A ninety minute flight west of Bangkok lies the former capital of Myanmar. We didn’t know what to expect as we were flying over, but a very modern airport was waiting for us. We had applied for an e-Visa for Myanmar, which requires you to print out your confirmation letter. You also have to fill in the regular arrival card and a customs declaration.
The entry was very simple, efficient and staff were friendly and helpful. If you have the e-Visa, you don’t need to queue up for the visa on arrival, just proceed to the Foreigners’ passport control desks. I think this was the first airport I have seen where the queues for foreigner entry are tiny compared to the national one.
Getting from the airport is to the city is simple. Unless you fly with Air Asia, who provide a bus, you will take a taxi. There is a desk to help with this, or you can just head outside where there is no shortage of taxis. Expect to barter and depending on your destination in Yangon, the fare should be between 8000 – 12000 kyats (£5-£7). You should also ask your hotel if they provide a transfer as several do, and it will save you this fare. The journey takes around an hour as Yangon traffic is heavy.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the Ocean Pearl II Inn, which is also known by its Burmese name Aung Si Guesthouse. It is a good location close to many restaurants and a few bars, convenience stores and cafes. The staff can pretty much organise anything you need from transfers, bus tickets, tours and are happy to give you suggestions for places to visit. Breakfast was also included in the room price ans consisted of toast, fruit, a boiled egg and coffee; not a bad start to your day.
WHAT TO DO
The main site to visit is the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. It was completed in the 6th century and is believed to contain the relics of four Buddhas. The building itself is stunningly beautiful; painted with gold leaf and topped with diamonds and jewels. The entry fee is 8000 kyat (£5) per person and you have to leave your shoes at the entrance. You should also dress modestly; legs and shoulders covered, although if you do forget, you can hire a traditional longyi from the reception. Photographers should head here in the evening for some great photos, and everyone should avoid the midday heat. This is mainly because the floor gets very hot under your feet and walking from temple to temple, there isn’t much shade.
Bogyoke Park is fairly central in the city and sometimes charges an entry fee and a camera fee (around 800 kyats in total). It is a lovely park set around the Kandawgyi Lake with lots of trees offering shade from the intense sun. It also gives you a nice view into Myanmar life with many locals heading there to relax.
For train lovers, catch the circular line, a three hour slow ride around the city and into the smaller villages beyond. This is best done early as that is where most people are around. There is no air conditioning on the train, but it will definitely give you an experience to remember!
We did a last minute call by Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, actually only to the main gates. There isn’t much to see as the house is blocked from view. The leader of the National League of Democracy (and defacto leader of Myanmar), Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest here between 1989 to 2010. For such an inspiring figure and driving Myanmar to democracy, we felt obliged to make a visit – maybe one day the house will be turned into a museum.
WHERE TO EAT
As with most cities, Yangon has a great selection of places to eat, from budget to more luxury dining. We of course love a good budget place and our top recommendation for lunch is the busy Lucky 7 tea shop. People in Myanmar tend to eat earlier so do head there around 12pm as some of the more popular dishes will sell out. You just walk in, grab a table and the waiter will bring you a menu as well as a pot of tea. The menu is in English as well as Burmese, but doesn’t show prices. We were a bit unsure at first, but the dishes range from around 700 kyat to 1000 kyat (under a £1). Our favourites were the potato curry with parata, chicken noodle salad and the steamed buns. We ended up here most days!
Dinner time gives the chance to explore and if you want something a little more upmarket and a chance to try some traditional Wa food, head over to Root. The lentil dish here is amazing, very spicy, but amazing. The Wa people are from northern Myanmar and their food is different from Burmese everyday food.
Cuba is another good place with fair prices, tasty beer on tap and a nice atmosphere. The tables spill out into the roadside, which is where we sat, as the inside did get a little smoky. The waiters are very attentive and service is quick. It’s also a nice place just to grab a drink.
Black Sky Café is an air conditioned coffee shop with some tempting cakes; perfect after a wander around the city. You will notice that in pretty much any restaurant or cafe you end up in, service is great.
- Our top tip is just to come to Myanmar. I can honestly say it is the friendliest place we have ever visited and just wandering around taking in life is an experience in itself. Smile and be open to greet and talk to people; this isn’t an anonymous city!
- Do be careful on the pavements; Yangon is building and some pavements did have huge gaps. Sometimes it’s easier to walk on the road, just follow the locals.
- March is the beginning of summer and it gets incredibly hot. Schedule your sightseeing for mornings and evenings, find a cafe or relax in your guesthouse during the heat of midday.
- English is widely spoken and spoken well, however learn a few words of Burmese, you will get a smile (and maybe a laugh when you butcher the pronunciation). Hello is ‘minglaba’, thank you is ‘chee ze ba’ and check please is ‘shinn mae’.
- Traffic is heavy, be careful when crossing roads. Pedestrian crossings aren’t common.
- Mosquito repellent is a must!
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