Yangon is a very cool city. Whilst it has a modern face with trendy bars and fancy restaurants, it has also retained its colonial charm with some of the best preserved buildings from the days of the British Empire. The tea house culture has held strong and let's of course not forget the standout highlight, the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda.
Yangon used to be the official capital city of Myanmar until 2006 when the government officially proclaimed the newly built city of Nay Pyi Daw as the new capital. Yangon nonetheless remains the cultural and commercial heart of the country as Nay Pyi Daw struggles to attract a similar atmosphere.
These are our 5 favourite not-to-miss highlights in Yangon, which we think every traveller should have at the top of their Myanmar bucket list.
Connecting with Buddha at the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a marvel to behold. It is the main iconic site in Yangon you can't miss. The main gold-plated dome is so impressive, it will take your breath away. It is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
At 99m (325ft) tall, the Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar's largest temple, and as such, it dominates the Yangon city skyline. It also considered the most sacred temple of the country because it is believed to contain relics of the 4 previous Buddhas.
We visited in the evening around sunset and loved the ambience. It attracts a large number of visitors, both tourists and locals who come to worship. But despite the large numbers, there is a strong feeling of peace and tranquility here, which we did not feel in other temples we visited in our travels across Southeast Asia.
Blowing kisses in a Burmese tea house
Tea consumption in Myanmar is a way of life, in particular in Yangon, which has some of the best tea houses in the country. They're so important, they've become integral to the city's culture. People gather here for an afternoon brew to chat, catch up on gossip and watch the world go by around them.
We stopped at several tea houses when exploring the city, which we highly recommend doing. It's a real slice of local life, and the Indian snacks you can order to compliment your tea and chit chat are delicious!
Oh and remember – to get the waiter's attention, blow him lots of kisses…!
Seriously, this is a thing here: if you want to get the bill, you blow kisses in the air and the waiter will come to you. Whilst a culture shock to us at first, it's completely common practice in Myanmar and not seen as impolite or rude in anyway.
The tea houses of Yangon are one of the main foodie highlights of the city you have to try, and are also considered one of the best restaurant experiences in Yangon.
Feel like the Dowager Countess of Grantham
The centre of Yangon is full of beautiful old colonial buildings to explore, which date back to the days of the British Empire of the 1800s. In fact, the city has the largest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia with around 200, all within a square mile of each other.
We recommend devoting half a day to exploring and admiring the many Downtown Abbey-like buildings here. We used the Lonely Planet's self guided walk to do this ourselves. Notable buildings to look out for include The Strand Hotel, the Government House, the Yangon General Post Office and the City Hall.
Delicious street food everywhere
Yangon has excellent street food. There are hawker stalls, open air markets and road side eateries everywhere. As foodies, we spent a lot of time here, trying out freshly made samosa salads, mohinga, grilled meat skewers, freshly squeezed sugar cane juices and more.
There are also many fruit sellers, which is the perfect way to learn more about the varied fruits you can find in Southeast Asia you wouldn't normally eat back home – check out rambutan, star fruit, jackfruit, dragon fruit and of course the almighty stinky durian (you have to try it at least once!)
Find out more about in our article about the best foods to try in Myanmar.
Barbecue and cocktails in Chinatown
One of our favourite things to do in Yangon was to walk around Chinatown, soaking up the fun buzzy atmosphere. This is one of the busiest and vibrant areas of the city, especially in the evening when street food vendors take over the pavements.
Chinatown is also called Tayoke Tan and dates back to when the British expanded the city in the 1850s. It lies between Shwedaungtan Street on the west and Shwedagon Pagoda Road on the east. The northern and southern borders are the Maha Bandoola Road and the Strand Road.
We loved 19th Street because it famous for having some of the best Chinese restaurants specialising in barbecued meats, and also has some fun trendy bars, like the B2O Cafe & Bistro Bar, which is famous for its cocktails.
For more, check out our video from our travels in Myanmar as we explored Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan:
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