Yangon is the largest city in Burma and the center of economic activity. The city that is also known as Rangoon was the capital of the country until 2005, when a completely new city called Naypyidaw was built and made the new capital.
Yangon is located in the Irrawaddy delta on the Gulf of Martaban, in the North Andaman Sea. It is the city where most foreign tourists arrive to Burma. Yangon is a city of about 5 million people that has grown very rapidly since the 1950’s.
The city was founded at least a thousand years ago by the Mon people. According to local legend the city’s most famous landmark, the Shwedagon Pagoda was founded during the time of the Buddha and the city since then has been built around it. Yangon is not yet a modern city, it is a place where Buddhist monks walk the streets barefoot, men wear the traditional longyi clothing and superstition still plays an important role in everyday life. The city has a certain colonial charm with its buildings from the colonial era, when Yangon was under control of the British from 1852 until 1948.
Places to visit in Yangon
Yangon has a large number of landmarks from its long and rich history that are worth a visit.
Colonial era buildings, Buddhist temples & pagodas
The city houses many beautiful and impressive Buddhist temples and pagodas, including Burma’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Shwedagon Pagoda, a huge complex with a 99 meters high gold plated pagoda set on a hill, visible from much of the city.
The city houses some fine examples of colonial era buildings like the Yangon City Hall, the Supreme Court building, the Strand hotel and the central train station. To see some traditional Burmese entertainment, head for the Karaweik Palace Hall in the shape of a golden Royal Barge on Kandawgyi Lake. Just across the river from Yangon is the town of Thanlyin with its Kyaik Hmaw Wun Pagoda located on an island in the river.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
Built during the colonial era by the British, the Bogyoke Aung San Market is Yangon’s most famous market. This place built in colonial architectural style consists of a large number of streets, packed with countless small shops and stalls where a wide range of products is for sale including handicrafts, antiques, arts, jewelry, precious stones like rubies and jade, silk fabrics and clothing.
This day time market is located on Bogyoke Aung San road, just West of Yangon central railway station. Some of the smaller streets are quire narrow and it can get hot and sweaty. It is a good place to pick up some souvenirs and practice your bargaining skills.
The circular train
To get an impression of Yangon daily life, take a ride on the Yangon circular train. This train covers a distance of almost 50 kilometers in a loop around Yangon and its suburbs, a journey that takes around 3 hours to complete. Tickets at about US$ 1 can be bought at the main train station, a beautiful colonial era building in downtown Yangon. Although not the most comfortable ride, it is an experience in itself and a chance to see the city and its people.
How to get to Yangon
For most international travellers arriving to Burma, Yangon is the first destination. From outside of Burma, the city can only be reached by air. From within the country, the city is connected by air, bus and train.
Most foreign tourists will arrive to Yangon as the point of entry to the country. Yangon international airport just North of the city is served by all Burmese airlines as well as a number of foreign airlines, most of which Asian. There is one terminal for domestic and another one for international flights. One of the major destinations is Bangkok, which is served by among others Bangkok Airways, Air Asia and Thai Airways. A ride from the airport to downtown Yangon takes between 30 to 45 minutes and costs between US$ 8 to 10.
There are no international connections by bus to Yangon, air travel is the only option. Destinations within Burma are served from two bus terminals. The Aung Mingular Highway Bus Center is located a little North East of the airport. Most major destinations are served from this bus station, including Mandalay, Bagan, Bago and Taunggyi (for Inle Lake). The Hlaing Thar Yar Bus terminal is located North West of downtown Yangon, on the other side of the river in Hlaing Thar Yar township. This station serves a number of beach destinations on the Bay of Bengal West of Yangon as well as Kyaikto (for the Golden Rock/Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda).
There is no train connection between Thailand and Yangon. Domestic destinations are served from Yangon’s central railway station located in the Southern part of the city.
The service from Yangon to Mandalay (via Bago) is fairly comfortable. The trip takes around 14 to 15 hours, sleeping cars are available. There is a daily direct service from Yangon to Bagan, which takes around 16 hours. There is no direct train connection between Yangon and Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake). To get there, take a train from Yangon to Mandalay and get off at Thazi. From Thazi, either take a bus (around 5 hours) or the slow train via Kalaw, which takes around 10 hours.