Yangon will put visitors under its spell. As the nickname “Garden City of Asia” suggests, it is full with lush green tropical trees, picturesque parks and lakes.
Besides the large number of beautifully conserved colonial buildings the town offers outstanding pagodas such as the well-known Shwedagon and photogenic markets. Its multiracial people make it a colorful and lively city.
Because of the nearly not existing high buildings and undeveloped infrastructure it is completely different from other Asian cities and sure the most exotic.
The former state capital has over 5 million inhabitants and is not only the largest, but the most important commercial hub in the country. However, the administration of the military ruled government moved in March 2006 to Naypyidaw, 300 km north of Yangon.
In the beginning of the 11th century, the Mon people dominated the region and built the small fishing village “Dagon”, with its center the Shwedagon Pagoda, the world’s oldest pagoda. After King Alaungpaya conquered lower Myanmar in 1755 it was renamed to “Yangon”.
During 1824 till 1826 the British captured the region but returned it afterwards again to the Burmese. In 1841, most of Yangon was destroyed by a huge fire. In 1852 the Second Anglo-Burmese War occurred during which the British renamed the city to Rangoon. They constructed the city according a grid plan. During their occupation the town grew fast and gained in importance as the political and commercial hub. By the end of the Third Anglo-Burmese War, when the upper part of the country was conquered in 1885, it became the capital of British-Burma.
Just a few years later the city expanded its radius and included the Inya Lake and Royal Lake (Kandwgyi). With those lakes and the many spacious parks, the city got its nickname “Garden City of Asia”. Because of the infrastructure and the public services, Rangoon was as developed as London.
Before the 1st world war, the city’s population was 500,000. Over 50% were Indians or from South Asia. Only about one third were Burmese people, called Bamar, the rest were Anglo-Burmese, Karens and Chinese.
Rangoon became the center of Burmese independence movements, organized by the Rangoon University students. In 1920, 1936 and 1938 tree nationwide strikes were hold against the British rulers.
During the 2nd World War the country was under Japanese occupation and Rangoon suffered heavy damages. In May 1945 the Allied Forces had retaken the town.
On 4th of January 1948 the Union of Burma got independent and Rangoon became the official capital. In 1964, 2 years after the military coup, the Socialist regime was founded. As a result, the infrastructure of the city was a steady decay.
But the capital was still the center of more uprisings by anti-government protests such as in 1974, 1988 and 2007. Each time there was bloodshed on the city’s streets.
The last tragedy occurred in May 2008 when Cyclone Nargis hit the town. There were not many human casualties but 70% of the city’s infrastructure got damaged or destroyed.
Today it is one of the most fascinating cities in Asia, with the Shwedagon Pagoda towering over Yangon. This sacred place can easy be visited on foot, as the many other attractions.
The capital of the Yangon Region lies at the convergence of the Bago and Yangon River. The Gulf of Martaban, an arm of the Andaman Sea in southern Myanmar, is about 30 kilometers away.
There is a big variety of restaurants available, serving Western, Italian, Thai, Japanese and Korean dishes. Besides the local Bamar food restaurants there are many Chinese and Indian restaurants.
The Yangon International Airport Mingladon lies round 20 km outside the city center and is the main arrival/departure point for foreigners. Just recently the airport had a major upgrade and contains an international and domestic terminal. From most Southeast Asian countries are direct flights. To all the important tourist places in Myanmar are domestic flights available such as to Mandalay, Bagan, Heho (Inle Lake) and the beach destination of Ngapali. A flight is the most suitable way to travel and quite cheap.
The most convenient way to the city is by taxi and takes about 30 minutes. The public bus stand is a 10 minutes’ walk from the airport.
To travel up country one can use the Railway as well. But it is slow and the tracks are very old and bumpy. Trains leave from Yangon Central Railway Station.
An alternative way is a bus journey. The buses to the north depart from the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal which is placed a bit outside the center. A VIP air-con bus takes 8 hours to Mandalay and 9 hours to Bagan. There are as well mini buses available which are a little bit faster.
For the region of the Irrawaddy delta such as Ngwe Saung Beach, the buses start from the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal. From the same terminal are daily buses to Sittwe and Thandwe (Ngapali Beach).
The easiest way to reach those two bus stations is by taxi.
Anoter possibility is by boat up the Irrawaddy River. But nowadays this route is only operated by tourist river cruises. The Irrawaddy delta is connected by ferries which includes the old port town Thanlyin.
Since most attractions in Yangon are in walking distance it is easy to explore them on foot.
