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Description: Open source travel guide to Yangon, featuring up-to-date information on attractions, hotels, restaurants, nightlife, travel tips and more. Free and reliable advice written by Wikitravellers from around the globe.
The city is an amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences, and is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying and beyond appreciation, remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British colonial capital. New high-rise buildings were constructed from the 1990s (and some are scarily unoccupied and left as ghost skyscrapers and hotels as seen along Upper Pansodan Rd) as the government began to allow private investment (while former national government buildings such as the massive Secretariat Building, as the capital is shifted to Naypyidaw, have been left to rot). However, Yangon continues to be a city of the past, as seen by its longyi -wearing, betel nut chewing and spitting pedestrians, their friendly or even familial attitude towards strangers, its street vendors and its pungent smells.
Yangon's former name is not the only victim of symbolic changes in this country. For one, the country's name has been changed. To add up to this identity crisis going on in this country, this city has been stripped of its capital status, the capital relocated to a secluded new site called Naypyidaw built from scratch. The flag too has been changed, recently redesigned in 2010, replacing the old one which replaced another one slightly more than a decade earlier.
One noticeable observation is seen along Yangon's southern streets perpendicular to the river. Diagonal parking is set off against the traffic direction in these one-way streets.
Most time-zones countries set their time in one-hour increments from UTC. Myanmar is UTC +6:30, which is similar to India's UTC +5:30.
Maybe because Myanmar had traumatic encounters with foreigners as far back as the Mongol invasion when it sacked the city of Bagan, the colonization by the British and invasion by the Japanese as well as the brutal cruelties inflicted by them - it developed its idiosyncrasy and to the point isolationist behaviour towards foreigners, but it is not as totally xenophobic as North Korea. As Buddhists, Myanmar people are kind and welcoming to any stranger as any guest. As long as that guest-stranger does not impose something to his lifestyle, it's OK. Somehow, they don't want to fully and sweepingly adapt to any foreign idea. That said, the history of Myanmar has its own empires, including the complete destruction of Ayuthaya which crushed the Siamese and from which they did not recover for a hundred years.
Their bit of contempt was manifested in condoning the government to practice impositions on foreigners such as a tight grip on the internet as well as the hotel TV - indispensable gadgets by tourists to the outside world in their everyday lives here and in their hometown; requiring foreigners to register and log their particulars every step of the way from every hotel down to the museum they've been, and in every mode of transport they use. Not to mention that any local who billeted a foreigner in his house overnight was long perceived by the community as an indiscretion and subject to imprisonment. Attitudes are changing rapidly, however, as a result of the government's increasing openness to foreign trade and movements towards democracy. As of November, 2013 the situation is significantly changed with far less regulation over foreign tourists and an exponential growth in technology like smartphones and tablets, Internet access and international television. Visitors in February 2014 have noticed no restrictions on internet and no need to log trip details.
Yangon is the most exotic of all Southeast Asian cities. A walk down a typical street, the sights show noticeable commercial and traffic signs written mostly in local alphabet, not to mention the appearance of wandering monks in burgundy robes and the gilded pagodas as this is expected in this Buddhist country, and down to the locals keeping up their appearances. Here, everyone seemed to be comfortable with walking barefoot - indoors or outdoors; with faces applied with sun protection cream from the extracts of a tree branch called Thanaka; smiles reddened by bloody red juice from chewing betel nut; as well as being used to images of men wearing a sarong-like garment, the longyi.
The Longyi - in Myanmar men wear either trousers or a Longyi, a tubular piece of cloth similar to a sarong.
The Ubiquitous Help-Yourselves Water Station - This image is noticeable in hot Laos and Cambodia but they pervade more here in devout Buddhist Myanmar installed at every five or so home or establishment.
In 1988, Yangon was the site of peaceful pro-democracy protests, in which thousands, including monks and students were gunned down. In 1989, the city was renamed to its original Burmese name, Yangon, by the military junta. In 2006, the capital was moved to Naypyidaw but today Yangon remains the business, cultural and intellectual capital of modern Burma. In 2007, Yangon again became the centre for demonstrations against the military government.
The climate is monsoonal, with three distinct seasons: a rainy season from June to October, a cooler and drier "winter" from November to February, and a hot dry season from March to May. The winter season from November to January is markedly less humid and cooler than the remaining months, and hence sees the greatest number of visitors. Nevertheless, major festivals occur throughout the year, notably Thingyan (the water festival, equivalent to the Thai festival of Songkran), in April. (Festivals are keyed to the lunar cycle, specifically to the full-moon days of each lunar month, and therefore fall on different days each year of the Western, solar-based, calendar. However, first day of Thingyan festival occurred in 12 April because it is based on stellar cycle and number of festival days are different by years according to traditional astrological calculation).
