Top Yangon Hotels
Undoubtedly the main attraction is the awesome Schwedagon Pagoda. You may have had your fair share of temples, but this is truly memorable. The pagoda stands several floors high and is layered in metric tones of thick gold plates. Wear sunglasses on a sunny day - you are literally dazzled by the gleam of pure gold! Surrounding the pagoda is a complex of smaller temples and gold leafed shrines with gold and jade statuettes, studded with precious gems. The artistic beauty and the mineral wealth is staggering. A guide is a good idea as much of history and symbolism is not immediately apparent. Count on spending a few hours here. Essential. Note: You should walk clockwise around all Buddhist structures. Footwear is prohibited and the tiles can reach sizzling temperatures during the day - the white ones are cooler but may still have you hopping around.
Adjacent to Schwedagon is the Maha Wizya Paya. This is actually a fine pagoda and unlike its solid neighbour can be entered. But being in the shadow of such an incredible monument it cant help looking rather ordinary and tends to be overlooked by local worshippers. Bound to be an anticlimax after Schwedagon and can be skipped.
Another pagoda lies smack in the middle of the city. In the centre of a busy roundabout is Sule Pagoda. Its reputed to be ancient, but feels like it was built in the 70s. It certainly lacks the charm or finesse of other pagodas and has some rather improvised touches. The little tiles adorning the walls look more suited to a dated swimming pool or even a public toilet. However its active and very much a peoples pagoda, and worth a 10-minute roam if youre there. Opposite Sule is a small park with Independence Needle at the centre.
The boring National Museum is a drab and lifeless affair with a mainly dog-eared and forgettable collection. It has few good exhibits and the poor presentation and general malaise of the building makes for a depressing setting. The ethnic costumes on the top floor is an eye-opener into the broad diversity of Myanmar, but still the museum is horribly overpriced and fails to hit the mark. Only worth seeing if its raining since this is one of the few city attractions under cover.
Well worth seeing in any weather is the impressive Myanma Gems Museum And Market. On the top floor above several levels of gem traders is a stunning display of the magnificent mineral wealth of Myanmar. It showcases their diverse range of gems and ores with some enormous precious stones. Theres a rough ruby the size of a mango, a sapphire even bigger, exquisitely crafted jades and other jaw dropping treasures. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, but you can snap the car-sized jade boulder outside. Quite incredible.
Entertainment and Eating Out
The capital is the only place in the country with a good choice of dining and entertainment. Entertainment is non-existent in much of the country and dining can be very basic at best, at worst inedible. Take advantage of whats available here. There are lots of local Burmese restaurants worth a try. Take a little care though in the cheaper places as the hygiene can be highly variable. But youre safe with the relaxed Green Elephant, a great Burmese restaurant in the suburbs. This popular joint has an open front with plenty of wood. The low-priced menu is varied and the food the real deal. Nan Shwe Li is good as far as Shan cuisine goes but Shan food often fails to inspire the visitor.
Hotels house many quality international restaurants, with plenty of good buffets and Western meals. Arguably the best for a broad European menu is the pricey Strand Grill where enormous servings of familiar or more adventurous choices are proudly served. A full stomach guaranteed, even for the most gluttonous.
Japanese food is popular in Yangon. Shabu-Tei is an expensive but excellent choice and Kampachi in the Sofitel Plaza is another high quality establishment with friendly staff. The Nikko Hotel has a relaxed restaurant with Japanese TV catering to its many Japanese guests.
Another hotel provides perhaps the best Chinese dim sum in Yangon. The Sedona has a top quality Chinese restaurant with a Chinese chef serving up fantastic delicacies. Bearing in mind the setting and the quality of the food, the prices are excellent. Around town are plenty of other choices - Adorns Kitchen is touted as the most popular among Chinese, and Western Park serves good Peking duck. Tsu Long Hin is always popular and crammed with diners.
For a fine Italian meal try the superb LOpera on a quiet backstreet near the Sedona. Its cosy and friendly with genuine Mediterranean sights and smells. Le Planteur is a classy French number with a huge garden for you to dine under the stars.
At the other end of the budget scale there are lots of anonymous cheap, little teashops that offer a slice of local life. For a good cup coffee head to Caf Aroma opposite Traders Hotel.
