The former capital of Myanmar is a massive city with a colonial past and an exciting present. Building sites are found everywhere, new businesses are booming, and new hotels, restaurants, and shops springing up all over.
Top attractions near Yangon
1. Shwedagon Pagoda
It's difficult to describe the immensity of Shwedagon Pagoda. It's a whole hill of pagoda, a massive complex surrounding two gilded zedis. Even the zedis are surrounded by rings of smaller stupas, and the whole complex is ringed by lower terraces and subsidiary shrines. The four staircases which lead up to the top are whole ecosystems in themselves, where giant lion sculptures guard the entrances and markets sell flowers and other goods.
Tranquil at dawn, the pagoda gets busier throughout the morning as visitors come to make offerings, or pour water on the 'planetary posts' that correspond to their day of birth. At sunset, the lights come on and the pagoda gets a new lease on life as people come to visit after work.
The words 'must-see' are cliché, but Shwedagon Pagoda really is the one place in Yangon that you must not miss.
2. Sule Pagoda
Located in downtown Yangon, Sule Pagoda has a completely different atmosphere from Shwedagon. Still, its form is the same - a stupa accessible via four staircases from the cardinal directions. Yet it's situated near a major traffic intersection; cars swarm around the complex and shops occupy the basement floor. Inside, it feels somehow busier and more cramped than Shwedagon Pagoda, with shrines tucked into every available corner. It's also used as 'kilometre zero' when measuring road distances within Myanmar.
Also in downtown Yangon is Botataung Paya, with a labyrinth of mirrored corridors and a pool where you can feed the terrapins. Go before visiting Shwedagon Pagoda!
3. Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple
This temple is about three kilometres away from Shwedagon Paya and shelters a reclining Buddha 66 metres long.
If you find that difficult to imagine, consider its glass eyes, each of which is nearly two metres long.
Buddha lies in a massive tin-roofed shed that could be a factory or a DIY superstore anywhere else in the world. He is a relatively modern replacement for the original, open-air statue, which (to judge from photographs) had a pronounced scowl.
The temple also includes a tiny shrine to Ma Thay. Ma Thay is a weather-working saint who can give sailors a good voyage but, perhaps more usefully to travellers, is said to be able to stop the rain.
4. Kandawgyi Park
This park surrounds the beautiful Kandawgyi Lake below Shwedagon Pagoda. The boardwalk surrounding the Lake is an ideal place to go for a stroll or jog. You'll find stands selling food and places to buy a cup of tea or a cool, refreshing drink.
There's a golden palace made in the shape of a swan-headed Karaweik boat, which houses a restaurant. There's also a child's playground, but the biggest appeal is the view of Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset when the golden zedi is reflected in the Lake.
5. Ride the Yangon Circular Train
A ride on the Yangon Circular Train begins at the amazingly ornate Yangon Central Station with its pinnacled towers. The people-watching is as worth the ride as any other sight you'll see along the way. The train bumps along, often very slowly, past huge moss-stained blocks of flats, paddy fields, and old goods yards, and even through the middle of markets.
People on the train often want to talk. Some have good English; others just want to practice 'How are you? I am fine.' Vendors walk through the train, selling food, snacks, and bottles of water. On less-crowded sections of track some people take a nap on the empty benches. It'll take you the best part of three hours to go all the way around, and you have to do nothing but sit and keep your eyes open.
6. Bogyoke Market
This huge market was originally called Scott Market when the British built it. Today, it has 2,000 different stands, selling a huge range of souvenirs, traditional crafts, and clothing.
Teak carvings, furniture, and jade have separate sections. If you buy here, make sure you get a valid customs receipt. Lacquer, clothes, puppets, and jewellery are all for sale. Tailors do a roaring trade, though quality varies. Even though this is the City's most tourist-friendly market, it's still a fantastic slice of Yangon life.