If you are visiting Myanmar, you will most likely pass through the business capital Yangon and it’s new international airport. Even if you have little time, I recommend to stay over for at least a day and see the sights – the Shwedagon Pagoda is the most impressive, single pagoda I have seen anywhere and alone worth a visit. And Yangon is much more pleasant than many other bustling Asian cities, so check out my Perfect Day itinerary to see Yangon in 24 hours!
I recommend that you stay near Kandawgyi Lake, the nicest part of town for visitors and a great base for your stay – options are the Esperado Hotel, the Chatrium and the Kandawgyi Palace.
Start your day at the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is ever-present and visible from most points in Yangon and worth exploring up close. Enter from the South (elevators) or East up the long staircase. Market style stalls line your way to the temple platform at the top. The 99m tall structure is covered in 60 tons of gold and decorated with thousands of precious gems – it’s a unique sight to behold. But beyond the splendor of the pagoda, it is very interesting to observe the rituals of the locals. Some pray at shrines asking for a specific blessing. Many perform a ritual at the small posts for the day (and time) of their birth. Despite the increasing number of tourists, the rituals have not changed. If you are interested to learn more, you can hire a local guide to share the stories and rituals – read my Shwedagon Pagoda post for more tips and details.
Once you have taken in the beauty of Shwedagon Pagoda, exit to the West towards the People’s Park and stroll along the ponds and greenery. It is these parks all across Yangon that make the city more pleasant than other cities in the region – these green lungs are a nice break from the traffic and noise of the big city!
After a little break, take a taxi to the famous Strand Hotel – a beautifully restored colonial building full of history – for a luxurious lunch in the bistro (if you like it and are staying longer, come back for the happy hour at the stylish bar across the lobby!
Reenergized from your lunch, make your way to the Independence Monument. You’ll wander the streets of a fast changing city, with crumbling colonial buildings on one side and carefully restored ones on the other. The monument is at the center of a small park, surrounded by the Yangon Regional Court, City Hall and the Sule Pagoda in the middle of a traffic circle. In any other city , Sule Pagoda would be the star of the show, but here it plays second fiddle to the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Despite the opening of the country in 2011, rapid economic growth and an influx of investors and tourists, downtown Yangon has retained much of its traditional look and feel. The narrow streets are lined by stalls selling everything from clothes to car parts and tools – the way markets in Asia used to look like, before they were replaced by giant, air conditioned malls. Many of the shoppers and store keepers alike are wearing the traditional longyi, despite the arrival of shorts and jeans! For stores more geared towards visitors, head to Bogyoke Aung San Market with its many fabric and clothing stalls – you might find your own longyi here, just make sure to have them show you how to tie it properly!
The day is coming to an end and you deserve to slow down – take a taxi to Kandawgyi Lake and go for a stroll along the wooden boardwalk. Many locals will be there with you, from couples on a date to families with their kids and from young joggers to seniors on their evening walk.
Head South to the Esperado Hotel and make your way up to the rooftop bar & restaurant in time for sunset: it’s my favorite spot to see the sun go down over Yangon, with a perfect view of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi Lake and the Karaweik Palace! Enjoy a relaxing and peaceful end to your perfect day in Yangon!