This is the first in a series of blog posts on my recent trip to Myanmar (previously called Burma) in December of 2017. As we spent more time in other areas of Myanmar compared to Yangon, this post will summarize what you can do if you have only 1 day in Yangon. Yangon, also formerly known as Rangoon was the capital of Myanmar until 2006 when the military government moved the capital to Naypyidaw in central Myanmar. However, Yangon is still the largest city and remains as the financial and business capital of the country. Most international flights land at Yangon International Airport and for most visitors, this is the entry point into Myanmar. Whereas Myanmar was a pariah state years ago, it’s now Boomtown as investors rush headlong to be the first movers in a new economic landscape. Everywhere we went, we could see new cars and buildings under construction. Downtown Yangon wouldn’t look any different from Bangkok or Ho Chi Min City now with it’s gridlock during peak hours.
This is a commuter train that connects satellite towns and suburban areas to central Yangon. Think of it as something like Singapore’s Circle Line. So what’s the big deal about a train line? For starters, it was built by the British in colonial times and serves mainly the lower income people. It is a good way to see the daily lives of the local populace away from the usual tourist hotspots. Be warned though that riding the Circular Railway is also becoming a popular tourist activity.
I would recommend that you take the Circular Railway in the morning when it’s less hot. Although it was the cool season, inside the carriage can be stuffy, and I can’t imagine how it’s like in the hot season. The train travels really slowly (I estimate 20-30km/h) and takes almost 3 hours to complete the 45.9km circuit. You don’t have to complete the whole trip and you can get off at any stations which are near points of interest. You can then come back to that station again to take the next train or take a taxi to your next destination. If you plan to go the full 3 hrs then bring your own water and take note that there are no toilets onboard.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
If you are the shopping kind, then this place is just right for you. It’s the major shopping market for local products. Think of it as something like Chatuchak in Bangkok.
Bogyoke market closes early at 5.30pm so I suggest that you visit this place after your Circular Railway ride in the morning. There are several restaurants and food courts here serving local food where you can have lunch. But if you are squeamish about cleanliness then hop over to the new Junction City shopping mall across the road and eat at any of the international chain restaurants there.
If you don’t have much time and can only do one thing in Yangon, then visit this imposing pagoda which has come to symbolized Yangon, just as how the Eiffel Tower has symbolized Paris. At more than 100m tall, Shwedagon Pagoda can be seen from most of Yangon. It’s believed that the pagoda was built 2,600 years and makes it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. Buddhist relics are also kept in the stupa including reputably 8 strands of hair from Buddha himself.
The pagoda is open from 4am to 10pm everyday, but the best time to visit is probably in the evening. Most people tell me that the stone floors are piping hot in the afternoon after being baked in the Sun and to walk over them barefoot is torturous. Evening is cooler and you also get to see the pagoda all lighted up at night. There is an entrance fee of 10,000 Kyats (SGD10) that you have to pay to enter.
We didn’t spend much time exploring Yangon on foot as we had only a limited amount of time. Here are some street scenes which I captured.
You can fly to Yangon with direct flights from Singapore. For ourselves, we flew with Silkair and booking 3 months in advance got us return air tickets for SGD280 each. As of December 2016, Singaporeans don’t need a visa to enter Myanmar which makes it even easier to get there. Yangon airport has also been upgraded with a new International terminal which makes waiting for flights even more comfortable. We were able to make use of our Priority Pass to enter their Business Class lounge which is comparable to business lounges in other larger airports.
As for getting into the city from the airport, there is a sort of makeshift taxi stand outside the arrival hall. Tell the person your destination in town and they will inform you of the price and if you agree, they will call a taxi for you. As of present, the taxi fare from the airport to Yangon central is 10,000 Kyats (SGD10) fixed fare and takes around 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic conditions. Although the taxis are supposed to be running on meters, I never encountered a taxi that used it.
I didn’t spend much time in Yangon and it certainly has left me wanting to see more of it. My upcoming blog posts will be about the other places in Myanmar that we visited so subscribe to my blog for updates.