Myanmar was long on Sas and My travel list and we finally visited during our honeymoon in 2017. The first and most natural stop was the capital Yangon. The former capital of Myanmar (which has now been relocated to the remote and fascinating Naypyidaw) is a stunning if not crumbling metropolitan city grappling with its place in the modern world. Highly diverse, both ethnically and religiously, Yangon is also one of the friendliest places we have visited.
Our arrival to Myanmar was slightly bumpy as no one seemed to speak English at the airport, including our Uncle’s personal driver who was in the arrivals area waiting for us. Thankfully, Sas and I stood out enough to catch his attention and we piled into his van and made our way in the dark to the city center where we would stay on the desolate top floor of a mid-century, mixed use tower in the 10th Ward. While incredibly seedy and slightly terrifying (it was the only apartment on the floor), it also was the perfect snapshot of typical life in Yangon. Morning light afforded us stunning views of a dilapidated city center, but also a fully vibrant city.
First and foremost, find yourself a bed at Hotel G (budget/midrange) or The Strand (high end) in Yangon as you will likely prefer a great place to come home to after extensive exploring. Then immediately hit the streets on foot, as we found this was the best way to really experience the city center. If you starting off from the Strand in front of Seikkantha Park along the Yangon River, simply meander up and down all of the lovely streets in Kyauktada to take in the colonial architecture and then into the 7th Ward to navigate the more brutal-esque apartment blocks populated by friendly locals. Take your time, and meander. Taking pictures is hardly frowned upon, and their remains little awareness/concern at curious tourists - you can easily blend into the crowd.
If the heat gets to you, make your way to Pansuriya on Bogolay Zay Street, for a light refreshing snack and an iced coffee. Then be sure to hit the road and make your way to Pansodan Art Gallery to explore the local contemporary art scene. When real hunger sets in, there is only one destination (be sure to get a reservation) - Rangoon Tea House on Pansodan Street. An absolute gem, this place will keep you coming back and back for polished versions of every local delicacy, including their to-do-for nan gyi thoke and steamed buns.
Once you get your fix, tackle the Shwedagon Pagoda - a central and important destination for locals and tourists alike. Spend the afternoon there (when the sun is down) and enjoy people watching. Then make your way back to town to eat at the Mandalay Restaurant at Belmond Governors Residence before 5pm for their afternoon tea. Feast on an absolute splendid mix of salads and drinks while overlooking their gorgeous grounds and coy ponds.
Best to hit the sack early and rise early to repeat it all again. Once you have exhausted your time in the City Center, start exploring some of the other neighborhoods of interest - Botataung, North Dagon, Pazundaung, Kan Taw, etc.
Rangoon Tea House - Our favorite place in all of Yangon, eat here multiple times and try everything. Great upstairs space as well for a more intimate setting.
Strand Cafe - Under-rated cafe, serving excellent (if not overpriced) local cuisine.
Mandalay Restaurant at Belmond Governor’s Residence - Incredible afternoon tea, not to be missed.
Green Gallery - If you need a change of pace, great Thai food.
Sharkys - if you are missing home, and need some baked goods or a solid salad, this is your spot.
Pansuriya - Excellent hole in the wall, with simple soups and salads and great drinks. Stay for the ambiance and art.
Hotel G - Best value hotel we could recommend, with great food and drinks and perfect boutique touches.
Belmond Governor’s Residence - Old world colonial charm in a residential neighborhood outside of the city center for a bit of peace and quiet.
The Strand - Our favorite hotel in town, centrally located in a stunning restored building, with all the finest touches - nothing but the best here.
Bogyoke Aung San Market - Our favorite place to explore and uncover interesting older pieces and modern art, this classic shopping center has it all - come prepared to negotiate.
Augustine’s Antique Gallery - You can get lost here meandering through room after room of antiques, knick knacks, and knock offs. If you find something you like, negotiate your heart out and assume it may be a knock off - so avoid “antique” pricing.
Dacco - Fun and great spot for artisan products in city center.
Pansodan Gallery - Supporting local artists is top of our list, definitely check out to see if anything floats your boat.
Pomelo - Modern bric a brac artisan shop with Western-friendly gifts on hand.
Hla Day -Gifts with a conscience, support local artisans at this boutique shop centrally located near Rangoon Tea House.