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.

Circular Railway

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.

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A good place to start the Circular Railway circuit is Yangon Central train station. This was also within walking distance from our hotel. The distinctive colonial architecture with Burmese designed roofs is hard to miss.
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The Circular Railway departs from Platform 7. If you are not sure, ask the friendly station staff and they will point you to it. We had to cross a couple of railway tracks to get to Platform 7.
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As a testament to the popularity of the train with tourists, there is an English sign showing all the stops. All other signs in the station are in Burmese.
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We bought our tickets from this counter on Platform 7. Don’t worry about boarding the wrong train. The counter staff will let you know once the correct train arrives.
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For 200 Kyats (SGD 0.20) the ticket is valid for the whole day. You can sit in the train for as long as you desire, and hop on and off at the various stops using the same ticket. 20 cents for a 3 hr train ride to see Yangon, it can’t get any cheaper than this.
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After waiting for around half an hour, the train finally came. It’s free sitting so you have to rush for empty seats (if any). Trains that leave from Platform 7 go the full circle, but if you take trains from other stations, they may not go full circle. So you would have to get off and wait for the next train.
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The carriage was quite clean and proper, but ventilation is only by natural air and some ceiling fans. Vendors come aboard at every stop to sell their wares.
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Waiting patiently for the train to move off, it’s time for some candid shots.
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After a few stops we decided to get off and take a taxi back to the city central as we didn’t have time to go the full circuit. Our hotel concierge told us to get off at the vegetable market stop but we couldn’t find it on the map, so another time I guess.
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Once the train has passed, it’s time to walk everywhere including the railway tracks.
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Locals on the train with their faces covered with Thanaka. This is a cosmetic paste made from ground tree bark and is used as a sun screen mainly by the women and children.

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.

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The main entrance of Bogyoke Aung San Market facing the main road, and across from a new shopping mall, Junction City.
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The first floor is mainly dominated by jewelry shops, art galleries, Burmese handicrafts and antiques. On the second floor it’s mainly textiles.
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A vendor carrying her wares on her head through the narrow passage between shops. Using their heads to balance and carry stuff is quite common here.

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.

Shwedagon Pagoda

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.

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We took a taxi from our hotel to Shwedagon Pagoda. There are 4 entrances to the pagoda based on the cardinal directions of the compass. This is the southern entrance and is guarded by 2 huge lion statues.
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We had to take off our shoes (and socks) at the entrance. Only bare feet are allowed into the grounds of the pagoda. There is the usual gauntlet of souvenir shops but the vendors didn’t really bother us.
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The pagoda is built on a small hill and stairs lead up to it. Here is an intriguing crocodile designed banister for the stairs that lead up to the pagoda.
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The compound surrounding the pagoda is huge and it’s hard to capture the size in photos. We decided to sit down with the worshippers on the marble floor and admire the sight.
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Shwedagon is not only the largest pagoda in Myanmar, it’s also probably the world’s most expensive. The pagoda is covered with thousands of gold plates (estimated gold weight 27 metric tons) and the top of the stupa is encrusted with more than 7,000 precious stones, the largest of which is a huge 72 carat diamond that reflects the Sun’s rays. There is a small building in the compound which has photos and replicas of the jewels used.
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There are numerous shrines scattered around the Pagoda’s compound and some of them contain interesting scenes like this golden hall of Buddha statues.

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.

Yangon Streets

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.

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A crowded side street just beside Junction City. Here you have the traditional food hawkers just beside a large shopping mall with international chain restaurants inside. This scene is repeated elsewhere, where old and new mix as the country emerges from military rule and economic sanctions into the world community.
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A street hawker going her way with her goods balanced on her head. She carries with her, her whole stall.
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The Burmese can set up a market anywhere, just like on this pedestrian bridge that crosses over the railway tracks.
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Betel nut chewing is a popular pass time for a lot of the locals. I passed by this small stall selling betel nut and cigarettes. You have to watch where you walk otherwise you will end up stepping on the blood red spit stains.

Getting There

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.

Getting Around

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.

2 thoughts on “Yangon in a Day

    1. The train was interesting although my wife didn’t enjoy it 😁
      We didn’t spend much time in the market as we had to get back to our hotel to check out and go to the airport. We really squeezed a lot into our trip 😲

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