Most people start their Myanmar journey in its capital city Yangon (or Rangoon as the British used to call it). We ended our trip here. It kept us occupied for the last 2,5 days of our four week trip and we didn’t get to see it all in this hot and crowded city that over 5 million people call home.
We would have loved to take a spin on the circular train or take the ferry to Dalah and Twante, but we ran out of time. This was also due to the fact that we took it a little bit easier after we’d been traveling hard to get the most out of the 28 days our tourist visa allowed us in the country.
6 things to see in Yangon
By far the most famous site in Yangon is Shwedagon Paya, which is visible from almost anywhere in the city center. The hill it is built on already had a stupa 2.600 years ago and it’s believed to enshrine eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha. Over the centuries the stupa fell into decline or was damaged by earthquakes several times, but each time it got rebuilt and extended.
The current stupa is 99 meters high and is covered with tons of gold and diamonds (the orb at the top of the pagoda alone already has 4.351 diamonds!). We had the bad luck that the Shwedagon Paya and several other structures were up in scaffolding for restoration and maintenance when we visited. Luckily Shwedagon Paya is more than just the central stupa, the total temple area covering 46 hectares.
There are a lot of beautiful and lavishly decorated smaller stupas and zedis and it is a joy to just walk around the complex, discover some hidden treasures or just sit and watch devotees go about their religious business. Best time to come is early morning when tourist numbers are low or late afternoon when the stupas turn a flaming orange and gold in the setting sun.
There are some things worth knowing when you visit Shwedagon Paya. Our shorts, that were OK to wear at most other religious sites in Myanmar, were deemed unfit here, so we had to hire a longyi (skirt worn by both men and women) at the entrance. If you don’t like walking stairs: there are elevators at the north and south entrance.
Smack in the middle of the biggest roundabout of the city is Sule Paya. The image of this 2.000 year old, 46 meter high stupa surrounded by cars stuck in traffic is almost as well-known as that of Shwedagon Paya. Having seen a lot of temples in the past month we decided to pass on this one. We heard that there was not much to see inside anyway and didn’t want to pay for that.
It certainly is not the most beautiful pagoda we’ve seen in Myanmar (but maybe we were just a bit weary of payas and Buddhas after having seen so many), but we liked the more local vibe of the Botataung Pagoda, that only sees a fraction of the visitors that visit Shwedagon Paya. There were not many other tourists around. Its most notable features being the turtle pond, a large gilded bronze Buddha and the zig-zag corridor, gilded from floor to ceiling, that leads through the interior of the central zedi.
A few blocks east of Sule Paya and between Sule Paya and the Yangon River most of Yangon’s colonial heritage can be found. Some of the most interesting buildings surround Mahabandoola Garden with its independence monument; the whitewashed City Hall and red and yellow brick High Court and bell tower being the most impressive.
Chinese and Indian neighborhoods
West of Sule Paya are the neighborhoods where many Chinese and Indians live. Traveling through Myanmar we’d noticed the lack of hustle and bustle that’s so common in most of Southeast Asia. That’s what we loved about these Chinese and Indian neighborhoods as well, though we had to get used to pushing through a throng of humanity in streets and at markets again. If you, like us, love Indian food this is also the place to be.
Yangon has several parks to get a little bit away from the city noise. Set around a lake Kandawgyi Park was a nice place to have lunch but it has no particular sights, except for the gaudy Karaweik barge. As there was construction work going on for a new aquarium on the north side, we mostly had to walk along the perimeter of the park.
The walk from Shwedagon Paya to Kandawgyi Park leads through some busy and colorful streets with markets and the odd temple, which was fun. We also visited People’s Square and Park. Foreigners have to pay a $ 5 entrance fee for a badly maintained but popular (by young lovers) park, a nice view of Shwedagon Paya the only thing going for it.
We visited Yangon in December 2014
Yangon travel tips
Stay – We stayed 4 nights (1 + 3) at Chan Myae Guesthouse, located at a pretty central location not far from Sule Paya and the lively Indian and Chinese neighborhoods. Helpful staff gets right down to business to help you find your way as soon as you arrive. Cheap taxi to bus station and airport can be arranged. We had a spacious superior room with a single and a double bed, very good working air-con, fridge and a small balcony to the street with a nice view of an old colonial building opposite the guesthouse. Shower was hot, water pressure varied. Wifi was spotty and sometimes not working at all. Breakfast was a very tasty and filling fried rice or a less filling kind of banana sandwich and fried egg if you had breakfast late.
Transport – The airport as well as the main bus stations are far from the city center. Getting there by public transport is not always straightforward and very time-consuming. Your best bet is to take a taxi. Taxis are plentiful and cheap. Distance between sights can be big, but if you have the stamina it’s possible to walk to the them. We managed to walk almost everywhere.
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