Our fifth day in Myanmar we spent wandering around Yangon. Keep in mind as you read this that at this point in the week we were all exhausted and had seen so many temples, pagodas, and Buddhas that we were kind of done. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself? Read on for a frank opinion on why you can skip Yangon.
Where We Stayed
We booked, what we thought was, a hotel in a pretty central part of Yangon. Much to our surprise it was more of a hostel in a walk up on the third floor of an old building. When we opened the door to our rooms we were shocked and saddened to learn that we would be sharing a bathroom with everyone else on the floor. The rooms were clean, though; and the bathroom was in good shape. It just was not what we were expecting, at all. Breakfast of eggs, toast, and bananas is served each morning and is included with the room. Most of the staff is friendly and spoke some English. My recommendation is if you are backpacker and need or want a cheap place to stay, this is for you. If you are a family who needs more space, this is not the place for you.
What We Saw
A short walk from our hostel was a temple. They charged us for entrance fee. A lady behind a counter asked for our slippers so we gave them to her while we walked around. it was dirty and the people there seemed a bit shady; we watched our backs while we were here and did not stick around a long time. When we went to get our slippers they asked for a donation. In English a donation is optional, but we needed to pay to get our slippers back. Take note, just carry your slippers with you to avoid yet another fee. Outside of the temple young novice monks were outside asking us for money and that’s when I just about lost it. Jake said, “they took all our money at the temple, go ask them.” Like I said, we were tired and they probably caught us in a less than friendly mood. We left with a yucky feeling and did not care to see any more temples after that experience. We wandered the streets of Yangon and I was not impressed with it. It was incredibly dirty, the beetle nut spit covered the ground, trash is everywhere, it’s crowded, and had a weird vibe.
We walked through a market we were told would be interesting to walk through. It was all right, nothing we hadn’t seen before. There was one shop that really caught our eye and we spent some time wandering through it. It was more of an art gallery with the most amazing depictions of Myanmar. If we were headed home to our own house, I would have considered purchasing one of these art pieces. They were just incredible to look at. Even the children were enchanted with them.
We continued walking near the city center just exploring buildings and areas near our hostel. We returned in the afternoon for a break before heading back to the street for dinner. It was nice to take a bit of a rest and get some energy back in us. We ate at restaurants that looked clean and yet did not cost a lot of money. We didn’t stay out too late not knowing if it was safe to be out after dark with children. I will say we never felt threatened or unsafe, we just wanted to keep things that way.
As we walked around Yangon we quickly realized we could have spent just a day here before flying out of the country and been just fine with that. Averi woke up sick the next morning so I stayed in the room with her while the rest of the clan went to explore some more of Yangon. They went to a very large reclining Buddha that looked magnificent in the pictures. A temple across the street was easy to walk to and worth the trip if you are there. The group then walked to the large park in the city and headed to The Palace. We all thought this was another temple site, but upon finding it, found out it is actually a restaurant. What they did find was the best ice cream place and actually went there twice during the day it was so good. If you go to the park (there is a fee to get in) the ice cream place is a little wooden kiosk inside the park gate. It is incredibly inexpensive as well.
The clan that went out to explore walked and walked and walked so far that day. The park has a playground, restaurants, and a lake with a wooden bridge around it (careful it is in bad shape!). It is an oasis in the middle of the city.
That evening, Averi was feeling better, we met up with the rest of the group at Shwedegon Pagoda. Averi and I got a taxi and the others walked there from the park. It is a really long walk, and the two younger kids were absolute champions to make it that far. There is a tourist fee to get into the Shwedegon and I recommend taking your slippers with you in your backpack. Shwedegon is absolutely massive and has so much to see. If you want a tour guide, there is a man inside that will gladly give you tours. If you refuse he will put you down and tell you, “you don’t know anything.” He was super friendly until we declined his services. He pitched his tour to me and to Bryndee, Jake’s sister. We were both treated the same. I’m sure he is a great tour guide, but you’ll get a laugh if you refuse. We wandered around the grounds for three hours waiting for the sun to set. The Shwedegon is gorgeous as the sun sets and in the dark it is spectacular. You will want to see the other areas of the pagoda in the day time, so dusk would be a good time to go. You will see many more buddhas, monks, and interesting Buddha relics here.
We ventured to China Town in Yangon and it was not my most favorite China Town. By now you know I love China Town. It was disappointing, but if you like street food, there is a lot to choose from. We are not that brave because we questioned the cleanliness of the food. After wandering around for a long time trying to find a place to eat we stumbled up a Patisserie and had bread for dinner. Not ideal, but it was literally the only thing that sounded the least bit appetizing.
There was one more location in Yangon that we wanted to check out before leaving on an airplane that afternoon. We headed toward the pier where a couple more temples were located, but we did not go in them. We walked to the river where we saw so much of local life, it was thrilling. There were locals riding on the boats, and boats with bags of rice? that men were hauling off the boat to a truck waiting to be loaded. It was so interesting to watch their system. Some were hauling two bags on their backs, others one. They carried one or two sticks in their hand depending on how many sacks they carried and dropped them in one spot outside of the truck. I guess that is how they count the number of bags they loaded. We were in awe of their hard work and in awe of the old way of counting the bags. I took video of it because it was just so fascinating.
We also checked out a hotel on an old victorian ship that sat in the harbor. It looked exactly like an old cruise ship inside. A smaller and slightly less fancy version than the Titanic, but probably from around the same era. It was decorated for Christmas, if you can believe that, which seemed so out of place in the country even though there are some Christian churches in Yangon. It was around $300USD/night to stay there. I’m sure it would be a unique experience if that is what you are looking for.
Final Thoughts on Yangon
Here is my final take on Yangon: see the Shwedegon Pagoda, if it’s a high priority for you, as you are passing through and be done with it. Mandalay and Bagan are worth the stops and if you can squeeze in Inle Lake we hear that would be well worth the effort. We wanted so bad to fit that in, but it would not work with our schedule. If Shwedegon Pagoda is not a high priority, Yangon can easily be skipped and don’t think twice about it.
Myanmar Itinerary For Future
Fly into Mandalay and spend a day and half there, same as we did. Take the bus to Inle Lake and spend a day or two there. Take another bus to Bagan and spend two days there. From there you could bus down to Yangon to see Shwedegan, if you really want to see if and fly out later that day. Or you can take the shorter bus ride back to Mandalay and fly out from there. You could fly from Bagan to either Yangon or Mandalay, but I hear the airlines there are not very safe. That being said, I have not heard of anyone having a horrid time on the airplane. Either the plane crashed or everyone takes buses, I guess. That would be our recommendation. Let us know if you have questions about planning your itinerary. We’d be happy to help!
Did you miss the other article in this series? You can read about Mandalay here or Bagan here.