Yangon (Rangoon) is an incredibly lively, somewhat bizarre Southeast Asian locale. With a population of over five million people, it is Myanmar’s largest, most established hub. Swatches of the city have been influenced by British architecture, Indian flair, Chinese tastes, and Burmese traditions. A trip to the nation’s former capital would surely leave a lasting impression on travelers seeking to engage with its red-spitting, thanaka-wearing people.
CULTURAL TIPS AND TRAVEL ADVICE FOR YANGON
Dress conservatively when visiting any religious sites in Yangon and throughout Myanmar. Wear long pants and keep shoulders covered. Entering temples or pagodas with shoes on is not allowed. Some places provide longyis for scantily clad rovers, or buy your own to double as a souvenir.
Climate in Yangon
Yangon has a very heavy rainy season (June to October), a cooler and drier period from November to February (peak tourist season), and an extremely hot March, April, and May. Bring raingear for the monsoons, and light, modest attire to survive the scorching heat.
GETTING AROUND YANGON
Traffic can be terrible at times, and is getting markedly worse. Even short distances may take a long time in a taxi or a bus. Most people in Yangon ride the train, hop on buses, take trishaws, or walk to reach their destinations. Taxis are quite expensive in comparison, but are usually the fastest, most comfortable mode of transport.
Taxis are not run on meters in Yangon, and drivers charge in increments of 500 kyats. Negotiate a price before getting in. Foreigners are often quoted a higher charge. Do not feel uncomfortable attempting to lower it by at least 500 kyats. The base fee is 1,000 kyats (around $1.00 USD).
Most taxi drivers know enough English to understand numbers and popular locations. However, being able to speak at least a little bit of Burmese impresses.
Turn left/right: be-be gway-ba (cho-ba) / nya-be gway-ba (cho-ba)
Straight ahead: shay-de-deh
Please stop here: di-ma-ya-ba
How much is it? da-be-lau-le
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN YANGON
Thanks to tough laws, street crime is extremely low in Yangon. The city happens to be one of the safest in the world. However, there are definitely areas to avoid, and common sense is always a good thing to pack for a trip.
Air pollution from vehicles is high in Yangon. Seek advice from a physician before traveling to Myanmar if you have certain respiratory issues.
SOME SENSE ABOUT MONEY IN YANGON
Many banks and ATMs can be located around the city nowadays. No need to find back alley exchangers like tourists used to. It is wise to exchange at least some money upon arrival, as the rates at the airport do not differ much, or at all, from other locations.
Credit cards are not widely accepted in Myanmar. US currency in mint condition is by and large preferred, but for a worse rate, a few moneychangers are now accepting slightly used bills.
10 BEST SPOTS IN YANGON, MYANMAR
Here are 10 best spots in Yangon, Myanmar, catering to a spectrum of explorers, and in no particular:
1. Best spot for Wi-Fi in Yangon is Sule Shangri-La (formerly Traders Hotel).
If you cannot afford stay at Sule Shangri-La, at least stop in, grab a coffee, and ask for a Wi-Fi password. Relax in the stunning grand lobby, or at the gourmet café and use as much bandwidth as possible. One of the only places with decent enough Internet connection to upload and/or download large files, Skype clearly, and surf the web with relative ease.
2. Best spot to lodge on a tight budget in Yangon is Humble Footprints Hotel/Hostel.
Humble Footprints is located in a residential area of Yangon. It is a newer guesthouse, and happens to be one of very few actual hostels in the city.
Rates start as low as $16 USD per night for a comfortable bed in an air-conditioned, mixed-dorm room. Reasonably priced private rooms are an option, too. Bathroom facilities with hot water and excellent pressure are shared.
Staff is welcoming and helpful. The Internet connection is fantastic (possibly better than Shangri-La’s), and several computers are accessible. There is a rooftop for lounging, and a light breakfast served with the price.
3. Best spot for a photo in Yangon is at the corner of 17th Street and Strand Road.
It is nothing more than a banana shop, but the colors and worn look of this place, combined with the variety of bananas hanging all over, begs for a photo or two or 30. Workers are obliging, but may not want to be pictured. Kindly ask permission first, and buy a bunch of bananas before leaving.
4. Best spot for traditional Shan noodles in Yangon is Lucky Flower Tea Center.
This hidden treasure is connected to Yangon Central Railway Station. Offering several everyday teashop specialties, Lucky Flower Tea Center is best known for its Shan noodles. Young servers scream the orders and love to pose for photos. For 700 kyats a bowl, the truly unique experience of sitting on tiny plastic stools under a bridge in Myanmar cannot be beaten.
5. Best spot for a gritty view of downtown Yangon is at Sky Bistro.
20 floors up Sakura Tower is Sky Bistro. Consider the spectacular, gritty view of downtown the main course at this place. Food is average and prices are high. It is never too early to take an aerial shot of Yangon. Good thing Sky Bistro has a decent afternoon happy hour.
6. Best spot in Yangon to view the Shwedagon Pagoda at night is Vista Rooftop Bar.
A trip to Yangon would not be complete with visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda. But, Vista Rooftop Bar offers an unmatched view of it all aglow. Drink in the shrine’s renowned glamour and golden glory with a cocktail in hand. Hookah (shisha) is also available.
7. Best spot to explore old buildings and colonial structures in Yangon is around Mahabandoola Garden.
Downtown Yangon, specifically within a few blocks of Mahabandoola Garden, is full of colonial-period buildings, most of which are still in use today. Beware of rats and cockroaches, cobwebs and squatters if you feel adventurous enough to step inside an abandoned one.
8. Best spot for handicrafts, local jewelry, and a touristy experience in Yangon is Bogyoke Aung San (Scott Market).
Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market is a great place to see tiled roofing and wobbly cobblestones—remnants of colonialism. Glance at local art, taste traditional food, pick up a few mementos, and admire locally hewn gems and handcrafted jewelry. The market is open from 8:30AM to 4:30PM (Tuesday to Sunday). Several moneychangers and ATMs are on the grounds.
9. Best spot for street food in Yangon is along 19th Street (Chinatown area).
19th Street in Yangon is branded for its outdoor seating and street food. Skewers of about any kind of meat and vegetables can be barbecued to order. Sit back, relax, and swallow a beer or cheap mojito made with local rum. Since tourists frequent this area, it has become one of the only places in Yangon bombarded by beggars.
10. Best spot to sip in a local experience is at just about any teashop in Yangon.
Teashops are popular throughout Myanmar. Expect to be served tea sweetened with condensed milk alongside a piece or two of freshly deep-fried bread. Many teahouses have televisions where football matches are communally watched. The atmosphere goes from tranquil to cheery when a game is on. Pull up a plastic chair and sip in the ambience.
TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY IN YANGON
Discovering the region’s best-kept secret on your own is possible and enjoyable. Be responsible and mindful about where your money goes. Support the growing private sector in Yangon by investigating places to lodge, and authentic tour companies to book with ahead of time. Spread your cash. Eat at different restaurants. Buy goods from a variety of shops. Dodge group tours.