For many adventure seekers, traveling to Yangon is the first step and the gateway to the hundreds of cultural sites to visit in Myanmar.
Yangon is the largest city of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and is packed with cultural sites to visit, local cuisines to try, markets to explore, day trips to take, and even nightlife to experience.
Unfortunately for me, I had a limited amount of time in Yangon as most of my itinerary was focused on other destinations in Myanmar.
Looking back, I wish I made it a point and priority to stay in Yangon longer than 24 hours.
I quickly realized my lack of planning the day I arrived in Yangon, when all of my senses were on supercharge by just roaming the streets. I wish I had more than 24 hours to travel around.
Still, I was able to check-off quite a bit of activities and things to do while in Yangon, even if it was only for 24-hours.
But before we take a look at things to do in Yangon, let’s answer a few basic questions that you may have:
Do I need a visa to visit Yangon (or Myanmar?)
To enter Myanmar, your passport must be valid and valid for at least 6 months before it expires.
Myanmar allows visa-free travel to the following countries ASEAN countries: Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia, and can stay up to 30 days. Indonesia and Brunei are also visa exempt to enter Myanmar, but may only stay up to 14 days visa-free.
For any other passports, consult the Myanmar eVisa Government website to check the requirements for your passport.
Where is Yangon?
Yangon is geographically located on the heart of the lower part of Myanmar, about 500 kilometers south of Bagan, and about 640 kilometers south of Mandalay and Inle Lake.
Yangon International Airport is the primary airport of Myanmar, and has daily domestic and international flights.
Some of the major international airlines that fly to Yangon International Airport are: Air India, ANA, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, and Vietnam Airlines.
Lowcost carriers that fly to Yangon International Airport are: AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, JetStar, and FlyDubai.
If you are flying from Europe or North America, chances are you would need to fly to major city in Asia, such as Singapore, Seoul, or Tokyo, before landing your way to Yangon.
What language do they speak in Yangon?
The language spoken in Yangon is the official language of Myanmar, Burmese.
There are approximately over 100 languages spoken in Myanmar, but Burmese is widely use, especially in the big city of Yangon.
English is not widely spoken, so the following phrases can help you interact with the locals in Yangon:
See you again: Nout ma thway mae
Thank you: Cezu tin ba deh
My Name is _____: (Male) Ja nor na meh ____ ba/ (Female) Ja ma nau na meh ____ ba
What’s your name?: Nah meh be lou kor d’le?
How are you?: Neh kaun la?
I’m well: Neh kaun ba deh
What should be my budget for Yangon?
One of the best parts of traveling to Southeast Asia is how seemingly cheap it is to travel (at least, relative to other parts of the world such as Europe and North America).
And Yangon is no exception.
For the backpackers, expect to spend around $50 a day. This budget should cover your accommodation, provided you stay at a guesthouse or a hostel, meals (local cuisines), and transportation and entrance fees to cultural sites.
For those who prefer a little bit more comfort by staying at three-star hotels and dining at fine restaurants, you can expect to pay at least $100-$125 per day.
Can you use credit cards in Yangon?
Carry enough cash with you at all times in Myanmar, even in a city as big as Yangon.
Credit cards, in general, are not widely accepted – most especially in small towns and cities outside of Yangon.
Even at times when credit cards are accepted, you can run into many instances where the transaction or purchase may not be able to process due to slow connections.
Outside of Yangon, ATM machines are not as accessible. So just make sure to carry cash with you at all times.
Is Yangon Safe For Tourists?
Considering that Myanmar is still a destination that is not yet fully saturated by tourism, there are still a lot of unknowns to the general public regarding its safety.
From my own personal experience, I felt very safe while being in Yangon.
There wasn’t a time where I felt I was in danger in Yangon while roaming the streets, nor taking the public transportation.
If anything, the smiles and friendly nature of the locals towards me made me felt safe at all times.
Of course, follow local customs and behavior, especially when visiting religious sites such as the Pagodas, to avoid any conflict.
Is Yangon Worth Visiting?
Yangon is most definitely worth visiting, even if it’s just for 24 hours.
Assuming that your visit to Myanmar include multiple stops, visiting Yangon allows you to get a deeper appreciation to the other popular destinations in Myanmar.
Yangon is one of the biggest cities in Asia, and has a lot to offer in terms of cultural attractions, restaurants to explore, activities to do, and perhaps even a day trip out of Yangon.
Visiting Yangon will also give you a better appreciation on how the rest of the country has kept and preserved their cultures and traditions.
I say spend at least two full days in Yangon to have a true appreciation on what the city has to offer.
My 24-Hours Experience in Yangon
As much as I love to travel and explore new places, I have a bad habit of traveling back to familiar destinations.
