Wondering what to do in Yangon, Myanmar and if it’s worth visiting? Beautifully chaotic, ethnically diverse, loud, vibrant and seemingly preserved in time, the former Burmese capital city of Yangon deserves far more attention than the “fly-in, fly-out” treatment most travelers give it. We get it, major cities rarely make bucket lists like UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But where destinations like Bagan and Inle Lake deliver in offering travelers a glimpse of ancient cultures and treasured pieces of history, Yangon is the best place in the country to witness modern life in Myanmar at an incredible turning point in its history, before the outside world officially floods in and alters it forever.

 

What to Do in Yangon, Myanmar (The Ultimate Guide to Experiencing the City Like a Local) --- The Borderless Project

 

If you’re going to Myanmar, make sure to allow at least a few days to soak in the unique city of Yangon (we recommend three days). Prepare to taste things you never have before, see ancient and sacred sights, and be showered in kindness by people who are so grateful to have you there. Here is what to do in Yangon to experience everything that makes it so fascinating, so you can see why it is one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. Happy travels!

 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

 

What to Do in Yangon

 

1. Eat Amazing Street Food

Didn’t know that Yangon has some of the best food in Southeast Asia? Yea, nobody told us either. We arrived, took one look (and a few bites) around, and realized that there are countless culinary gems around every corner in Yangon just waiting to be discovered. A mix of influences from neighboring countries such as India, China and Thailand are strong, as well as many dishes that you could only find in Myanmar, making eating one of the best (and most exciting) things to do in Yangon.

One thing’s for sure: the best food is on the street. Make sure to try “myanmar pizza” crepes, a bowl of mohinga fish curry soup, tea leaf salad, and Indian toeshay, all easy to find on the streets downtown.

 

Mohinga Fish Curry (#1 What to Do in Yangon, Myanmar: Eat Amazing Food) --- The Borderless Project

 

2. Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda

Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda and Yangon’s most iconic structure, you can’t really leave without a visit the to golden Shwedagon Pagoda. The stupa is said to be built upon several Buddha relics, including eight strands of Buddha’s hair, and is covered in real gold plates and almost 10,000 diamonds and rubies – and that’s just the main structure. Walk through temple after temple around the main stupa and try not to get lost amongst the all gold everything. The most popular time to visit is sunset, but it’s also really nice to show up in late afternoon, explore without the crowds, then get a glimpse of the start of sunset before escaping the hordes. Make sure to cover your legs and shoulders (men and women). Admission is 8,00 kyat.

 

Shwedagon Pagoda (What to Do in Yangon, Myanmar) --- The Borderless Project

 

3. Hang Out in a Tea House

Tea houses to Yangon are cafes to Paris: this is where all of the life happens. A remnant of the British colonization, you’ll find at least one tea house on every block in Yangon, filled to the brim with locals snacking, smoking, talking, and laughing over pots of green tea for hours. Since foreigners are still a new thing in Yangon, go sit in a tea house alone and it won’t be long before you have new friends joining you, curious to ask about your life.

Our favorite Yangon tea house is a small spot on Mahabandoola Street (with your back to Sule Pagoda, walk down the street towards Chinatown, it’s the first tea house on the left side). It’s also a great place to sample delicious pastries and Myanmar meeshay noodles (all for about 50 cents or less). The tea sitting on the table is free, the pastries sitting out can be eaten and you’ll be charged later, and dishes like soup, rice or noodles need to be ordered.

 

What to Do in Yangon, Myanmar: Visit a Teahouse --- The Borderless Project)

 

4. Ride the Circular Train (Like a local, not a tourist)

Riding the circular train in Yangon was one of our favorite experiences. Part of a commuter line, this train completes a full loop around the city over the course of about 3 hours, giving riders the chance to watch the city trickle by outside your window.

Riding the circular train is usually at the top of lists of “Best Things to Do in Yangon”, but we found a new way to experience it that makes it actually deserve a top spot. When you purchase your ticket for 200 kyat, you’re getting a tourist ticket and will be sent to the tourist car. It’s new, more private and…full of other tourists. So you’ll see the city outside, but that doesn’t make it too worth 3 hours for most travelers. But, if you make the happy mistake of sitting in the local transit car like we did, you can be guaranteed hours of meeting people coming and going from work, being showered in the kind of overwhelming hospitality that can only be found in Myanmar, and moments that make you realize why everyone needs to visit Myanmar right now. For the quickest way to be taken into Yangon local life, hop in the local car.

Trust us. Buy your tourist ticket, then go sit in the local car. You’ll know it because there are only two benches on each side, and the middle of the floor is usually full of cargo, plants, groceries, or food to sell. And, there won’t be any other tourists. Don’t be shy to strike up conversation, and consider bringing cookies or candies to share when people inevitably begin offering you food.

 

Riding the local car in Yangon's Circular Train (#3, What to Do in Yangon, Myanmar) --- The Borderless Project

 

5. Cheap Beer and Barbecue on 19th Street at Night

Yangon has a reputation for a lack of nightlife, so we were pleasantly surprised when we walked onto 19th Street in Chinatown our first evening and realized that this was where people go in downtown Yangon after dark. The street is lined with one barbecue restaurant after another, each serving every kind of meat, seafood and vegetable skewer that you could want alongside cheaper-than-water draft beer. The tables are all outside the restaurants on the street, perfect for people watching. Things start to shut down between 10 and 11pm, so it’s certainly still an early evening, but it does give you something fun (and delicious and cheap) to do in Yangon at night, considering many surrounding streets have long shuttered up by the time this alley is in full swing.