Yangon International Airport (Mingladon) (IATA. RGN ) is located approximately 30 minutes north of the city centre. Just undergone from a major upgrade and renovation of existing facilities, it contains both international and domestic terminals. There is no accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the airport. The easiest way to get to and from the airport to the city is by taxi (official rate of USD8 or MYK8000 from airport to city) but it is also possible to use a public bus if you eager to walk 20min. In fact no direct bus will take you to the airport but the closest buses pass a couple of kilometres away. If you want to take the bus: exit the international terminal and turn right, walking along the road for about 15 minutes, you'll hit Pyay Rd, from where you can take public bus 51 which will take you one block east of Sule Paya right downtown (MYK300). Thus on the way to the airport the cheapest option would be to take that bus, get off at the Airport Road, and take a cab for the remaining kilometre (MYK1000-2000). The name of the bus stop is "Mile 10" on Pyay Rd and the line 51 is written in burmese characters.
At the international terminal there are direct flights to RGN from Bangkok. Chiang Mai ,Dhaka. Hong Kong. Kuala Lumpur. Singapore. Gaya. Kolkata. Kunming. Guangzhou. Nanning. Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh City. Seoul. Doha. Taipei. and Tokyo. International Airlines servicing RGN include Nok Air (To Bangkok), Thai Airways, Bangkok Air . Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia . Dragonair, Korean Airlines, Silk Air, Vietnam Airlines, Air India, and All Nippon Airways. Coffee, tea and very basic snacks (packaged biscuits and single serving cakes) are available inside the security area. A new international terminal opened in the summer of 2007. The international terminal has free Wi-Fi at a decent speed ( but does cut out from time to time )
A new domestic terminal is 100m further along the road than the international terminal. Facilities are minimal (espresso coffee, tea, local beer, limited hot food, and basic packaged snacks are available) but, as a consequence, check-in is simple and quick and bags arrive quickly from arriving aircraft. Ancient buses ferry passengers to their aircraft. Taxis are available at the taxi counter situated before exiting arrival area. Fare is paid to the driver and is fixed, from MYK5,000-15,000 depending on the distance. Pre-paid taxis are available (USD10 or MYK8000 to downtown as of April 2013), pay at the taxi counter inside the baggage claim area or just before exit of terminal. Some people say it is easier and cheaper to exit the terminal and negotiate directly with the Taxi Czar who controls the taxi trade at Mingladon but most of taxi drivers are usually inside the terminal though. Try not to allow porters to carry your luggage, as they will demand specified tips and hassle you. This is especially a problem in the domestic terminal as there is no customs to pass through with your bags. There is also no belt for luggages. Staff will put your bag on the floor. If a porter has not attached himself to a hapless tourist, he may take random bags off the luggage cart, hoping someone will follow him. On the other hand you can experience the full service treatment, not going to counters or luggage concerns for a few thousand kyats.
There are several train lines that connect Yangon to the rest of Burma. Several trains daily connect Yangon to Mandalay via Bago with connections to Bagan and the Inle Lake area at Thazi. Because of a bizarre timetable change in 2006 (apparently to ensure that trains arrive at a reasonable hour at Pyinmana. the station for the new capital), most trains leave early in the morning (02:00-03:00) and arrive late at night. Yangon-Mandalay fares for a sleeper are USD35-50, for a seat are USD30-40 on First Class and USD10-15 on Second Class. There is also a direct train line between Yangon and Bagan (USD35/13) but trains take almost 24 hours for a bumpy journey and the change at Thazi is a better bet.
The oldest line in Burma is the Yangon-Pyay line and it shows its age. But, the nine hour journey (USD15/6) along the Irrawaddy basin is well worth it. The Mawlamyine line is equally bumpy and the 9 hours express (06:15, USD17/11) and 11 hours slow train (07:00, USD14/5) is slightly longer than by road. (Note on this trip in upper class you get your own seat and it's slightly less crowded, but there isn't much else different between the classes) Trains also run to Pathein in the Irrawaddy delta but are very slow and the bus is a better alternative.
Note that when booking trains from Yangon, you have two options. For trains departing *the same day only*, enter the main entrance of the station (north across the railway bridge from the corner of Bogyoke Aung San road and Sule Pagoda Road, then east on Bo Min Yaung road). For trains leaving at any other point in the future, do not cross the railway bridge at Bogyoke and Sule, but walk 20 metres east on Bogyoke and seek the nondescript second ticket office opposite a prominent cinema.
A hundred and fifty years ago, boats were the way to get to places from Yangon and IWT (Inland Water Transport) passenger ferries still ply the major rivers. Yangon to Mandalay takes 5 days with a change at Pyay (3 days) and the return trip (downriver) takes three days. A luxury ferry (the Delta Queen) recalls the colonial era on the Yangon-Pathein route (about 20 hours, US$170/person). The IWT ferry to Pathein takes 15 hours for the over-night trip (US$35/10). On okt.2015 the IWT ferry to Pathein was suspended.