Karaweik has an international buffet, but the main draw is the colourful traditional dance performance each night. Enthusiastic costumed dancers, puppetry and dramas entertain over your evening meal. A bit touristy but a pleasant evening.
The nightlife in Yangon is pretty good and has some very active nightclubs and discos. BME Entertainment is very popular with expats and hip Pioneer has a local young crowd. The swinging and famous Underground at the Sofitel attracts foreign businessmen and a number of working girls.
If youre looking for a good bar to unwind with a drink then Mr Guitar, ABC and Silver Oak are all easy going with some decent live bands. A plush place for a pint and a shot of pool is the Strand Bar with its abundance of solid wood and history.
In terms of choice and variety, Yangons shopping is Myanmars best. You can get just about everything available in Myanmar here, but for certain souvenirs such as lacquer or perhaps gems, it might be worth holding on until you get upcountry. Note: take care when splashing out on gems or antiques as there are plenty of good fakes and low quality rip-offs floating around. The Strand Hotel has a list of recommended shops that are known for their integrity and quality, but not their bargains.
By far the best place to browse is the fun Scott Market. Locally known as the Bogyoke Aung San Market, its a large and aging colonial warehouse flanked by outer buildings bulging with fascinating stores. On top of typical market goods is a wonderful selection of Burmese products - puppets, carvings, antiques, gems, textiles, lacquer ware and more. Prices are fair if you haggle and theres plenty to discover. One of the best markets in Asia.
Yangon has some good options for art lovers. New Treasure Art has a gallery of watercolour and oil works of mainly local themes. Biek Thano sells quality gold and crystal works.
For jewelry and gems, its tough to beat the selection and prices on offer at the thriving Myanma Gems Museum and Market. Below the museum are several floors of traders with jewelry and gems of all shapes, sizes and prices. You can find some real bargains here, but it certainly helps to know your gems. Theres something for everyone here - difficult to resist.
The stairs leading up towards Schwedagon Pagoda are filled with little stores for the faithful and the odd tourist. Many sell carvings and images of the Buddha, puppets and religious offerings such as candles and flowers.
Cyber Yangon and Banking
The internet is currently illegal so you might as well forget it. Emails are permitted and can be sent from most large hotels but are all read - in and out - by the government. Most go through each day but can be delayed. The network can only handle small files, so attachments or photos will often be lost. Obviously avoid politics! The internet situation may be inconvenient, but the banking situation in Myanmar is utterly ridiculous and will cause no end of headaches. Firstly, forget the banks! The exchange rates and charges for foreigners will strip you of 99% of what you started with. Also the only currency traded is the US dollar and this is best done at your hotel, and not others. Hotels are quite strict on this. Also travellers cheques are reluctantly accepted and only by your hotel. On top of this there are no ATMs.
The military junta obtains hard cash from every visitor to help support the regime using FECs, the currency created for tourists. 1 FEC is equal to 1USD when you buy it. On arrival 200 FECs must be bought with USD. They are quite easily spent, but are worth a bit less than dollars when it comes to paying bills.
With the existing system you may have to consider changing money with the black marketeers. Some are quite reputable, even professional and they offer the best rates. Jewellers often run little sidelines, if not your concierge will point you in the right direction.
VISA is the only foreign credit card that is accepted and only then by the largest hotels. Commission rates are between 7 and 10%. It is virtually impossible to use credit cards outside the capital, even when booking flights.
Note: getting money electronically is almost impossible outside the capital. Stock up on plenty of hard cash before you leave Yangon, this is a country like no other, completely backwards in the financial department.
City tours are quite rare and not really necessary - the capital is comparatively safe and easily covered independently. Two recommended tours leave the city. Most famous for its gargantuan reclining Buddha, Bago is a couple of hours out from Yangon and makes a decent side trip. Besides this impressive 55m-long colossus, Bago offers a decent collection of historic temples.
Offered as a horribly long day tour, but best taken with a stopover is a visit to the dramatic Golden Rock Pagoda in Kyaiktiyo. The stunning gold-leafed boulder balances improbably atop a mountain and is one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in Myanmar. The blend of natural beauty combined with enchanting culture is breathtaking.
