Between the slow pace, strongly held traditions and colonial architecture left to crumble, Yangon is a treasure trove for visitors. Many still wear the traditional dress, and women still protect their skin with a tree bark paste. It’s become easier for foreigners to visit but it’s still nowhere near as touristed as neighboring Thailand.
Yangon, and Myanmar as a whole, is pretty special. The city contains several beautiful sites, like the 2,000-year-old Sule gold pagoda, which is near many guesthouses, or the 2,600-year-old Schwedagon pagoda where you can climb the stairs to find your birthday and sign, get close to the sparkly diamonds, or watch the dome light up after dark.
Let me contradict myself and say that Yangon is also really hectic. Counteract the serenity of the pagodas with a much more modern treasure: racing to catch a local bus that slows down but never stops. These buses are a great way to see the city and to test your sense of direction (or to see just how friendly the locals are). These buses are possibly more rickety than Bangkok’s, and really fun. If you’re lucky enough to end up in Chinatown or Little India, these neighborhoods are also worth a look. For another shaky experience, try the circle line train, which takes three hours for a full circuit.
For material treasures, don’t miss the Bogyoke Aung San market, where you can get locally made products and super cheap jade, which is always on my list to buy. Speaking of buying things, your US dollars should be crisp and new, as propietors may not accept old-looking bills. Don’t change your money at the airport; instead, you can research the best prices on the black market! Don’t expect change for anything bigger than a tenner, and carry both dollars and kyat.
For one last treasure, have dinner and a drink at the exquisite Strand Hotel, where George Orwell used to hang out, and then return to the present over on 19th Street and drink with the locals.
This is just a small sampling of things to do in such a rich city; anything is possible!
What’s your favorite hidden treasure in Yangon?