5 years ago, I got bit by the fascination bug for Myanmar/Burma. Then in 2017, saw a Bollywood movie ‘Rangoon’. The captivation escalated when I saw pictures of monks in red against white Pagodas in a photography magazine which adorned my room’s walls since then. It was a promise to myself to visit this region someday.
And here I was. Travelling and amazed, like a local, on one of its oldest rail route circuits.
Yangon was the starting of our journey in Myanmar. The city is a complicated yet planned mess.
It was easy to navigate in Downtown Yangon because of its grid city planning. But each block had a different life to it.
FIRST GLIMPSES OF THE CITY OF YANGON
After showing our e-visa and passport, we were allowed to pass through the immigration without any hassles.
From Yangon International Airport, we took a taxi to drop us to our Hostel located on the 9th street.
Our first instance of haggling started from where when we asked the taxi driver to charge 3 USD per person instead of 5 USD per person. And that’s also one common thing while you are backpacking in Asia.
Our taxi driver was seated on the right and started driving on the right-hand side. I did read about Myanmar being the only nation worldwide for hosting this particular style of driving but seeing this in real was another level of madness, it felt like chaos.
Yangon or Rangoon became our first destination since we found cheap round flight tickets from Kolkata in India. Comparatively, Yangon is a cheaper city of arrival than Mandalay. After 2006, it was replaced by Naypyidaw as the capital city of Myanmar.
TOP PLACES TO GO IN YANGON
Yangon has got a lot of cool things to do.
Circular Rail Route, Yangon
After taking a taxi for a mere 1.5 from our hostel to Yangon central railway station, we were running around asking locals which train to board and from where to buy the tickets. After communicating in some broken Burmese and English, we bought tickets from the platform and hurriedly ran towards the train.
We were stoked to catch the first train of the day which was mostly started filling up after we passed 2 stations.
Google Maps Yangon helped us in identifying the circular rail toute even better.
The maps showed how the railroute is circular but also was facing a major construction block that time, making our trip linear instead of circular.
The circular rail route was packed with surprises as well. Tasty and cheap food made us hungry even when we weren’t.
Locals couldn’t make out the meaning of the presence of a few tourists in a cheap train. I guess that was mainly because Myanmar, in general, isn’t a very touristy country or at least wasn’t for the past few years. This was the major reason for my attraction.
The entire train journey takes about three and a half hours, and costs 200 kyats (0.13 USD). Under 0.25 USD, we got to travel around the city of Yangon.
After this, you can go to Botahtaung Harbour for sunset by taking a cab from Yangon Central Railway.
The journey lasts for about 2 hours.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (Shwedagon Zedi Daw)
The 2500-yr old gilded pagoda is said to have enshrined hair relics of four Buddha incarnations of which one was given to two merchant brothers when they visited India and met Gautam Buddha.
The top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; a 72-carat diamond being the largest of them all.
I met my Burmese friend Monn here who was kind enough to enlighten me about local costume and rituals that people follow at the Pagodas.
Monn made me pour 25 cups of water over a Buddha statue which was at the Saturday corner. People do this with the statues corresponding to their day of births.
- Entry ticket: 6 USD
- Visit it during the sunset time
- Dress in clothes which cover your arms and legs properly.
The place is perfect to spot a sunset over a little walk and some sightseeing. It is located nearby Shwedagon pagoda.
Sri Kali Amman Temple
There is a very interesting area in downtown Yangon by the name of Little India where Indian families who have been living in Myanmar for a very long time, reside. Shri Kali Temple in that area. When Burma was still under colonial rule, Tamil migrants built the temple in 1871.
We visited on our last day Myanmar because souvenir shopping is most suitable on the last day of your trip. The market has everything from Myanmar under one roof. From gem shops to printed t-shirt, from Bagan umbrellas to craft décor pieces, then the market is worth a visit.
Theingyi and Thiri Mingalar Market are some less explored options. Here you will find a lot of local medicines, local cosmetic stuff etc apart from fruits and vegetables.
- Opening hours: 10:30 am – 5:00 pm (closed on Monday)
At the 25th street, book sellers occupy this street. this is only a few feet away from Bogyoke market. Many source’s mention it as the symbol of resilience against the military to protect people’s freedom of speech.
Kheng Hock Keong Temple, Chinatown
The Chinese temple is situated just in the centre of the Chinatown in downtown Yangon.
Village of Twante
A short ferry ride across the Yangon River is the village of Kyaikthale in Twante Township, which is famous for its pottery, cotton weaving and historic Mon pagodas. The village tuns on the model of community-based tourism which now has various interesting projects under its umbrella, a 6-acre Mingalar Bio Garden being one which got established after the devastating cyclone Nargis.
- Take a ferry across Yangon river from Bohtataung jetty point till Dala, from where you will to take a taxi till Twante crossing the Twante canal bridge.
Alternatively, you can a ferry from Mawtin jetty too which is in downtown Yangon.
Take a cycle on rent or book a trishaw to commute in Twante. Twante is a stopover for the jetties from this point that ultimately goes towards Myaungmya in Ayeyarwady region.
A 15th century kiln site is located near Kan Gyi Gon village has been preserved till date. Do visit that.
Most pottery workshops are located on Yarza Thingyun Street in the Oe-bo west quarter.
The site of this ancient pagoda is known to be the residing place for a powerful nat (spirit) who was asked to reveal the place to build Shwedagon Pagoda. This legend makes this pagoda even older than 2500 years.
- Entry charge is 3 USD.
Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar
The resting place of the Last Mughal Indian Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar II was rediscovered in 1991. The tomb is just south of Shwedagon Pagoda. The place is an important piece of history since the king fled from India after the end of Mughal rule and came to Burma (Myanmar)
Bago Day Tour
Bago being the earlier capital of Mon kingdom is historically rich. From the hilltop of Hinthagone Pagoda, panoramic views of the ancient city can be seen. Kanbawzathadi Palace is worth a visit for its architectural details and a museum in its interiors. Shwemawdaw Pagoda is even taller than Shwedagon and is iconic to the city. Buddha Mya Tha Lyaung is a massive reclining Buddha statue which should be visited.
There is also a Burmese cigar factory run by a family, you can visit that too.
- Archaeological zone pass for this region costs about 7 USD apart from 2 USD camera pass.
- Bago is 40-km outside of Yangon.
- Trains to Bago can be taken from Yangon central railway station.
Golden Rock -Kyaiktiyo Pagoda
The granite boulder covered with gold foil and enshrining Buddha’s hair relic seems to defy gravity. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Myanmar.
- A bus ride of 3 hours from Bago takes you to Kyaiktiyo where Golden Rock -Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is situated. Alternatively, you can take a train from Yangon till Kyaikto, it is a journey of 3 hours. A taxi to cover 14-km till Kinpun would be available from Kyaiktiyo.
- Kinpun (base village of Pagoda) is 5 hours away from Yangon via a bus ride and 6 hours away via train.
- Take the first bus from Aung Mingalar bus station. It would cost you 7.20 USD. Either take a bus that goes towards Kyaiktiyo or Kinpun.
- There is an entry fee of 7 USD at the Pagoda.
- It remains inaccessible in the rainy season.
- It looks the most beautiful during sunset.
- It opens from 9 am. One should start climbing early for this since the climb is 13-km long. Shared trucks (2.50 USD) drop you till the point from where everyone has to climb the remaining 4-km. Sedan chairs, a facility where potters carry you till the top, is also available.
WHERE TO STAY IN YANGON?
We experienced three hostels in Yangon city.
Little Yangon Hostel
This was our first hostel when we landed in Yangon. Locking 3 bunk beds, we made an advance booking from hostel world when we were in Kolkata. The hostel has got capsule style bunk beds and clean shared washrooms.
Hostel 9, Yangon
This was our second hostel after our whole Myanmar trip and when Yangon became our city of departure too. This disappointed us in many ways. There were no freebies like tea or coffee. We were asked to change our beds even after we were allotted. The rooms are tiny with minimum ventilation.
Tribe Theory, Yangon
This became our third hostel after we were disappointed by Hostel 9. It has a workspace vibe which feels perfect for a digital nomad. The bunk bed area is well planned and feels spacious since the beds are open from two sides. This has to be the best hostel of Yangon.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN YANGON?
Our non-vegetarian friend tried fried prawns in the first day and didn’t like them. Our major learning was not to eat sea-food unless it is being freshly prepared. For vegetarians, there are several delicious meal options like chick-pea rice, rice paper noodles with curry, avocado salad, green tomato salad, tea leaf salad, fried rice, tossed vegetables in curry and shan noodles.
We tried several local shops as well keeping in mind the number of people gathered in that shop. A good number of people indicated good quality food. This trick worked in most places. To satiate our sweet buds we used to go to Shwe Pu Zun, a huge bakery in Yangon.
Me, Monn-Our local friend from Yangon and Prakriti at one of the local eateries.
We also tried food at Yangon’s night market which became our go-to place for most night meals.
Vendors in the circular train kept tempting us with some delicious looking local food. We gave tofu-noodles a try and were instantly sold.
One morning, we had breakfast at the Deja Brew café which majorly had non-veg options apart form a good avocado salad and coffee.
China Town 19th street market proved to be a disappointment in many ways. It was our last day in Yangon and we wanted some peaceful place to eat but the market had open-air setup and was too crowded and humid at the same time. Me and Prakriti being vegetarians had lost hopes of being served some good vegetarian meals.
STREETS OF YANGON
As we kept on exploring the interiors of Yangon, we realised the impact of colonial-era. The city resembled to a lot of other Indian cities. Our exploration started once we kept our bags at the hostel and ventured out on the streets in search of good deals for currency exchange.
Oil being fried at most street food joints, vendors selling some really fresh-looking fruits, people returning from offices and roads full of cars and buses, devoid of motorcycles since they are banned inside the city, I instantly felt at home in Yangon. It was the only day where we had a bad experience with the street food since we didn’t know what to choose as an outsider. After this day, Burmese food became eternal love.
Mornings were quiet and peaceful in Yangon. Small pockets were layered with signs of life when vendors used to start setting their tiny table-chair set for costumers. This might look funny at first glance, huge people relishing their bowls of noodles on dwarf-sized furniture but its pretty common on the streets of Myanmar.
The only time we found something shady happening with us was when an unknown man started following us during night time. Though we successfully dodged him but stayed watchful after this during evening hours. Both working and the non-working section of the society could be seen in their traditional attires of a wrapped cloth of lower of the body and smeared thanaka on the faces.
I was also fascinated by the mean carrying the products in the bamboo baskets dangling from a stick. A modern city dwells deep in instances from history and native living when it still follows its age-old methods, traditions etc.
YANGON TO BAGAN
After Yangon, Bagan was our next obvious choice to travel to via an overnight VIP Volvo bus. We booked the bus at our hostel and travelled to Aung Mingalar Bus station in a taxi.
The intra-city bus services in Myanmar are a gift to tourists. the comfortable seats with extra facilities make overnight or day journeys convenient.
YANGON TO KOLKATA
It was our last day in Yangon and we were familiar with inter-city bus services. We also had a city map with us which indicated various bus numbers on all the streets. We identified an airport shuttle service which costed us only 0.31 USD from St. John’s bus stop till the airport.