Getting From A to B
The city centre is fairly compact and it can be very interesting walking around soaking up street life. Sometimes though its less fun with the relentless barrage of car horns and the streets being heavily littered. Wearing shoes rather than open-toed sandals is sensible. Nasty splashes of rusty betle-nut saliva are all over the place. After the rain it washes into the pavement potholes along with crushed lychees, mud and plastic bags. Take care crossing the road - with a chorus of car horns its impossible to know which one is for you. The easiest way to get around not surprisingly is by taxi. To become a taxi driver is easy in Yangon - simply pull up next to a roadside stall selling plastic taxi signs and glue one to your roof and hey presto! Youre in business. Expect them to vary widely in condition, taped up windscreens, missing dashboards and even holes in the floor arent rare. Theres no such thing as a meter here so youll have to bargain hard.
Motorbikes act like taxis and can be haggled before hopping on the back. In fact, just about any vehicle will gladly offer their services if you stand by the road and look like a lost tourist.
Pick-ups that seem to double as the minibuses of Yangon and are probably cheap if you dare. This is certainly not the way to go if you wish to travel in comfort. They never seem to be half empty either, youll most likely have to hang off the back. This is a particularly miserable option in the monsoon season.
Yangon has a fleet of battered buses, looking much like larger versions of the pick-ups.
The capitals trains dont run that deeply into the country and are not famed for their speed or comfort. But they can be useful for shorter trips to places like Bago. An express service to Mandalay offers decent sleepers for the 12-hour trip, but the track is poor and delays common. Several stations exist in Yangon, the main one 2 blocks north of Sule Pagoda.
Yangon International Airport lies half an hour or so north of the city centre. The airport only handles a trickle of visitors a day, but expect lengthy delays as you shuffle through the various layers of red tape. The length of time passing through the airport could well be more than that of the regional flight! FECs must be paid for with USD on arrival.
Note: expect to be thoroughly searched. Computers, camcorders and other electrical equipment must be declared. Mobile phones are politically sensitive and dont usually work anyway so are best left behind.
Yangon has plenty of colourful festivals, many coinciding with a full moon. Temples are abuzz at these times, particularly Schwedagon. The full moon around the end of February or early March marks the Schwedagon Festival and devotees descend on Myanmars greatest pagoda in their thousands. Starting on 4th January Independence Day sees the country filled with lively and enjoyable fairs for a week. The Royal Lake hosts the biggest fair in Yangon with food and gift stalls, music and games.
The most enjoyable festival is the outrageous 3-day Water Festival in hot mid-April. Supposedly a religious celebration of the start of the New Year, the festival is always ends up being a water-fight of national proportions. Absolutely everyone who ventures out gets drenched by hit squads armed with buckets of water, sometimes from different directions at once. There is no mercy - shocked tourists, monks and old ladies - no one is spared. Playful kidnappings and jokes accompany the madness, wild fun.
Tourist Information Offices
The Tourist Information Office is centrally located over the road from the Sule Pagoda. It has some maps and basic info but nothing much. Respected guidebooks are surprisingly inaccurate, hotels are often the best informed.
Featured Yangon Hotels
Yangon Travellers Tales
Yangon, Myanmar. The city is off the beaten path (for example, no cell/mobile phones that I saw) and therefore highly interesting. The Shwedagon pagoda just up the road from Summit Parkview Hotel is best visited for the first time at night, about 8pm. It positively exudes an aura of holiness. Took taxi from taxi stand at airport (6000 kyat = about 6US$) and made arrangements for them to take me around the next day. Can supply name of good taxi driver and guide upon request. Airport is simple, but mercifully free of duty free shops. Don''t forget the $10 US departure tax.
Myanmar - Take plenty of USD or Thai Bahts. As your credit card is not welcomed anywhere. There are no ATM machines. Cash is King! Taxi from Traders to Yangon airport - about K3,000 - K4,000 (USD3 - USD4). Taxi from Old Bagan - Bagan airport K3,500. Taxi from Mandalay Airport - Mandaly centre K9,000. All prices are approximate and will change depending upon your taxi driver. Airlines: Yangon Airways, Bagan Air, Air Mandalay. If you are planning a trip to Myanmar, I would definitely recommend "Bagan" as it is magnificent! Stay around 4-5 days for a pleasureable experience.
