Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon is slowly becoming a busy metropolitan city while still showcasing remnants of its colonial past. Known for having a varied mix of impressive pagodas, striking colonial buildings, crumbling old streets all mixed in with the rise of modern buildings, Yangon is a city that is worth visiting when in Myanmar. While my general rule of thumb is to simply start exploring a place by yourself and see what’s out there, here are a few of our top picks for the best things to do in Yangon.
Explore the City by Foot
The moment you get to Yangon, you will feel the cities vibrant energy buzzing in excitement. While it looks like chaos to some, this city is alive and bustling, especially when you walk around the markets and in the downtown area. Walking around the area tops our list as it is a great way to get your bearings. You can simply grab a map from your hotel or hostel or join one of the free walking tours around Yangon. To those that have been following this site for a while now knows how much I adore walking tours (especially the free ones!) It gives you a great overview of where you are plus the guides are usually the perfect person to ask regarding the best places to eat.
Take a Breather at the Kandawagu Nature Park
Similar to Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, the Kandawagu Nature Park is a breath of fresh air when you want to get away from the traffic and busyness of Yangon. In one part of the park, you will find a nice boardwalk giving you unobstructed views of the stunning green lake and a glimpse of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Located only 3km from downtown Yangon, you can find here a myriad of water fountains, boardwalks, running paths, and a few outdoor gyms (ya know, in case you want to get your workout on!)
Opening Hours: 04:00 – 22:00
Eat, Drink, Eat, Drink….
Get your fill of local meals as there are street vendors almost everywhere in Yangon. Jump from one local vendor to the next and try out the local Burmese food which is essentially a blend of Indian, Chinese, and Thai food. Now, for the drinking part…everywhere you go in Yangon, you will find heaps of tea shops! While drinking tea on a hot day doesn’t sound too appealing, once you get into it, you will soon discover that it is more of a social thing. Sitting down on a mini plastic stool while watching the world go by is a great way to spend a couple of hours as you soak in the busy city. The streets of Yangon are lined with tea houses with little plastic chairs and tables along the street. You will often have the option of having Chinese style green tea or the traditional Indian chai tea. Burmese people love their tea…infact, they even mix it in with their salads! Food wise, while Burmese food isn’t as popular as its Southeast Asian counterparts, the flavors are rich and definitely worth trying. If you’re unsure on what to order, check out the link above which has info on all the best local dishes worth trying.
Editor’s Note: Check out our top recommendations on the Where to Stay in Yangon
Marvel at the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda is clearly one of the most important religious sites in all of Myanmar. This impressive 2,500-year-old pagoda stands tall at 110 meters and is covered with hundreds of gold plates. The top of the stupa encrusted with diamonds (the largest of which is a whopping 72 carats!!) glistens under the sun. Home to strands of Buddha’s hair and other important relics, a visit here is a MUST when in Yangon. The golden chedi of the pagoda is visible from all parts of the city and serves as a shining symbol to the residents of Yangon. Walking around the entire area while observing the intricately designed stupas and other religious artifacts is completely overwhelming and impressive. The best time to visit the place is during the late afternoon right before the sun sets so you can watch the sky change into a range of orange hues. Ladies, remember to dress appropriately for the temple.
Opening Hours: 04:00 – 22:00
Additional Details: Shwedagon Pagoda Website
Go Market Hopping
While the thought of wandering around getting lost from market to market is my partner Tom’s worst nightmare, it is my absolute favorite thing to do! Although I don’t really buy anything, I love wandering around local markets to see all the various trinkets that they sell. While the Bogyoke Aung San Market is the most popular one to visit, other markets like Theingyi Zay and Thiri Mingalar Market are also worth checking out.
Take a Train Ride
The Circular Train is a local commuter rail network with 39 station stops allowing you to see and experience the real Yangon. Built in 1954 by the British during colonial times, up to this date it carries over 100-150,000 passengers daily at a ridiculously cheap price of 300 Kyats ($0.30) for one ticket. While the thought of sitting in a rickety old train for 3 hours doesn’t seem appealing, trust me, this is one of the best things to do while in Yangon. Sit back, relax, and get an insider’s glimpse into the way of life of the locals. Watching the locals come in and out of the train going about their daily lives, transporting large bags of produce and vegetables was nothing short of amusing. In between stops, you also had vendors who would board the train and sell a wide variety of things from hot tea, spicy salads, live chickens…you name it, they will most likely be selling it. If you want to experience this whole thing with someone explaining to you the ins and outs of the place, you can also avail of tour services by companies like Flymya who offer guided tours along the train lines and through the local markets along the stops.
Wander Around Yangon’s Art Galleries
Now that Myanmar is open to the world, local artists are coming out and sharing their talents, showcasing their modern art which shows the struggles and strife of the Burmese people. To be perfectly honest, I was very surprised by the teeming Art scene in Yangon. With a good number of hip galleries to check out, wandering around and exploring various artists and their work is a good way to see a different side of Yangon. Listed below are a few galleries which are worth visiting.
- River Gallery
- Gallery 65
- Art Gallery
- New Zero Art Space (a super cool non-profit gallery and art school)
- KZL Studio and Gallery
- Lokanat Galleries
- Gallery of Art
China Town All the Way
If you’re looking for a lively area in Yangon, China Town is the way to go. This is by far the busiest area in town, especially in the evenings. Here, you can find everything from seafood, grilled meat, roadside restaurant stalls, and fried bugs (deep fried cockroach anyone??) While the general cleanliness of the place is questionable, it is still worth wandering around to get in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. The 19th street in China Town is also a good nightlife destination full of locals and tourists alike.
Pay a Visit to the Sule Pagoda
This pagoda is not only a religious symbol but also a historical one as it served as a meeting point for anti-government protests. Led by Buddhist monks, pro-democracy protesters used this space for rallies and protests. In order to really appreciate everything that Myanmar has been through, reading up on its historical past is something worth doing. While the Sule Pagoda is not as striking as the Shwedagon Pagoda, while walking around the area, you will see a large obelisk which is Yangon’s Independent Monument. Apart from that, various other buildings like the High Court, Maha Bandula Park, and the Telegraph office are all within walking distance.
Again, I could go on and on about Yangon but the truth is, the best things to do are almost never written in guidebooks and articles (ironic huh?) Instead, go out, make friends with a local and let them show you the best places, local spots, and sights! Because that for us…is the best part about traveling! Happy exploring.
Still looking for more inspiration? Check out our articles on Myanmar and Southeast Asia
- Ultimate List of Extreme Adventures in Southeast Asia
- Exploring the Temples of Bagan
- Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Dream Trip to Myanmar