love the bao buns and the spring rolls! Book your Yangon food tour here!
Take a ride on Yangon’s circular train:
For an off the beaten track experience and a chance to see rural Yangon, you must not miss a trip on the circular train. It costs just 200 kyat for a return ticket per person (just $0.10!) and is well worth the money.
Don’t expect anything like the Orient Express (this is as basic as it comes) but instead simply appreciate the journey for what it is: a chance to escape the heat and journey through the suburbs as the locals do.
Wander around Yangon’s crumbling colonial buildings:
However, Yangon offers so much more than just temples. Many British colonial-era buildings survive in the downtown area and although many of them are slightly dilapidated at the moment, their shells remain to give some sort of idea of what the city looked like fifty or sixty years ago.
Although return in a few years and you will hopefully see most of them restored to their former glories, as a group, the Yangon Heritage Trust, has been formed to try and ensure that the city’s historical buildings are renovated.
Taukkyan War Cemetery:
This beautifully maintained cemetery pays homage to the allied soldiers who died during WW1 and WW2. Although not an uplifting visit, it represents an important piece of history and which impacted populations all over the world.
Visit a Traditional Myanmar market:
Bogyoke Aung San Market, just north of downtown, is a bustling place selling all sorts of items, both useful and otherwise (although it is closed on Mondays).
However, if you want a slightly more authentic Burmese experience then head a few streets south to Mahabandoola Road where pretty much the same things are sold for about a fifth of the price. From here are the lively Chinatown and Little India districts and most restaurants around the area offer great food.
Stretching north out of the downtown area Yangon offers many more sights for those staying beyond the usual couple of days. Museums are not exactly abundant, but there are a couple that are at least worth a visit: The National Museum, Gems Museum, Army Museum, the newly-opened General Bogyoke Museum and Drugs Eradication Museum (I’ll say no more on this last one, just go and see it if you have the chance).
Kandawgyi Lake on the northern edge of the city is a beautiful spot to relax, with some gorgeous cafes to while away the lazy days. Its bigger brother further north, Inya Lake, is a slightly more busy spot but also offers some relaxing spots and opportunities to sail and canoe for those that are interested. Inya Lake is also host to the home of the nation’s hero, Aung San Suu Kyi, the site in which she was locked up for nearly 20 years.
Check out the nightlife:
Search “nightlife Yangon” in Google and you would be forgiven for thinking that a drinking scene is non-existent in the city. While it isn’t exactly Bangkok, New York or London, the city does offer something for those looking for a few beers and a bit of drunken interaction.
If you’re in town on a Tuesday, get yourself down to the magnificently rustic Pansodan Gallery where a mixture of locals, expats and backpackers get together to learn, get drunk and put the world to rights. 50th Street bar is the place to go for a comfortable, expat scene but be prepared to pay for the privilege.
If you want something a little more genuine with your beer, head further west to 19th Street where locals and expats alike sit out in the grimy street and Asian life at its finest goes on. There are also a couple of nightclubs too, DJ Bar and Cafe Libre being the most popular and these are a fun night out if you want to drink past midnight.
Spa Treatments at Inya & Thaya Day Spa:
As the former capital continues to develop, insatiable demand is leading to a rapidly burgeoning spa scene, offering everything from backstreet, hard-to-find Burmese massage for the intrepid traveller up to international standard premium day spas for those who wish to indulge in high-end pampering, all at a pace and prices set to give Bangkok a run for its money as the world’s massage capital!
Treat yourself to a relaxing massage or spa treatment at the best spas in town: Inya Day Spa (16/2 Inya Road) and Thaya Day Spa (3rd floor, building 17, Junction Square, Pyay Road). It is a perfect activity during the rainy season and it won’t brea the bank either! Open 10 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week, the spas invite you to step out of the crowded chaos of the city and into the peaceful oasis of the serene zen-like surroundings.
Where to eat in Yangon
999 Shan Noodle Shop
A hugely popular choice within the city, no trip to Yangon is complete without a visit to 999 Shan Noodles. The menu is pretty foreigner-friendly with translations into English and accompanying photos. However, no prices are marked.
As well as being a favourite with travellers, this place is also a hit with the locals – always a good sign! Try the tea leaf salad and of course, the delicious noodles!
This hip restaurant is a favourite with visitors to the city who flock here for traditional flavours with clean and modern presentation. Definitely, don’t miss the chance to grab some tea here, you can choose your preferred leaf and they even have 16 options for how you would like your milk! Evaporated, condensed… the list goes on!
Street food markets
A street food tour is one of the best ways to introduce you to the cuisine of the city. However, for those short on time or who prefer the independence of solo exploring, check out the street food scene for yourself.
With food stands in Chinatown, Little India and the night market in Strand Road, you are bound to find something to tantalise your tastebuds! Don’t miss the opportunity to try the Shan style BBQ!
What started as one small shop in Yangon has now boomed and led to another 36 branches of YKKO springing up all over the country. The fishball Kyay-Oh (a kind of soup dish popular amongst the locals) is rated well but some report that the service can be slow.
Getting to Yangon:
Perhaps the easiest way to get to Yangon is by air. Many routes have opened up over recent years and it is possible to fly from cities including: Bangkok, Penang, KL, Chiang Mai, Singapore and Hong Kong with cheap budget airlines like Air Asia.
To get from Yangon airport into the city:
- Take a taxi or use Grab. Although sometimes a little more expensive than a standard taxi, Grab is generally more comfortable and secure.
- Take the airport shuttle bus to downtown (Pyay Rd). The (RED) bus leaves from outside door 2 at arrivals across the road. (500 kyat.) Put your money in the box next to the driver (exact money needed). Please note that there is no info on stops so ask a local or follow your phone maps! (Thanks to Davey Cee for the tip!)
Bagan – Head north on an overnight bus which takes 10 hours to reach Bagan, land of over 10,000 temples constructed between 11th and 13th centuries.
Hpa An – Head east towards the Thai border to Hpa An, the capital of the Kayin State, home to the incredible Mount Zwegabin and many caves.
By Oliver Slow