The backpacker’s guide to Yangon

Although Naypyidaw is the capital of Myanmar, it’s not a place often visited by tourists. It doesn’t have a lot to offer, so Yangon is the place to be! I spent two weeks here and I really loved it in the beginning, I saw everything on this list in the first three days and then spent the rest of that time (after seeing the rest of the country) recovering from dengue fever and hating my life. Good times!

Arriving into Yangon

If you’re flying into Yangon then it’s really easy to get downtown from the airport. A taxi would be the most convenient but it can cost a lot. The best way to get into the city centre is to catch the local bus. Get cash out of the ATM and get some change from one of the shops or with the ‘change lady’ waiting at the bus stop, tickets only cost 500 kyat (30p). There are two routes: the Pyay Road route and the Kabar Aye Pagoda Road route, both end at the Central Railway Station and the journey takes about an hour. Click here for the route list.

If you’re arriving into Yangon by long-distance bus then you’ll find yourself at the impossibly huge Aung Mingala Highway Station, it’s basically a small city for buses, it’s wild. I’m sure there are local buses that go into the city centre from here but we couldn’t figure it out and we didn’t want the hassle, so we took a taxi or a Grab each time. It’s expensive (for Myanmar – about 15,000 kyat or £8.60) but it’s the most convenient and fastest way. If you really need to save money then you can take a taxi or Grab to the airport (it’s close), and catch the airport bus into the city.

Getting around Yangon

Getting around downtown is easy enough if you just walk everywhere. It can take a while, it’s quite big and very busy, but I tried to figure out the buses and it was almost impossible. The best bet, especially if you need to go further out of the city, is to use Grab, the Asian Uber, perfect if you don’t know how to explain to a taxi driver where you need to go, or you want to book a ride ahead of time. I don’t think you can use a card to pay, so make sure you always have the right amount of cash on you. A lot of taxi drivers speak English, so you can always check the price with Grab and barter a good price if you would rather support them.

Getting a SIM card

I would definitely recommend getting a SIM card while you’re in Myanmar, it can be so useful if you need to book a Grab, need to translate something, or if you want to keep your Insta followers updated on your wild adventures. There are three main mobile companies: MPT, Ooredoo, and Telenor. Ooredoo is the recommended network and you can buy a SIM card and top up in most shops, but you might have better luck in the Ooredoo shops as they will probably speak some English. Click here for more information.

Where to stay

I’d recommend staying south of the Central Railway Station, most of the sights are between 26th and 42nd Streets. When I first arrived I stayed in The Lodge Yangon Hostel which is a big, modern place but weirdly unsociable unless you want to party in the rooftop bar every night, it does have a great view though. I also stayed at 501 Merchant Bed & Breakfast which was much nicer except they had a bit of a bedbug problem (check the latest reviews to see if they fixed it). The last place I stayed was Nest Hostel Yangon, a little more expensive with no female-only dorms, but it was definitely the nicest of the three.

Where to shop

Shopping can be really fun here, you’ll find busy local markets down a lot of the streets running north to south. It’s worth checking out the Indian market around 26th Street, the Chinatown market around 18th Street, Bogyoke Aung San Market west of the Central Railway Station for overpriced local products aimed at tourists, and Junction City across the road, which is a huge air-conditioned shopping mall where you’ll find all the brand names, plus an amazing food court. These are just a few of the main markets, you’ll find a huge range of shops lining every street, plus a few fancier malls around the bigger hotels.

Where to eat

As far as food goes in Yangon, it can be overwhelming but there are some gems. My absolute favourite is 999 Shan Noodle Shop, popular with locals and backpackers alike, the food is cheap and delicious, I ate there every day that I could! There are a lot of noodle bars and stalls around the city to suit any budget and it’s fun to try the different local dishes, with plenty of international restaurants around if you want something different. There are also a lot of fast food options if you want a taste of home, there seems to be a KFC on every main street.

What to see downtown

A good place to start, central to the downtown area, is Sule Pagoda. This 48-metre high golden pagoda is in the middle of a very busy roundabout. The entrance fee is 5000 kyat (£3) which is a lot for Myanmar and a lot of reviews say it’s not worth it, I just took a photo from the outside and carried on walking.

