Top Things To See & Do In Yangon, Burma

Houses of downtown Yangon © Kirsten Henton
Houses of downtown Yangon © Kirsten Henton
Photo of Kirsten Henton
9 February 2017

Yangon is full of colour, chaos, hustle and heat, and home to some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet. It’s a city with many sides; from the frenetic stalls and cafés of downtown to more laid back and leafy neighbourhoods with upmarket houses and boutique shops. Parks, lakes and green spaces are generously dotted around, while shining pagoda tops twinkle above the trees and relatively low-rise buildings. Any visit to Burma is sure to include some time in Yangon (and if it doesn’t – take another look at your itinerary). The Culture Trip share a few of the ultimate things to do in Yangon; from creaky lakeside board walks to visiting the remarkable Shwedagon Pagoda.

Bathe In Gold At The Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda (or Shwedagon Paya, as it’s also known) is the iconic symbol of the city — if not Burma – and for good reason. Sitting over 100 metres tall, with roots dating back more than 2,500 years, it is said to hold strands of Buddha’s hair deep inside, which makes it a hugely important site for Buddhists far and wide. Gold plated and diamond topped, the stunning structure is visible from around Yangon, and no visit is complete without spending some time there. It is truly beautiful and captivating and you might just surprise yourself with how long you stay, peering into the seemingly endless temples, shrines and more that encircle the gilded stupa. It’s also a fabulous people-watching spot — from tourists and worshippers to monks and wedding parties making their way around; and not to mention it’s truly magnificent at both sunrise and sunset.

Culture Tip: remember to dress appropriately, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter. Long, loose fitting clothes are advised for both men and women.

Open daily 4AM – 10PM

Shwedagon Pagoda, Singuttara Hill, Dagon, Yangon

Offerings at the Shwedagon Pagoda © Kirsten Henton

Offerings at the Shwedagon Pagoda | © Kirsten Henton

Get To Grips With The Nation’s Past

Two places worth your time if you want to try and get your head around Burma’s complex history are the Bogyoke Aung San Museum and the National Museum of Myanmar. Aung San is hailed as the father of modern Myanmar, not to mention the father of the leader of the National League for Democracy and famed activist, Aung San Suu Kyi. The museum pays tribute to the late general’s life with collections of speeches, papers, photos and personal items and is situated in what was his home prior to his assassination in 1947. The National Museum of Myanmar, meanwhile, looks at the country’s history and evolution as a whole with one of the largest collections of artefacts and relics relating to the development of civilisation, art and culture. Walk through time and see how Burma grew into the country it is today.

Bogyoke Aung San Museum: Wednesday to Sunday 10AM – 4PM
25 Bo Gyoke Museum Lane, Yangon

National Museum of Myanmar: Saturday to Thursday 9AM – 4PM
66/74 Pyay Road, Dagon, Yangon

Take A Minute At The Taukkyan War Cemetery

Burma played no small part in World War Two, as the more than 6,000 Allied graves at Taukkyan (also known as Htauk Kyant) War Cemetery quickly demonstrate. A Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, the cemetery is located about an hour north of downtown Yangon, but is absolutely worth the journey. Well kept and peaceful, it a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives, many fighting far from home, in the jungles of Burma. There are three memorials to look out for which, among other things, also commemorate the near 27,000 soldiers who died in during campaigns in Burma with no known grave.

Open daily 7AM – 5PM

Mingaladon Township, Pyay Road, Yangon

Tread The Boards Over Kandawgyi Lake

Kandawgyi Lake sits not far from the Shwedagon Pagoda and is home to the slightly surreal Karaweik Palace (a large, seemingly floating gold structure that is now a restaurant), as well as a nature park popular with local families. It is also where you will find the rickety boardwalk around the lakes’ edge. You’re not quite taking your life into your own hands, but every step is a small leap of faith as many of the boards are loose and old. It is however, worth the careful stroll, taking you past the exceedingly posh Kandawgyi Palace Hotel and over countless lily-pads. Just make sure you have water and some sun protection with you, as once you get out into the middle, there is no shade, and no going back!

Join the boardwalk by the Fuji House Cafe & Restaurant, Kan Yeik Tha Rd, Yangon

Boardwalk over Kandawgyi Lake © Kirsten Henton

Boardwalk over Kandawgyi Lake | © Kirsten Henton

Lose Yourself In Downtown Yangon

A true highlight of any visit to Yangon has to be just throwing yourself in amongst downtown Yangon’s surprisingly leafy, grid-like network of streets, most of which are handily named by number (New York style) and surprisingly spread out when you put your perfectly laid out map route into action on the street. You won’t know where to look, from the crumbling European style architecture and many market stalls that pop up late afternoon, to the gridlocked traffic at rush hour, and countless street vendors selling bowl after bowl of piping hot noodles. All this happens under a haze of construction as the city grows and develops with new tower blocks and malls swinging into place above your head. It’s the crazy, chaotic side to Yangon that quietens down very quickly from 10PM onwards, and is home to some real gems for eating, sleeping and shopping.

Make a start on the on the corner of 34th Street and Anawrahta Road, Yangon

Houses of downtown Yangon © Kirsten Henton

Houses of downtown Yangon | © Kirsten Henton

Shop With A Conscience At Pomelo And Discover Retro Prints At Yangoods

There is a shop, market, stall, and stand for every budget in Yangon, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two better places to purchase your souvenirs than the social enterprise of Pomelo and the retro treasure trove of Yangoods. Pomelo is a not-for-profit studio run by volunteers, stocked with the finest locally made jewellery, crafts, ornaments, and sustainable goods (think honey, tea, and coffee beans) going. Meanwhile, Yangoods is where you’ll find your slice of vintage Burma with bold, bright prints that offer a colourful nod to the past with reproduction prints on everything from cushions covers and notepads, to posters, trinket tins and more.

Pomelo: Open daily 10AM – 10PM
89 Thein Phyu Road, Botataung, Yangon

Yangoods: Open at various times and locations

Pomelo © Kirsten Henton

Follow the stairs up to Pomelo | © Kirsten Henton

Slurp Noodles And Devour Dumplings At Aung Mingalar

More cafe than restaurant, Aung Mingalar specialises in hot and steamy servings of local Shan noodle dishes. Whether you like your noodles fried and full of veg, or boiled in a thick and tasty meat broth, there’s a noodle creation for all. Aung Mingalar also serves up some seriously good dumplings that arrive, rather intimidatingly, stuck together in a large round for your to tease apart one by one. There are plenty of yummy veg plates too. Portions are big, so settle in with the locals and tourists who frequent this great value hot spot.

Open daily 7AM – 9PM

Aung Mingalar Shan Noodle Restaurant, Bo Yar Nyunt Road, Dagon, Yangon

Sip On Cocktails At Rangoon Tea House

The Rangoon Tea House is an refined, air conditioned, WiFi-ready oasis in amongst the bustle of downtown Yangon. While the lazy wicker ceiling fans and rolling black and white film revealing life in old Rangoon take you back in time, the simple decor, layout, and contemporary menu feel distinctly modern. Dishes are generously sized, blending flavours from Burma, India and further afield, while cocktails are freshly made, and strong to boot. The Rangoon Tea House is an absolute pleasure to spend time in, whether it’s for breakfast, brunch, coffee or a good evening feed.

Open daily 8AM – 10PM

Rangoon Tea House, 2nd Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Street, Yangon

The stylish interior of Rangoon Tea House | Courtesy of Rangoon Tea House

The stylish interior of Rangoon Tea House | Courtesy of Rangoon Tea House