In Yangon, the temples, of course are a main draw, but there is plenty more to see and do! We visited a lake, rode the train, had massages, and walked through Chinatown. It was interesting to compare Yangon to Mandalay too.
Chinatown is a bustling place, full of people and life. There was an interesting day-time market full of fruit and vegetable vendors, people carrying large loads, women selling strings of jasmine, men chomping betel nut, and lots more local color. There’s a night market as well along with many beer stations on 19 street. From what I hear, Yangon also has a vibrant night life, but we didn’t partake in that fun on this short trip.
During our visit, Chinatown was also humming with Chinese New Year excitement- lots of lanterns, door hangings, candies, and traditional silk clothes for sale. Xin nian kuai le! Happy Year of the Monkey!
We stayed at a great hotel in Chinatown called the Mr. Lee Hotel. It was centrally located, cheap, nicely furnished AND included breakfast. It has many Vietnamese decorations and is next to a good Vietnamese restaurant called Cyclo.
Yangon also has an interesting collection of old colonial buildings. Sule Pagoda is considered the old center of Yangon and is surrounded by interesting architecture. We looked at the City Hall, Immanuel Baptist Church and other buildings on the corner near Maha Bandoola Gardens Park. Then we had breakfast at a hole in the wall shop nearby. Traditional Mothingar.
The Yangon River runs through Yangon and dinner boat cruises are available on it. Boats leave from the pier next to Botahtaung Temple.
We also visited the Bogyoke Aung San Market, also sometimes called the Scott Market. It has been open since 1926. It has over 2000 shops in a few different buildings. They have all of the typical Myanmar souvenirs: longyis, wood carvings, lacquer ware, velvet slippers, shan bags, jade and other gems, T shirts, paintings, etc.
We took a short trip on the circular train line. It’s a 3-hour loop around the city and the ticket price is under a dollar. We wanted to ride the air conditioned train, but it didn’t come as frequently as the internet claimed—only at 3:30. We were there at 1:30 as another train was about to leave, so we hopped on. It was an interesting slice of life, with vendors selling snacks from baskets on their heads, men with betel-red stained teeth, a lady nursing, women in traditional longyis with hair down to their thighs, cute kids smeared with thannaka (a pale yellow paint made from tree bark), and many more interesting characters. However it was hot, and the wall beside the train was my main view unless I slouched. After a short ride, we were done. If we didn’t live in Mandalay and see these sorts of sights and people as often, I’m sure we would have been more enchanted by the scene.
We got off of the train near Inya Lake, which used to be called Lake Victoria back when the British used it as a water reservoir back in 1882. We stopped in for a snack and some strawberry juice. Lots of young couples and groups were there, relaxing and enjoying the cool “Winter weather.” It was in the 90’s.
To finish off our busy weekend, we got a massage back in China town. We love Myanmar massages- so inexpensive, and so relaxing! We had a one-hour foot massage for 8,000 kyats ($6.50).
I live in Mandalay so for me, it was interesting to compare the two biggest cities in Myanmar. Yangon is definitely a bigger city but the cultural vibe is similar. Many of the local restaurants and shops are the same chains that we have in Mandalay. There was a much greater variety of international cuisine options in Yangon though. Motorbikes aren’t allowed in Yangon so the streets seem a little calmer. The people dress a little more conservatively in Mandalay, I think. I also think people in Mandalay are a little more naïve about tourism. They don’t over-charge as often and still stare wide-eyed and wave to foreigners. In Yangon, there’s definitely a bigger expat community, including many families with children. Also, I think there are more modern buildings in Yangon, but also interesting colonial buildings. Mandalay doesn’t have colonialism as a prominent part of its history. Both cities have a river running through them. Yangon has more parks. Mandalay seems to have more agriculture nearby, as a smaller city would. Yangon also has more attractive cultural sights to visit, though I find some of Mandalay’s few sights may be more unique. There are also more international flights from Yangon. Yangon is also better for walking. They had more sidewalks than we do in Mandalay. Yangon on the whole I guess is more urban and modern.
I had a great time in Yangon and I’d recommend a visit. We easily filled our weekend with lots of fun activities and sights. Also check out my pagodas post!