What is the capital of Myanmar? Nay Pyi Taw, you are completely right. I thought it was Yangoon, also called Rangoon, the capital of independent Myanmar (Burma) from 1948 to 2006. It was the capital of the country from 1885 when the Brits moved the seat of government from Mandalay to Yangon. Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) remains the cultural and commercial heart of Myanmar, and most visitors like me begin and end their journey to the country there. Yangon is a huge city with 5,2 million inhabitants, by far the biggest in Myanmar, and it deserves at least a few days of exploring.
To me, Yangon, at least the central part of it, seemed more polished and artificial than most cities of Southeast Asia, possibly because motorcycles and bicycles are not allowed within the city of Yangon. Also, it seems it struggles to find its new position after the capital has been moved to Naypyidaw. Anyway, there are many things to see and do in this big and vibrant city. If you need just one reason to visit Yangon, it is Shwedagon pagoda. Here is my list.
1 Take your time to explore Shwedagon pagoda
Shwedagon pagoda sits atop a hill and is 99 meters high. It can be seen from most places of Yangon day and night as the golden roof illuminates the city.According to some, the pagoda is 2,600 years old, making Shwedagon the oldest pagoda in the world. However, there are no documents proving that, and its age is still a matter of debate. The Shwedagon Pagoda consists of hundreds of colorful temples, stupas, and statues reflecting its long history. The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, and a massive emerald that is positioned on the top to reflect the last rays of the setting sun. For Buddha followers, making a pilgrimage to the Shwedagon is similar to how Muslims feel about visiting the Kaaba at Mecca at least once in their lifetime. There are four entrances with stairs that lead to Singuttara Hill where the temple is built.Visitors are required to remove their shoes upon entering the Shwedagon.After the glorious pagoda itself, the second-most important component of Shwedagon is eight Planetary Posts situated at the eight corners of the pagoda’s base. Each Post corresponds to one of the eight directions on the compass, one of the eight days of the week as Wednesday is divided in two according to Burmese calendar, and a mythological animal. Devotees perform rituals at the post of the day of their birth, including prayer followed by pouring water over each of the three statues, and sometimes also making offerings.Shwedagon Pagoda remains unrivaled as a temple, a meeting place and a symbol of national identity.
2 Set birds free
When visiting Yangon and other places in Myanmar, I noticed cages with small birds on sale, especially near temples. They are on sale at Shwedagon Temple too. Too small to eat. What was the purpose? The answer is simple. People release them, for luck. It is a Buddhist practice. They get merit for saving a life. They make a wish when releasing birds: ‘If I free you once, may you free me 10 times’. Or: “Today I give you your life, someday you will give me my life.” So you can do it too.
After visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda go explore central Yangon.
3 See the former High Court building
The High Court building was completed in 1911. It is built from red brick and features a big clock tower. It hosted the highest appeals court in Myanmar until it was moved to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005. There are plans to turn it into a hotel. A fence now surrounds it. The plan is a US$50 million five-star hotel with more than 240 rooms. Its working name is The State House Hotel.
4 Pay tribute to the Independence Monument in Maha Bandula Park
The park was established at the end of the 19th century. The Independence Monument, an obelisk in commemoration of Burmese independence from the British in 1948, was installed at the center of the park, replacing the statue of Queen Victoria.
5 Visit Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda is located next to Maha Bandula Park. The pagoda is said to be over 2000 years old. It is said to enshrine a hair of the Buddha. It is surrounded by small shops and other nonreligious services. Most foreign visitors pass by Sule Pagoda unnoticed, so make a difference.
6 Admire Yangon City Hall building
Yangon City Hall is the seat of the city's administrative body, Yangon City Development Committee. The building is considered a fine example of Burmese architecture, featuring traditionally tiered roofs called pyatthat, and was designed by Burmese architect U Tin. The construction of the building was finished in the late 30s of the 20th century.
7 Learn more about the history of Myanmar in the National Museum
The museum has a rich collection of art and material culture of the indigenous people of Myanmar, royal regalia, musical instruments, decorative arts, and two art galleries. The artefacts are displayed in 14 galleries in a five-storey building. Visiting galleries you can learn about Myanmar calligraphy, see Royal Regalia; acquire information about natural history, Myanmar traditional folk art, and costumes among the other things.
8 See the evening performance at Karaweik Hall
North of the city centre is Royal Lake (Kandawgyi), surrounded by a wooded park; nearby are the city’s zoological and botanical gardens and the Karaweik palace. It was designed by renowned architect U Ngwe Hlaing, in the style of a royal barge, and built in the 70s of the 20th century. The cultural show with dinner held there every evening is an opportunity to learn more about Burmese culture including music, dances and puppetry show. The dances portray various historical times in Myanmar history, dating back to ancient times.It’s what you can do in one day I think. If you have more time
9 Visit Dala township on the other side of the river
Dala is a pleasant distraction from the ever-changing scenes of Yangon and a short visit of two to three hours is all that it takes to experience it. Take a ferry from Pansodan Ferry Terminal across the river. You can see local markets and take in a much slower pace of life. Public ferries leave every 30 minutes. As the ferries were made with Japanese investment, if you are Japanese you can travel free of charge.You can take a walk around Dala and enjoy the laid-back ambiance of the place. You will notice quite a big difference from the polished Yangon and feel the more real life of locals. Don’t be surprised to see wondering cows, chickens, and goats crossing your path now and then. To see more, you will need some kind of transportation and there is a wide choice of that.Use your bargaining skills and think what the solution could be if you agreed to a two-hour tour on a motorbike and in the end, it turned out to be just a bit more than one hour. Traveling on a motorbike will allow you to visit the village market and the wholesale fish market. You will also see Shwe Sayan Pagoda, an important landmark of Dala.
Where to stay
Our stay at the superior room at 3-star Summit Park View Hotel as well as transfers from the airport and to a bus station for our next destination was organised by Asian Tour Travel Company. The hotel is located in walking distance from the main attraction of Yangon Shwedagon Pagoda and we could see Pagoda from our room. We could also walk to the National Museum in ten minutes. Our room was spacious, well designed with complimentary Wi-Fi. Room was fitted with a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, hairdryer, and kettle. I very much appreciated bathrobes provided.Hotel’s Business Centre staff arranged my ticket for Karaweik Palace show and I bought a local SIM card there. Book your stay at Summit Park View Hotel at booking.com
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What did you think? Have you been to Yangon? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveler, passionate photographer, and a retired career woman from Latvia, traveling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner planning and executing her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her also on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Bloglovin.