Most buses (for destinations as Bagan, Kalaw, Mandalay, Taunggyi for Inle Lake, Bago, Hpa-An, Mwlamyiane, Pyay, Lashio) depart from the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal (also known as Highway Bus Station, MYK5000 taxi from airport, MYK2000 for a motortaxi to airport), a bit out of the city and beyond the airport, on the Pyay Road. There is heavy competition on the Mandalay route with air conditioned fares ranging from 10,500 (Mandalar Minn, E lite) to MYK18,000 for a 3 seat across VIP bus (E lite). E lite has an all new fleet with several departures early morning and evening. The new highway has dramatically reduced travel times north with the Mandalay trip taking just over 8 hours with a good bus. Buses to Bagan are at 15,000 kyat for the 9 hour journey no bargaining seems to be possible, buses depart around 9am and from 6pm to 9pm. There are ticket offices representing all companies outside stadium opposite the main train station. Many offer ferry services to the Highway Bus Station in a pickup for 1000 kyat a taxi will cost around 6000 kyat.
Buses for the Irrawaddy delta region (Pathein, Chaungtha Beach, Ngwe Saung Beach),depart from the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal across the Bayintnaung Bridge.Buses to Kyaiktiyo (Kinpun) leave in the mornings (4.5 hours, 6000 kyat). Buses for Mawlamyine (6 hours via the new bridge) leave in the mornings and late nights (8000 kyat). Buses to Sittwe and Thandwe (Ngapali Beach ) are also available but the road is bad and the journey long.
Going to the city from the Highway Bus Station is possible (Bus #43) at 300 kyat. The bus passes in front of the entrance to the Station; just ask the helpful locals. On the way to the terminal, ask your hotel to write it down in burmese script and catch the bus from the city hall across Sule Paya right downtown for just 200 kyat! also better than the horrible transfer timings (see shuttle ticket below) that sometimes make you wait at Aung Minglar for 3 hours. bus 43 takes about 1 hour to get there, but give yourself some time with check in and potential delays, leaving 2 hours from sule paya before your bus leaves.
To going to Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal from Sule Paya get the bus 124 (check the barma numbers before) from Anawratha Rd. 2 hour to get there. The faster way is, take the inner circle train to Insain station, then bus 333 from Baho Rd.
Thanks to the new bridge and upgraded road, buses to Pathein take less than 4 hours and the journey is comfortable. Add 45 minutes by taxi to get to the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal though. 6000 kyats. Big bus companies serving the main tourist destinations (Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal) have sales offices across Yangon train station (can also buy "shuttle ticket" to Bus Terminal for 1000 Kyat here).
The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi and Yangon is the city where Toyota cars come to live out the rest of their days. Genuine taxis have red license plates, carry a laminated green slip and a large-print taxi driver identification card on the dashboard of the car but all taxis are reliable.
In recent months (as of October 2013) traffic has gotten considerably worse in the city; taxis are ubiquitous and during peak times (8-10am; 5-7pm) taxis may be more expensive because of the traffic. Taxis are always available outside the bigger hotels, on Sule Pagoda Road outside Cafe Aroma, and, during the day, outside the Southern entrance to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Away from the city centre, for example near the budget hotels in Pazundaung Township, you may have to wait a bit before a taxi shows up and it may be easier to ask your hotel to call one for you. If you're travelling in the wee hours (for example, to catch a 4AM train or flight), arrange one with your hotel the previous evening. You will always, at all hours, find a taxi outside the Central Hotel on Bogyoke Aung San Road.
It is customary to negotiate prices prior to the trip but, other than tacking on an informal tourist surcharge, you'll very rarely be cheated. Most taxis charge a minimum fare of 1500 kyats, increasing in increments of 500 kyats the further the destination. You should be able to get anywhere around the main Yangon area (downtown, Kandawgyi, major hotels) for 2-3000 kyats. 'Tourist' destinations such as the Shwedagon Pagoda will usually require harder bargaining to get a decent fare. Approximate fares as of October 2013 are: airport to/from city centre 8000 kyats or US$10 (official rate); city centre to Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal 6000 kyats; city centre to Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal 4000 kyats. Expect to pay more, when it rains and late at nights. Taxis will often try to charge more for aircon or for more passengers; try to discourage this practice.
Most taxis will be only too happy to negotiate an hourly (5000-6000 kyats) or daily (US$5-6) or longer rate. It all depends if you hire an aircon taxi or not. Taxis will take you anywhere and you can, in theory, hail a taxi and negotiate a trip to Pathein or Bago or other destinations at a much lower price than through a travel agency. See the Get out section below for sample fares.
