Things To Do
Top Sights: A good first thing to do is to be a tourist. As such, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a must-see. Though you will inevitably see a lot of tourists here, the pagoda is the most important Buddhist site in Myanmar. For this reason you will also find hundreds of Burmese worshippers deep in prayer in front of the many shrines, novice monks dressed in vibrant robes and gold crowns, walking processions and women with brooms ceremoniously sweeping the pagoda floor. The pagoda is especially beautiful at sundown, as the mixture of natural and artificial lighting emphasizes the stupa’s golden luster. Another popular tourist attraction is the buffet restaurant on the Karaweik Royal Barge. There is a nice park nearby, across Kandawgyi Lake. These are best enjoyed during the day, as nightfall obscures the view.
Shopping: Other activities include shopping, golf, and clubbing. Everyone, locals and foreigners alike, goes to the Bogyoke market for an array of authentic Burmese goods. On the ground and first floors of the colonial-style building vendors are packed together selling everything from old cameras and watches from the British military to traditional Burmese “longyi,” to the famous Burmese jade and rubies, fastened onto prayer beads, necklaces and decorative figurines. Local artists also use the market as a gallery space to show and sell their paintings and handicrafts. Theingyi Zei is Yangon’s largest market, where all the locals go to purchase housewares, textiles, and traditional Burmese herbs and medicines. Other shops, including Pomelo for contemporary crafts and Shwe War Thein Handicrafts Shop for antiques and beautifully crafted lacquerware are worth visiting as well.
Art Galleries: If you are interested in the art of Yangon, The Lokanat Gallery of Art should be your first port of call. The gallery opened its doors in 1971, making it the oldest extant art gallery in the city, and is dedicated to promoting the country’s artists, both classical and contemporary. Because of its prestige, the gallery has managed to collect work from some of the most influential artists of Myanmar’s past, such as U Hla Shein, U Kin Maung (Bank), U Ohn Lwin, U San Win and U San Shane. The Pansodan Art Gallery also has a variety of contemporary and antique Burmese art on exhibition and for sale.
Expat Oases: The few high-end hotels in Yangon are also a respite for foreigners in search of fine dining, a spa treatment, or simply a nice place for a drink with friends. These include The Strand Hotel, which is also considered a city landmark, in the Kyauktada township; the Sule Shangri-La Yangon in the Pabedan Township; and the Belmond Governor’s Residence in Dagon.
Excursions and Daytrips: For daytrips and weekends away from Yangon your best bet is to fly or take a bus. Mandalay, the city famous for having the world’s oldest teak bridge and also a cultural capital of Myanmar, lies about an hour and half from Yangon by plane, while the ancient city of Bagan, with over 2200 temples scattered across its flat, arid landscape, is about an hour and twenty minutes away, also by plane. Buses frequently depart from the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal as well. It is best to splurge on seats on the new air-conditioned buses, which only cost the equivalent of about $10-20 USD. As anyone who has ridden on one of the old buses will tell tell you, the winding, bumpy Burmese roads are nearly intolerable without the small comfort of air conditioning to keep you sane on your seven hour journey.