Yeah, pagodas here and pagodas there – that is probably the strongest impression you get from the whole country. And Yangon, of course, is no exception. Myanmar is famous for its pagodas, and one of the most impressive is the Shwedagon Pagoda (4am–10pm daily; USD8), located to the west of Kandawgi Lake and a striking 99 metres in height. The golden stupa is visible across the city, and the spire is studded with thousands of diamonds and other precious gems making it sparkle as the late afternoon sun shines against it. What we enjoyed most is how the locals walk barefoot over the stone pavement in the pagoda in the scorching midday heat. We almost had to dance to keep our feet from being burnt at the same time!
The Sule pagoda (4am–10pm daily, USD3) is another impressive monument, situated in downtown Yangon near Maha Bandula Park. Not as tall as the Shwedagon Pagoda, it’s nonetheless awe inspiring with many towering golden stupas, and has a fascinating history as a location at the heart of political uprisings in Myanmar in 1988 and 2007. The Sule area is also useful to taking a local airport-bound bus.
It’s also worth taking the time to see the Botataung Pagoda (4am-10pm daily, USD6), which can be combined with a wander along the riverside in downtown. This is a great opportunity to see inside of the pagoda as well as admiring it from the outside.
Despite the buzz of the city, it’s also a great place if you’re looking for some more peaceful spots where you can appreciate nature and take some time out. A fab spot for this is Kandawgi Lake, located in the centre of the city and featuring a rickety wooden bridge that you can walk across to explore. The surrounding park is the perfect place for a picnic and some people watching.
Alongside the extensive parkland, there are also zoological gardens (8am–6pm daily; USD3) which are worth seeing if you have the time. The oldest zoo in Myanmar with over 70 acres of land to explore, they are working hard to up their game when it comes to eco tourism and the gardens feature some interesting endemic species. You can get up close and personal at feeding times with everything from hippos to indigenous black bears. It is a winning destination if you come to Myanmar with kids – now it does not actually look as the craziest idea ever as it used to be even a couple of years ago.
Finally, the largest lake in the city is Inya Lake, just outside of the centre and a popular place for locals to hangout – a great place to people watch and see how the locals live – longyis, thanaka powder make-up and the like. The city haze seems less in this area, making it a lovely place to relax for a couple of hours.
History & Culture
If you’re looking more for history and culture, there’s also plenty of that on offer. The National Museum (9.30am–4.30pm Tue–Sun; USD4) is a must visit, with 5 floors of material on Myanmar’s history from fossil samples to precious gold artefacts from the collection of regalia. The labelling can be a little hard to interpret but you’ll be able to get the gist on most of it!
If you’re a visitor from the Commonwealth, you may also be interested in visiting the Taukkyan War Cemetery, located outside the city not far from Inya Lake. It contains the graves of over 6000 soldiers from the commonwealth who died in the Second World War fighting in Burma and a memorial with the names of over 2700 – an incredibly moving but worthwhile place to see.
Last but not least, soak up the local culture with a visit to the central city covered market of Bogyoke Aung San (10am–5pm Tue–Sun). With thousands of stalls selling everything from fabric and clothing to jewellery, trinkets and books, it’s a great place to get lost for a couple of hours taking in the sights and sounds and watching the locals go about their daily business.