While Yangon's circular train is not particularly useful for getting to tourist sights, it is a 'sight' by itself. As of May 2014, foreigner tickets cost 200 kyat. Buy your ticket in a little office on platform seven in Central Railway Station or at any circular train station. Train leaves from platform 4 or 7 several times a day. You choose clockwise or anti clockwise. Probably best just to take the next train to depart. They seem to expect you to be looking for the circular train so just those words will have people pointing you in the right direction. Prepare for three hours on a hard wooden seat. You are the entertainment from some passengers: and they are yours. Watch cherry sellers step on and off a moving train with a bowl of cherries on the head. This is not a train where you lean out the window (space) to shop. The shop pops in and out of your carriage before moving on to the next. Take a seat by the door (space): the windows are low so you get a better view near the door. When buying the ticket, you may be asked to present your passport so they can write your name and passport number on the ticket. This happened (Feb 2014) at Kanbe Railway Station. It was not made clear why the information needed to be put on the ticket.
Trishaws are scarce in the city centre (and not permitted before 10AM) but more readily available in the surrounding townships. Negotiate fares in advance but 500 kyats(60 cents) for a short ten minute ride, while higher than what locals would pay, is appropriate.
Riding the bus is absolutely safe. The only drawback is the lack of understanding. Most of the locals can't speak English and the signs are written in Burmese text. As you would expect, Yangon has an extensive and chaotically crowded bus system. Most are privately run and will not move until enough people are falling off the sides of the bus. Buses are cheap, but high yearly inflation is chipping that cheapness away. Most routes originate and terminate on the eastern side of the Sule Pagoda so head there if looking for a bus to the airport or to the Shwedagon Pagoda. If you don’t know how to read the Burmese numbers, announce your destination before boarding. The driver/assistants seem intrigued that foreigners are taking local busses and are willing to help. Take bus 51 for the airport, they will drop you off a little past the entrance gate. You can return from the northern bus station using bus 43. This is a great option as the bus station is one of the first stops and you will have no problem getting a seat (200K).
Distances in the tourist areas are not large and, provided you take it easy, you can walk almost anywhere. The pavements can be very crowded though, particularly on Anwaratha Road, so expect to be constantly bumped into and to have to negotiate your way across vendors selling everything from hot samosas and curry to screwdrivers and TV remote controls to jeans. Also be aware that a lot of the footpaths and sidewalks have large holes, mismatched pavers, or missing/unstable covers over drains. Walking on the footpath after dark can be treacherous, so either carry a torch or, like most locals, walk on the edge of the roadway which normally in a (marginally) better state of repair. There are not many pedestrian crossings with traffic lights and even there drivers sometimes go on red. Streets are poorly lit so for crossing better join a bunch of locals.
Foreigners on tourist visas are not permitted to self-drive in Myanmar. Motorbikes are not permitted within Yangon (although they are permitted elsewhere in the country). Bicycles are available for hire (2,000 Kyat a day) and are a good way to get around.
The Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the single most important religious site in all of Myanmar. The pagoda stands on the top of Singuttara Hill, and, according to legend, that spot has been sacred since the beginning of time, just before our present world was created. At that time, five lotus buds popped up on the hill, each bud signifying the five Buddhas who would appear in the world and guide it to Nirvana. Gautama, the Buddha as we know him, is the fourth of these five (Maitreya, the fifth, will announce the end of the world with his appearance) and, according to the legend, two brothers brought eight hairs of the Buddha to be enshrined in this sacred location, inaugurating the Shwedagon Pagoda. Whatever the truth of the legend, verifiable history records a pagoda at the site since the 6th Century AD. Built and rebuilt, gilded and re-gilded, almost nothing in the pagoda is likely to be old, except whatever is hidden deep inside the stupa. An earthquake (18th century) destroyed the upper half of the pagoda spire and many buildings. Burmese Buddhists are inherently practical people who constantly build and rebuild pagodas for merit.
Today, the pagoda is an interesting place for tourists. For one, it is lit up Las Vegas style with multicoloured neon light on a galaxy of shapes and textures. It is also a jungle of spires with superior Myanmar woodcarving embellishment and somewhat playfully but incongruously mixed and matched with modern building materials such as pre-fab G.I. roofing. Unlike other religious sites, it has at once a spiritual as well as a secular feel about it. Children run up and down singing songs, monks sit on the steps chatting, young men cast amorous glances at women, women stand around gossiping, all while others are deep in prayer in front of whatever shrine has significance for them. The Shwedagon captures the essence of both the informal nature as well as the strong ties that signify the relationship that the Burmese have with their Buddhism. There is no other pagoda like it in Burma and there is no other place like the Shwedagon Pagoda in the world.
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