What should you do in Yangon?
Yangon is no longer the capital of Myanmar but it is the most vibrant city compared to others I’ve been to in the country.
Touching down at Yangon International Airport, I wasn’t very impressed by its arrival hall but its well equipped with what travelers need: ATMs, money exchange, SIM card counter, and lots of taxi drivers.
1. The Unavoidable Thingyan Festival
Thingyan Festival is the Burmese New Year which is calculated according to the Burmese Calendar, usually falling around mid April.
Standing on bamboo stages along the streets, people splash water on passers by. Powerful water hose douse people driving by in jeeps and trucks. Children use water pistols to drench anyone in range – only monks and the elderly are safe.
Arriving on the 3rd day of the Thingyan Festival, I wasn’t excited to get wet at all after I’ve been to Songkran in Bangkok. But you know what, the Burmese brought the water festival into a whole new level by using hose. They were very aggressive in making you soaked in water. My top was pulled so they can pour water to my back directly despite I have expressed myself clearly that I DO NOT WANT TO GET WET. No mercy, F-I-N-E.
Too much water
Teenagers were so drunk which can be told from the way they talked to us. This is how they enjoyed themselves in the festival: loads of people stood on different pick up trucks, stopping by and welcoming the people with hose on the street to pour them water. A teenager even poured his bottle of water to me which was only a few ‘droplets’ just for the sake of doing it. I was completely pissed off.
I know water symbolizes the washing away of the previous year’s bad luck and sins, BUT STILL. It’s too over.
The water festival lasted for 4 days (too long, way too long) and it really discouraged me from going out. But I had enough time in Yangon so it wasn’t a luxury to stay in the hostel a little longer, planning my itinerary!
2. Burmese New Year, Shwedagon Pagoda and Kandawgyi Lake
After water festival, it’s their New Year. All the water pouring STOPPED (Thank Buddha). It’s time to release captive fish and birds as acts of merit. You can witness the releasing scene by visiting Kandawgyi Lake.
Kandawgyi Lake, is one of two major lakes in Yangon. Located east of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the lake is artificial; water from Inya Lake is channeled through a series of pipes to Kandawgyi Lake.
The lake is walkable from downtown Yangon. But be prepared to get strong sunlight as none of the roads have shades.
No visit to Yangon is complete without visiting Shwedagon Pagoda which consists hundreds colorful temples, stupas, and statues! It is said that it will be discussed as an addition to a UNESCO tentative list. After going to Kandawgyi Lake, it is also within walkable distance to the Pagoda.
There were people selling ‘plastic bags‘ for carrying your shoes…I am ‘impressed’ by how they come up with this business opportunity. But first, they have to clear those plastic bags on the street first because I can just grab one and reuse it!
I guess there were about 100 steps before you reach the entrance of the Pagoda, on the way up, my friend asked ‘Are those free?’
‘Freeeeeeee!?’ I eagerly turned around and identified a group of locals distributing…some fanta like drinks! I could totally use some drinks as I’ve been sweating like a pig. So I walked up to them and took two cups of fanta! =)
Foreigners have to pay 8,000 kyats. I intended to take advantage of my Burmese face to skip the entrance fee since every local was speaking Burmese to me LOL But my tourists shit gave me away…However, we do not have 16,000 kyats.
We were like ‘alright, we can see the pagoda from this spot so it’s fine!’ Then we walked around and discovered there are no gates around the pagoda, you can just walk right through…and guess what we did…we just walked right through…(sorry we really don’t have enough money because money exchange is not open on holidays!)
We intentionally picked the New Year day to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, hoping to see something different. Lots of local people visited the Golden Pagoda to pray and practise meditation. It is also worth sticking around until sunset to see a totally different set of colours of the Pagoda.
3. Get lost in downtown Yangon
Aimlessly walking around in downtown can be interesting. Everything is very photogenic in Yangon. Go to the Sule Pagoda during day and night gave you a completely different feel of the city. A combination of the Sule Pagoda, the Victory Monument, Burmese style city hall, a Baptish Church, colonial style buildings and run down buildings can just be seen at one spot!. Walk along the Yangon River, sit there and observe their daily routine.
4. Circular Railway in Yangon
It’s probably the slowest train on earth but it’s the cheapest way to see the daily lives of the local people and you get to interact with them. The train departs at the Central Railway Station and lasts for 3 hours. It goes as far as the airport but it would not stop.
We bought the tickets at the ticket counter on the platform and hopped onto the train and waited.
After 20 minutes…there were no signs of leaving so I asked a local. Pointing at this train, ‘circular train?’ He shook his head. Er…is that a no or he doesn’t understand what I’m asking?
I used my index finger to draw a circle in the air when saying ‘circular train???!?!!’ He shook his head again. Ok, I shouldn’t have asked him.
Turned out it was another train…
It’s worth to pay 200 kyats. You will be surprised how quickly the train was filled with hundreds of people out of the blue. Locals were selling fruits on the train (didn’t look very fresh though). The locals use this train to commute. So this would be a very authentic experience.
I do not have the patience to sit there for 3 hours. Instead we got off at Hledan Railway station and walked to Inya Lake along University Avenue Road where we walked past Aung San Suu Kyi House. You are not allowed to go into the house by the way.
5. Bogyoke Aung San Market
Need to get some souvenirs or a Longyi for yourself? Just go to Bogyoke Aung San Market! There are so many types of souvenirs like handmade longyi, Burmese style tote bags, blankets, cushion covers, (creepy) puppets, jewelry…you name it…
The market is easily accessible, just look for the newest shopping mall in town called the Junction City (A Singapore property investment). Once you are done with shopping in a non-AC environment, go via the footbridge and you will get some REAL air conditioning…I was surprised to see so many international brands in the mall.
6. Burmese Cooking Class
I will be separately blogging about this! It was so fun after you had tried so many local food and you get to cook them!
7. Experience a local spa treatment
My skin was so tanned and/or bad, and I felt tired after a classic food poisoning. Before I left Myanmar, I had a very amazing spa treatment at Inya Day Spa which I will be separately blogging it as well.