The area with the restaurants is 19th Street between Mahabandoola and Anawrahta. Our favorite restaurant on 19th Street is Shwe Mingalabar. Make sure to order the pork rib skewers (1,700 kyat each) and draft beers (700 kyat).

 

19th Street Yangon, Myanmar (What to Do at Night in Yangon) --- The Borderless Project

 

6. Dig for Paper Treasure on Yangon’s “Book Street”

Many people say that visiting Yangon these days is a bit like traveling back in time and, though we wish we could be more original, it’s a great way to describe it. You’ll feel it when you sit in a tea house, and you’ll feel it in a million little corners of the city where Wifi and technology cease to exist and simplicity reigns. Pansodan Street, known for selling cheap books on the sidewalk, is our favorite spot for forgetting what year it is. Here you’ll find used books on every subject, from Burmese cookbooks to pocket dictionaries to Aung San Suu Kyi’s biography to even photocopies of the latest Lonely Planet Myanmar, all often for less than a dollar. The well know book street has spread out towards Aung San Market due to some construction on Pansodan, but you can still find plenty of vendors here and on surrounding streets. Allow a lazy afternoon to dig through and you’ll certainly leave with some great finds.

 

7. Get Lost in Bogyoke Aung San Market

Another popular thing to see in Yangon, the Bogyoke Aung San Market is a covered downtown bazaar that is usually one of the first stops on city tours. Here you can haggle your way through precious gems, paintings, clothing, and every type of souvenir imaginable for hours on end (depending on your patience level). If you’re like me and love sending postcards, this is one of the few spots where you can buy and send them in Yangon (the post office is upstairs!). Come early for the most activity; shops start to shutter up in the early afternoon.

 

8. Learn About Buddhism & Meditation at a Monastery

Someone told us that Yangon has over 1,000 Buddhist monasteries. We haven’t been able to find a number online since to verify that, but as you walk through the former capital of the devout Buddhist country, you’ll see enough monasteries to believe it. For those interested in learning more, step inside and see what the life of a Buddhist monk is actually like. Many travelers like to visit Kalaywa Monastery during meal time, but you can usually stop by any monastery you pass and will be welcomed in (just make sure not to interrupt any religious activities and come properly dressed- shoulders and knees covered). If you take the time to chat with a monk, you’ll find many very eager to share their culture and lifestyle. Some even invite travelers to stay a night so that they can learn more. For those wanting to learn about meditation, you can find several weeklong courses in some of the bigger monasteries as well.

 

Nuns in Yangon, Myanmar - What to do in Yangon, Myanmar

 

9. Sightsee Around Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda may be an important sight to see in itself, but we were a bit templed out after seeing the pagoda of all pagodas at Shwedagon. Sule Pagoda is considered the center of Yangon, though, and thus has so much radiating out from it in every direction that is well worth exploring before or after seeing the pagoda. Sule sits in the middle of a traffic circle, and just by walking around it you can get a feel for the varied religious landscape that exists in Yangon, as well as see some of the city’s most important government buildings. To one side, you’ll see the Emmanuel Baptist Church (one of the oldest in Yangon), and to another is the Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque (built in typical Islamic style with detailed minarets). Moving around the circle, you’ll also notice the rust-colored former Supreme Court of Myanmar, the beautiful City Hall (a fusion of British and Burmese architecture), and the lush Mahabandoola Park and Independence Monument.

 

Locals Hanging Out in Front of City Hall (Yangon, Myanmar) --- The Borderless Project

 

10. Happily Wander through Yangon’s Liveliest Streets

As we mentioned above, Sule Pagoda forms the center of the city and is surrounded by some of the best things to see in Yangon. But, truth be told, our absolute favorite memories of Yangon were the in-between moments of visiting popular sights, where we could glimpse the daily life of locals. Yangon has a beautiful, vibrant chaos to it, and certain areas really pulled us into it, leaving wandering for hours, fascinated.

 

Monk in Yangon, Myanmar --- The Borderless Project

 

West Central Yangon

From Sule Pagoda, walk down Mahabandoola Street towards Chinatown and you’ll see a tireless collection of street food, sidewalk vendors selling random items such as cell phone cases and beauty products, and plenty of buzzing little tea houses to step into.

Walk a bit further down Mahabandoola to Chinatown where the streets transform, every entrance beginning with red archways, and plenty of street vendors selling snacks or fresh produce. At night, this area stays open the latest selling great street food.

Make your way over to Anawrahta Road (roughly between Sule Paya Rd and Lanma Daw St) and see the epicenter of Indian culture in Yangon. Restaurants and streetside vendors specialize in Indian cuisine, and this is the place for cheap downtown shopping.

East Central Yangon

From Sule Pagoda, walk east on Mahabandoola Street towards the city hall. Continue on Mahabandoola or Anawrahta Road in this direction past Pansodan. Here, you’ll find more streets markets, more street food, and plenty of restaurants and cafe to tuck into (some more upscale options that the East-side of these roads). With more shade, this area has street stalls that remain bustling all day and night, as well as a good variety of small shops selling everything under the sun.

 

Streets of Yangon (Between Mahanbandoola and Anawrahta) Myanmar - What to do in Yangon Myanmar

 

Have more time?

Some other popular things to do in Yangon include visiting Kandawgyi Lake, Inya Lake, Sule Pagoda, or having a drink at the classic Strand Hotel.


 

Explore Yangon for a few days and you too will see why it’s such a unique destination that no traveler to Myanmar should miss. From getting lost in its bustling streets to sharing meals with locals to being awed by the diverse architecture and sacred structures, a trip to Yangon will be an incredible journey into local life in Myanmar that you won’t quite find anywhere else.

Have other suggestions of what to do and see in Yangon? We’d love to hear, share them below!

 

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