I realized that a general travel guide would not enable me to say everything I want to share regarding traveling within Myanmar. So I thought of creating this supplement to provide some helpful tips that are unique to some specific areas in the country. In our 7-day trip, we were able to visit 3 of the top 4 tourist destinations in Myanmar. These are Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. Together with Inle Lake (which we were not able to visit) they are collectively known as the “Big 4” of Burmese tourism.
The following 3 blogs in this series are area-specific guides that contain information on getting in, getting around and getting out, as well as information on lodgings, tourist spots and other helpful tips. Let’s start with Yangon.
Where to stay
Yangon is Myanmar’s foremost entry point and it has a modern international airport. When selecting a place to stay in Yangon, it would be helpful to choose a hotel or guesthouse that provides free pick-up services, because it might be costly to take a taxi from the airport to the city, which are quite far apart.
We chose the backpacker-famous Motherland Inn 2 precisely for the above reason. Their contact information can be found by clicking here. In addition to the free airport pickup, they also offer a free “Continental” breakfast buffet – high carbs, eggs, fruit, coffee/tea and juice, but no meat – starting on the day of your arrival (unlike other lodging houses where the free breakfast is only given after the first night.)
Caveat 1: Motherland Inn 2 is located in the far side of downtown, where road conditions are not too good and the surroundings, though safe, are generally unappealing.
Caveat 2: The website information on rates needs to be updated, so make sure to ask for the current rates before making reservations.
What to see
There are 3 major tourist spots that Yangon is known for and these are: (1) the Botataung Paya; (2) the Sule Paya; and (3) the Shwedagon Pagoda. These three are all historically significant ancient temples that have attracted lots of pilgrims and worshipers for hundreds of years, but not all are in the same condition. The first two are unremarkable at best, and probably only the third is deserving of its reputation. (It is a national icon.) Their entrance fees for foreigners are as follows:
Botataung Paya: USD 3
Sule Paya: USD 2
Shwedagon Pagoda: USD 5 (Might have already changed to USD 8 by the time of this blog.)
Other places you can visit are the British-era Colonial Buildings, the Mahabandoola Park and the Bogyoke Aung San Market. The first two are centrally located in downtown Yangon, (the same general area as the Sule Paya), while the Bogyoke Aung San Market is found also in downtown, along a road that has the same name. While it is located in what looks like a commercial district, it is however closed during Mondays for some reason. Mahabandoola Park is a particularly refreshing patch of green open space that is a good respite from the aging, decaying buildings that Yangon has a lot of. You can also visit the Chaukhtatgyi Paya which is northwest of the Shwedagon Pagoda if you have enough time. It houses an enormous reclining Buddha.
Note: The Shwedagon Pagoda is best viewed at early evening when the dark blue sky contrasts dramatically with the brightly lit golden stupas that compose the complex.
Note 2: The words pagoda, paya and pahto are somewhat used interchangeably in Myanmar but they mean roughly the same thing, i.e. temples.
It is rare for a tourist to stay longer than 2 days in Yangon. The Burmese themselves aren’t too fond of Yangon and would encourage tourists to visit other parts of the country instead.
Where to eat
For circumstances too complicated to explain, we ended up dining in just 1 restaurant on 2 different days in Yangon. This is the Feel Restaurant, which is located at Pyihtaungsu Avenue (somewhat near the Shwedagon Pagoda). They have a wide selection of dishes to choose from and a customer orders by pointing to what he/she wants to eat at the “viewing area” where they are displayed. These will then be brought to the customer’s table along with some free side dishes and dessert. In true Myanmar fashion, they serve unlimited rice. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay MMK 4,000 to MMK 5,500 for a very filling meal.
Feel has a sister restaurant called Taste just right beside it. We never got to visit it but from what we gathered, it’s more of a bar-type food establishment. Both Feel and Taste are famous restaurants and most taxi drivers know where they are located.
We intended to dine at Seven One One, an Indian Restaurant along Anawrahta Road, but never had the chance. If you’re staying at Motherland Inn 2, you might want to give it a try as it’s just a few steps away. For sure, there are lots of other restaurants one can visit in Yangon. If one has enough time, there’s a list of restaurants in Yangon’s entry in Wikitravel that looks interesting.
I would normally recommend exploring a foreign city on foot with a useful map. But as it became apparent, we vastly underestimated the sheer scale of distances seen in the Yangon map we had. After attempting to walk from Motherland to Botataung, then to Sule, we realized we had enough of walking and eagerly just took taxis after that.
Within Yangon, taxis are the main mode of transportation for tourists (for the simple reason that the public buses are too congested for comfort.) Taxi fares are not metered but rather negotiated at the beginning. Short distances within the city typically cost MMK 2,000 to MMK 2,500, while longer distances range from MMK 3,500 to MMK 4,000. It’s also possible to have a guided tour for an entire day. One can make arrangements with a willing taxi driver for this purpose. You can also inquire with your lodging house if they have local contacts that offer this service.
Note 1: There are rarely any air-conditioned taxis in Myanmar, so don’t expect to find one easily, and count yourself very lucky if you are able to hail one. The vast majority are old and dilapidated.
Note 2: Myanmar vehicles drive on the right side of the road just like here in the Philippines but, oddly enough, most of their vehicles are right-hand drive. This might be disorienting for basically everyone who isn’t Burmese.
Most tourists exit Yangon to get to Bagan. But basically, you can reach any point in Myanmar from Yangon via an air-con bus. Since it would be impractical to go to the faraway bus terminal to buy tickets, virtually all hotels and guesthouses in Yangon can reserve tickets for you as long as you inform them at least 24 hours prior to your intended departure date.
In our case, the staff of Motherland reserved seats for us with the Ye Thu Aung bus line. Their Yangon-Bagan ticket cost MMK 15,000 each. Their buses are new, clean, and we didn’t experience any delay at all. Included are some freebies like bottled water, toothbrush, toothpaste and wet tissue in each seat. They also have a good reputation among the bus lines plying the Yangon-Bagan route. We left Yangon on time at around 5:30 pm and arrived at Bagan at 3:30 am, just as scheduled.
Note: Ye Thu Aung’s stopover for dinner is normally at around 8:00 pm and only lasts 30 minutes long. The stopover restaurants can be packed with many other passengers. If you are not too sure about eating fast enough within that time period, then it’s better to just bring your own food and eat in the bus.
NEXT: Bagan travel guide.