Myanmar’s largest city is a fascinating bundle of contradictions. A former colonial capital with the crumbling architecture to match, it is a town at the forefront of the country’s rapid emergence, developing at lightning pace. Welcoming teashops, old–style markets and lush, tree-lined streets ensure it retains plenty of charm.
Yangon has an efficient and good value taxi service. Vehicles tend to be ageing white Toyotas with signs on the roof. Drivers are happy to travel short or long distances. The Yangon Circle Line train takes three hours to travel its 50km route around the city’s outlying districts - one for those keen to take their time.
Yangon’s most visually arresting and impressive sight is unquestionably Shwedagon Paya. This towering golden temple is among Burmese Buddhism’s holiest sites, with relics from three Buddhas housed here. Things get pretty crowded at weekends with locals making offerings; trace the circular path around the central zedi’s glistening bulk before exploring the smaller shrines dotting its perimeter.
Once you’ve left the temple complex, stroll over to People’s Park. Not only does this well-kept green space have amazing views of Shwedagon, it’s also home to some delightful ponds and flower gardens.
The vast Sule Paya might share Shwedagon’s golden shimmer, but this 2,000-year-old city centre temple is a very different beast. It sits in the middle of Yangon’s biggest traffic junction and is a hive of activity well into the small hours. Fortune tellers and trinket sellers can be found in the small shops at its base.
The excellent Bogyoke Aung San Market is Yangon’s best destination for picking up souvenirs. Locals flock to this old-style covered market at the heart of the community to buy groceries and exchange gossip in the string of teashops and restaurants in its main hall.
Reclining Buddhas are found all over South East Asia. But the 65m one at Chaukhtatgyi is often forgotten, with visitors to Myanmar heading to the more famous statue in nearby Bagan. Take a taxi out here and you’ll be one of the few foreign tourists marvelling at the sheer scale of the thing.
For a sedate take on Yangon, Kandawgyi Lake has a lovely boardwalk and superb views of Shwedagon Paya, especially as the sun goes down. The imposing Secretariat building, built by the British as their HQ in Myanmar, remains closed. But be sure to stroll along its fences to see one of Asia’s most amazing buildings up close.
The ethnic diversity of Myanmar, coupled with Yangon’s booming population, makes it the best place in the country for culinary exploration. Teashops are the cornerstone of Burmese life and Lucky 7 is among the best. This small chain serves steaming cups of fresh tea, as well as gorgeous spring rolls and samosas. Its main outlet is set beneath lush trees on a busy backstreet.
Cherry Mann serves excellent Muslim food, with a focus on parathas and curries. Food from Shan State, in northern Myanmar, is best tried at 999 Shan Noodle House; the sticky noodles are to die for, as are the fruit shakes.