Prices escalate at an unbelievable rate! Things are cheap, but not quite as cheap as guidebooks make them out to be, being somewhat out of date. Take taxis anywhere and everywhere, they''re affordable.
I was in Yangon during the May bombings. Still, I felt terribly safe as a single female over 50 traveller. By all means take your camera and walk through People''s Park to the Pagoda, go to the Bogyoke Aung San Museum and have Ma Thin Thin give you a tour. If you need something luxurious, go for tea at the Strand. The Sabai Sabai is excellent for lunch although the quality decreases on a busy weekend evening. If you are interested in traditional pottery, take the ferry to Twande. Go the Gar San Glass Factory where lovely pieces can be purchased for as little as 50 cents US. They do a really good job packing. Be careful and shop around before buying anything in the Aung San Market and if you need glasses check out Academy Optical at 140/141 Bogyoke Aung San Market. Progressive lens in flexible frames including eye exam were $63 US!
Myanmar is a challenging yet unspoiled country to travel through. Train and air schedules frequently change. Rebooking air flights is a necessity, not a courtesy. Long distance buses are cheap, about US$7, for the 10 hour ride from Yangon to Mandalay. But air flights are worth the money for the time savings. In Yangon the Zawgyi House restaurant just east of Scott''s Market serves good western and Burmese food. They offer outside and air-conditioned(!) dining. Mandalay''s Green Elephant serves upscale interprerations of Burmese cuisine. In the evening there''s often a haze of burning mosquito puncks in the outdoor dining area to fend off these pesky insects. Try ''mohinga'', the rich-tasting Burmese noodle soup only served at breakfast. I''d recommend a 1-2 day trip to Pyin Uu Win outside of Mandalay to esscape the heat. The local 5-hour train makes every station stop as it snakes up the 3,000 ascent overlooking the plains. Bench seats, no interior lighting, people sitting on baggage in the aisle. In other words a great way to glimpse Burmese life.
Recommended places: Sabai Phui guesthouse - Mandalay. Aircon and bathroom for $5 a night, (you don''t need luxury every night!), $16 boat trip to Mandalay (9hrs - more fun tan flying), Bagan Hotel (exclusive), Balloons over Bagan, expensive $225, but worth it, Royal Beach Resort - Ngapali Beach (family run and cheap). NOT RECOMMENDED - JIMMY''S TOURS AT INLE LAKE. A taxi driver dropped me off there from Heyo Airport, pretending it was the ''Boat Station'', before I knew it he''d worked out an itinerary for 1 1/2 days at $120. About 5 times what I needed to pay, if I''d avoided him. He was then unconcerned that his boat ran out of fuel and we drifted for an hour and there was no floating market where he sent me at great expense at 6.30am, due to a full moon holiday. Avoid the slippery little git at all costs. BE AFRAID, IF YOU WIND UP IN HIS OFFICE.
Having just completed a tour of Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, the latter was our favourite and Yangon our favourite city in it. Wandering around Chinatown, the old market (not Aung San, which is a tourist trap at its worst), around Sule Paya and Shwedagon were just awesome and we found the people more genuine than other places visited.
Augustines near Green Elephant Restaurant is still the best for antiques. Ask for Mark!
This maybe relatively new info: we entered Myanmar during the Chinese New Year (Rooster) without being required to exchange their worthless Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) with USD! We are avid Lonely Planet readers and I also have some acquaintances who go there quite often and as far as we have expected and were told before going there, all tourists are expected to buy FECs. So it was something good. However, we also found out that since about late fall 2004, Myanmar has forbidden any transactions using any credit cards. If you are going to Myanmar in near future, bring enough cash since you won''t be able to get cash anywhere. We are very grateful that our hotel was booked thru asiahotels.com at a prepaid basis...otherwise, we would have less disposable money to spend while vacationing there.
Restaurant to recommend: "Million Coins" is near the airport. Serves Chinese-style food. My Asian friend ate a meat and vegetable noodle dish called "Jaeo" (pronounced jay-o), which was about 900 khats (US$1) and promptly declared, "This is the most delicious noodle dish I have ever eaten!"