A lot further to the southeast is the 40-metre high Botahtaung Pagoda, a larger completed than the Sule Pagoda with another 5000 kyat entrance fee. I also skipped this one because I only cared about one golden pagoda, and this wasn’t it. If you’re not going inside then it might not be worth the walk out there.

East of Sule Pagoda, in the alley between 41st and 42nd Streets, are the YGN Walls. What used to be the dumping ground for every apartment block either side was taken over by a group of local and international artists and turned into a colourful place full of some incredible street art. It’s free to enter and I would absolutely recommend checking it out!

It’s also worth mentioning Cinema Street, another transformed alley between the northern ends of 33rd and 34th Streets, with some colourful murals and great photo opportunities. I also heard rumours of a third alley like this but I never found it!

North of the city centre

Shwedagon Pagoda

The big draw of Yangon, and one of the highlights for me, is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda and the Golden Pagoda. The 112-metre tall pagoda sits on the 51-metre tall Singuttara Hill and is the highest point in the city, nothing is allowed to be built taller than this. It’s the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar and visiting it for sunrise is an incredible experience.

Book yourself a Grab taxi and get there around half an hour before the sun comes up. I expected it to be quiet, maybe a few eager tourists trying to get that perfect shot without crowds of people, but it was packed! Not with tourists, but with locals and monks there to pray. It was an amazing atmosphere, and I was more than happy to find a spot out of the way and take it all in. Top tip for photographers: take an ND filter, set your camera up to take a long exposure, and you’ll blur the people right out of your photos.

You can spend hours here exploring the whole complex and watching the different groups of people, or you can do a lap of the main pagoda and leave, but either way, it’s well worth the 10,000 kyat (£5.75) entrance fee.

People’s Park and Kandawgi Park

To the west of Shwedagon is People’s Park, it’s a peaceful place to relax where you’ll find locals exercising in the morning sun and couples sitting on the banks of the lakes, there were no tourists in sight. There’s a nice view of the Pagoda but the sun is in the wrong place for photos in the morning, it would be better in the evening. The entrance was something like 500 kyat (30p) but it might be more now.

To the east of Shwedagon is Kandawgi Park, a much bigger and prettier place to relax. Entrance is free, and you can spend as much time as you want walking around the outside of the huge lake, with some lovely viewpoints of the pagoda and the stunning Kawaweik Palace Restaurant, it’s also a popular spot for sunset.

The abandoned theme park

Just south of Kandawgi is the Yangon Zoological Gardens, but I’d skip this. The real highlight of this area is the abandoned theme park hidden in the jungle just outside of it! Find the “Entrance into abandoned theme park” on Maps.Me, which is at the back of a dusty carpark probably filled with taxis, climb through the fence and you’re in! It was built in 1997 but sadly closed down in 2013, and it didn’t take long for the jungle to reclaim it.

You can spend hours exploring this place, it’s an incredible spot for Urbex photography, you can climb on most of the rides (safely) and even walk up the tracks of the rollercoaster! It can be a little spooky if you’re in there alone, make sure you have plenty of bug spray to save you from the mossies, and be very wary of the dogs that can be aggressive. Once you’re ready to leave it’s a long walk or a short taxi ride back to the city centre.

The Circular Railway

This is one of those activities for adventurous tourists who want to get a good view of local life, and it’s something I was really excited to do. The train is supposed to leave Yangon Central Railway and make a loop all the way to the north of the city, passing through busy neighbourhoods, markets, villages, and farmland before returning safely back to Yangon Central on a train with open windows perfect for hanging out of while you take some unique photos. Sounds amazing, right?

Yea, no. I bought my ticket, got put on the wrong train and ended up in the middle of nowhere, hours outside of the city. I waited for a while and eventually got put on another train going back to Yangon which stopped an hour out of the city and I was kicked off again. I waited there for an hour before finding out it would be another two hours until the next train, so I ended up having to take a Grab taxi back, exhausted, sweaty, starving, and very grumpy.

Moral of the story? Somethings travelling is a disaster, but as long as you’re safe then you have to just laugh about it. Click here for an idea of how it was supposed to go.

Well guys, that was a long one but sometimes it’s just easier to have all the information in one place. I hope this has been helpful to any travellers wanting to explore Yangon!

If you think I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments below.

You can view the full album here.

You can also follow the adventure on Facebook and Instagram!

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