Yangon – a complex mix of pagodas and colonial architecture
Yangon (formerly Rangoon and former capital of Burma until 2005) is a big city with quite a bit to see and do…for 2-3 days. However, as I stayed only one day and a half, I could not cover all the interesting sites but at least the ones that were of interest to me, including simply walking on the streets and admiring the city’s great colonial architecture. In Yangon the eye is constantly being entertained just by watching the hustle and bustle of the streets, the markets, the day to day life happening right in front of you.
One of the most popular pastimes and ways of socialising in Myanmar is tea drinking. Everywhere you look there are people sitting on low plastic chairs, randomly arranged around the myriad of tea stalls scattered throughout the city, savouring their cups of the most popular drink in Asia.
Yangon is vibrant and colourful and it immediately reminded me of India and specifically of Chennai (probably also because it is the Indian city that I know the best, having lived there for a short while). I generally found Myanmar quite similar to India starting from the chaotic traffic, the dusty roads, to the local attire for men (the longyi) etc.
The city is dominated by the Shwedagon Pagoda (or Shwedagon Paya, which is also considered one of the most stunning sights in SE Asia) with its massive gold bell glittering day and night. Unfortunately, the main dome, under renovation at the time of my visit, was covered with a bamboo structure therefore a lot less glittery. It is interesting to visit the pagoda very early in the morning when the air is still cool and the sight very peaceful and perfect for mediation and/or in the evening when it turns into a magical place lit by thousands of candles and lights and full of people going round and round (clockwise of course!). So of course I went twice in the only full day I spent in Yangon and I loved the sight both times!
Other sights/places worth visiting are: the Sule Paya (downtown Yangon), Inya Lake, Bogyoke Aung San Market (formerly Scott market), Chaukhtatgyi Paya (giant reclining Buddha) – across the street from it there is a meditation centre where you can always find a “guide” ready to take you on a visit through the surrounding monasteries. At the end they are “only” asking for a “donation” of course…but if they feel you are not as big hearted as they would like, they will not shy away from telling you what they consider “a minimum donation”. This leaves a bad taste in the end, but if you are aware of it from the beginning (by reading this post for example 😉 ) and are interested to see the monks quarters and see how they are living, it is worth it.
Eat/drink in Yangon
- Monsoon restaurant – a more upscale restaurant very popular with tourists but with very decent food and nice colonial atmosphere.
- Vista bar – excellent views of the Shwedagon Pagoda and the wine is not too bad either 😉
- 50th street bar – typical English pub in the heart of Yangon and probably one of the most “happening” places for the expat community, however not so much on the Sunday night I went there
- Sky Bar on top of the Sakura tower – with such a name, of course I had to check it out. Unless you like the look of a tired old canteen from where you can see “some” lights of the city, I definitely would not recommend it. I was out of there in less than 2 minutes. A big NO!
- Strand café/bar/restaurant @ Strand hotel on Strand street – probably the most famous hotel in Yangon and certainly a landmark of the city. With its heavy colonial atmosphere,it immediately transports you back in time….and in an air conditioned location 😉 , a good option to take a break from the heat and the dust of the streets while walking around in the city.
Sleep in Yangon
I stayed at Clover City Center hotel which is in a very good location, right downtown and 5 min walking from Sule Paya. The accommodation was basic but clean with very helpful (and numerous) staff. On the negative side, the breakfast seemed more a combination of leftovers.
Motorbikes/scooters are completely banned from the city and the law is strictly reinforced.
The best way to get around is by taxis which easily available and cheap. A map is always useful in order to be able to point to the taxi driver the exact location….just in case.
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