The bus system in Yangon is chaotic and the bus routes are not written in English. Therefore the easiest way to travel a longer distance is by taxi. But they do not have taxi meters and the price must be negotiated beforehand. It is also possible to hire a taxi for a half or even full day and the costs are quite low. Trishaws are till 10 AM banned from the center and the fare must be negotiated in advance.
Note: With a tourist visa is not permitted to drive a car in Myanmar. But travelers can hire bicycles everywhere. Out of Yangon are motorbikes permitted as well.
This is one of the most popular ways to discover the center. Starting point is the Sule Pagoda then walks direction City Hall with the High Court and Emmanuel Baptist Church. From there is goes to the south, direction the Yangon River, along the Pansodan road. The end destination is the historical building of the Strand Hotel. It is a nice spot for some refreshment and the interior is worthwhile seeing.
It is the highlight of every Yangon tour. The huge pagoda is visible from miles away and considered as one of the world’s wonders. According a legend it is more than 2,500 years old but has been rebuilt a few times. The present stupa was built in 1796 and is nearly 110 meters high. Hundreds of gold plates cover it and 4,531 diamonds are encrusted, the largest one is 72 carat. Hundreds of colorful stupas, temples and statues are placed around the pagoda. Every day thousands of Buddhists come and make merit.
This golden pagoda was built more than 2,000 years ago and is 50 meters high. The name in Mon language is Kyaik Athok, translated as “the temple where a sacred hair relic is enshrined”, a hair from Buddha. Till 200 years ago, the stupa was surrounded by water. Its octagonal shape goes all the way up to the top.
The name of this 40 meter high pagoda means “a thousand military leaders”. This refers to those who protected the holy relicts from Buddha on the long march from India to Myanmar. The stupa is hollow and visitors can walk through the inside. There is a mirrored maze and the glass cases hold century old relics.
Chauk Htat Kyee Buddha
The image of the reclining Buddha was built in 1907 but in 1966 rebuilt. With 65 meters in length it is the largest Buddha image in Myanmar.
Many foreigners come not only for the beauty and its flair to Yangon but for meditation retreats. There are several centers which accept foreign students. To do a full meditation program, visitors need to obtain a special long stay visa.
This attraction will provide a unique way to see the daily life in the city and surrounding area. The trip takes 3 hours, starting from a grand colonial building. It takes you from the city center to the rural area where farmers can be seen doing their daily activities, passing villages and ponds.
Another fun experience is a local ferry ride with the Dallah Ferry. Passengers feel like in the middle of a floating market. Vendors are selling all kinds of goods, from fresh fruits to cigarettes, drinks and local food. The ferry departs across the historical Strand Hotel and this trip can be easy combined with a day journey to Thante, visiting the charming town with the main pagoda.
The town is called as well Syriam, dating back to the British colonial time and is since the 14th century a major port. The main attractions are two tombs of the 16th century Burmese poets, an old Portuguese church, dating back to the 18th century and the Sacred Heart Church from the 19th century. From Yangon it takes by taxi 30 minutes.
Gardens and Parks
The Bogyoke Aung San Park is placed in the very heart of the city, near the Shwedagon and Mahavijaya pagodas. It is very popular for the locals with playground and picnic area. The house inside the park belonged to General Aung San and is now a museum.
The best maintained park as well as the largest is placed around the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is the most popular park in the city. The Kandawgyi Lake is adjoining to the south. Especially at sunset it is a fantastic place to be. The golden Shwedagon pagoda and the spectacular sky colors are reflecting in the water.
The Yangon Zoological Garden consists not only of a zoo but has an aquarium and even an amusement park.
The People’s Square and People's Park lies west of the Shwedagon. In the days when Yangon was the political capital, it was during important days a parading ground.
A few miles to the north lays the Inya Lake Park with its manmade lake. Especially for the university students it is a popular place of romance. There are many small shops selling handicrafts and local art.
Just a short drive from the center lays the Hlawga National Park. It is home to over 90 species of birds and 70 species of native animals. There are some idyllic lakes for boating and fishing, with many spots for picnics.
Markets and Shopping
The Bogyoke Aung San Market, also called Scott Market, is a fantastic place for Burmese handicrafts. The favorite selling items are lacquer ware and wood carvings. But when buying lacquer ware one should take care. Many are not well made and the colors fade quickly. Other goods include fabrics and clothing. It is for sure a colorful place but the vendors are often not willing to reduce their prices. Direction the Sule pagoda to the south the same goods are may cheaper.
The region has a tropical monsoon climate and can be visited all year round. The best time is during the dry season which lasts from November till April with very little rain. During May till October is the rainy season, with nearly daily downpours from June till August. September and October brings only some scattered short showers. The average temperatures are around 30 °C throughout the year, except from February till April. This is the hot season with average temperatures up to 37 °C.