Despite barely stepping foot in South America and Africa, I tend to gravitate back to Southeast Asia over and over again – Boracay, Palawan, and Manila being the usual destinations. Luckily, it’s the largest continent in the world, which means there are a ton of other beautiful destinations in other countries that are waiting for me to be explored.
Myanmar is one of those other beautiful destinations. The fairytale-tale like pictures and videos I’ve seen online over the years have really gotten my attention. And ever since
Myanmar allowed tourism the past few years, the amount of content that have been posted about Myanmar have doubled. Add the hype and excitement from the people who got to visit totally gave me the FOMO!
So in the beginning of 2017, I was determined to finally book those tickets to see if the hype was real!
I had a total of four weeks and five countries to cover for this particular trip in Southeast Asia. Considering it was a tight and limited schedule, I was only able to allocate six days (ish) total for Yangon and Bagan.
For the six days I was in Myanmar, my itinerary looked like this:
Day one – Arrive in Yangon in the A.M.
Day two – Yangon during the day, early evening flight to Bagan
Day three – Bagan
Day four – Bagan
Day five – Bagan, then overnight bus to Yangon
Day six – Bye Myanmar!
Only after this trip did I realized one week in Myanmar is not enough! I personally feel that you need a solid month if you wish to have the ultimate itinerary for Myanmar!
GETTING TO MYANMAR
My journey to Yangon wasn’t the easiest.
Considering I flew Kuala Lumpur based airline, Air Asia, I was obligated to make a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
My journey to Yangon looked like this:
Bali – Kuala Lumpur: 3 hours
Overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur: 10 hours
Kuala Lumpur – Yangon: 2 hours 40 minutes
That’s almost sixteen hours of travel!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF YANGON
From the moment I landed at Yangon International Airport, I immediately got some initial impressions of Burmese traditions and customs. Some of my observations:
– The officer who stamped my passport had bright red lips and red teeth. After he stamped my passport, he turned around to grab a plastic bag and spit what he was chewing (it was one of those “what just happened?” moments)
– Later on, I learned the substance that the locals were chewing is called Betel Nut – apparently equivalent to chewing tobacco
– The Locals wear a traditional costume called Longyi, a sarong-like garment worn by men and women.
– Everyone has a patch of face mask on – a natural face powder base make-up that comes from Thanaka bark – used by Burmese women as a natural alternative to sunblock for over 2,000 years!
– Traffic is on the right side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to do much in Yangon – hence the reason I only allocated one whole day in the Burmese capital. Before arriving in Yangon, it was just any other regular city in South East Asia. But after walking around Yangon the first day, there was more to the city than I thought there was!
Things to do in Yangon: The CIRCULAR RAILWAY
The Yangon Circular Railway is a local commuter train that goes around Yangon, connecting towns and suburban areas and loop around back to the main city. The total train ride takes around three hours to complete.
For just a dollar, it’s a great way to see Yangon and get a glimpse of the daily routine of the locals.
Although the trains provide a lot of character and charm with its rustic and antiquated look, it and doesn’t provide a lot of comfort for a three-hour ride.
These trains were a gift from the Japanese that operated in Tokyo decades ago. As you board the train, you will notice all signage are in Japanese.
Additionally, you will be fighting for some personal space. The locals that ride the Yangon Circular train bring on as many belongings as they can hold.
Granted, the train has 39 stops throughout the 46-kilometer trek, so passengers (and their belongings) get on and off fairly quickly.
The seat arrangement was particularly challenging for me. The seats face each other, which means if you are slightly on the taller side (I’m 6’2”), you will be fighting for legroom . . . for three hours.
But what I did enjoy was seeing the change of scenery. As the train goes from station to station and further away from the city, you get a glimpse of the small and rustic villages outside of Yangon–with the occasional views of the children playing kickball or soccer or volleyball along the train tracks.
Where to find the Yangon Circular Railway
The Yangon Circular Railway has 39 stations in Yangon that you can hop onto.
Below is a map from one of the platforms in Yangon:
You can jump on any of these stations in Yangon, and jump on or off whenever and wherever needed (just prepare to pay for an additional fee!)
THE SHWEDAGON PAGODA
My original plan was to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon twice, before sunrise and at sunset.
Ultimately, I decided to relax and skip the sunset visit after the exhausting 3+ hour Circular Train ride.
I’ve seen a handful of Pagodas with my travels in Southeast Asia, but I would rank Shwedagon Pagoda as the most impressive out of all that I’ve seen.
The sheer scale of the Pagoda is impressive in itself. But what was equally impressive was the peaceful, almost sacred atmosphere the moment you enter the shrine.
I’m not Buddhist, but watching the people who were there praying before the crack of dawn made me feel very spiritual, at peace, and to a certain extent, inspired.
It was an experience.
I definitely would recommend visiting Yangon for at least one day to experience a side of Myanmar you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
The city has plenty of things to see and do, and will definitely add to your experience in visiting the magical country of Myanmar