Ten Tourist Things to Do in Yangon
With a mind to having guests here in the upcoming dry season (though in fairness baby’s arrival has rather put paid to a lot of planned visits, Nov – Mar being the optimal time to be here and us being in Thailand Dec – Feb) I’ve begun thinking about the things people can do whilst here. And not just the things mentioned in the guide books of course; lots of tours only stay a day or so in the capital city and take in the obvious things such as the Shwedagon. Fair enough, but if you’re here a bit longer, or want to see a bit more of the city, consider these other options too.
Here is my guide to things you can do in Yangon;
1. Go on the Hash. If you’re here on a Saturday afternoon and want a lovely sociable walk (or run if you’re that dedicated) with a beer at the end, look no further. You’ll meet all sorts of people who live and work here, most of whom speak English and will happily tell you their experience of the city. Plus, and this is the best bit, you will see a part of Yangon that is not on the tourist maps. The Hash meet at Yangon Sailing Club, Inya Road at 3pm EVERY Saturday come rain or shine. Highly recommended. http://www.meetup.com/Expat-Teachers-of-Yangon/events/33873302
2. Go on a bike ride with Jeff at BikeWorld. No need for your own bike, they will pick you up at 6am on a Sunday morning and take you out somewhere lovely for a pretty hardcore bike ride around the environs of Yangon. Expect to be back by midday. They also do the occasional ‘midnight’ ride around the city on a Friday too, leaving about 9pm and culminating in a few beers downtown. All equipment can be borrowed or hired. Sadly I haven’t yet made one of Jeff’s Sunday morning rides but have been waiting patiently for a family ride to come up, so we can take Alfie. From what I hear though, the regular crew is pretty dedicated and although they make an effort to cater for all abilities, this is one if you’re feeling fit and adventurous. http://www.linkedin.com/in/soesoeaye
3. Breakfast at The Governor’s Residence. A very beautiful old colonial building and grounds and now a very grand hotel. A sumptuous breakfast , including not only great coffee and a never-ending bread-and pastry-basket but the usual English Breakfast, eggs Benedict etc is about $15 and for this you get use of the pool for the rest of the day. Yes, the restaurant serves gourmet meals too and dinner in the candle-lit gardens looks pretty spectacular, but for me (and maybe others with children) the breakfast and pool deal hits the spot. Recommended. http://www.governorsresidence.com
4. Barbecue at Le Planteur. Yangon’s best and most expensive restaurant, hosted by a pair of award-winning, Michelin-starred chef/chocolatiers, has a truly lovely old colonial/garden setting and is a great treat at any time of the year. But in the dry season they move service outside and have a superb value for money barbecue offer, for those not in the market for upper class French cooking or perhaps those looking after the pennies at the end of the holiday. If none of the above appeals, just pop in for a quick Mandalay Sour and a look around. The hosts will cheerfully introduce themselves, their Labrador and their collection of vintage Mercedes (they came with the restaurant). Highly recommended. http://www.leplanteur.net
5. Walk around monastery grounds. Monasteries are two a penny here and often take up huge swathes of land as they include hospitals, orphanages, old people’s homes as well as one or two temples and accommodation for the monks of course. The grounds aren’t particularly nice or well kept or anything but they are enmeshed in the local community and will often lead you to weird and wonderful places like markets and dwellings and the occasional surprise like an old (often closed) museum or teashop. Take your time, be polite and if you go wrong or venture upon especially holy ground you will be gently but firmly redirected by a friendly monk. Stay off the beaten tracks (main roads) and you can often find short cuts that bring you out to another part of the city or a surprise restaurant or hotel for a quick pit stop. You’ll also come across trishaws (3-seater bikes) which will take you to the nearest main road for a few kyats and from here you can hail a taxi if you are feeling a bit lost!
6. Take the train. Not for the faint-hearted, the city ‘circle line’ train takes about 3 hours to complete a circuit. Half an hour is about enough for most people as the trains are not built for comfort or speed and can be incredibly busy. Still, it’s an experience! Rock up at the central station (and a very nice old building by the way) to buy your ticket.
7. Take a boat. Not as easy to find as you would think, a trip on the river is not especially beautiful but is a lovely way to get a view of the city from the Yangon River perspective and most fun of all is seeing all the river traffic. Yangon is a pretty bustling port despite its shabby appearance and rumour has it the government are spending millions to prettify the riverfront. Go now while it still feels dangerous and fun. Contact tour operators (listed in guide books) for short boat trips.
8. Have coffee at the top of Sakura Tower. Opposite Traders Hotel in the centre of downtown, Sakura tower has great almost-360 views of the city and a fairly broad, if uninspiring menu of eastern and western food.
9. Have tea at the Acacia Tea Salon. Harder to find it’s yet another colonial gem with cool white interiors and lovely balconies, plus a Moroccan themed room where you can languish on cushions rather than chairs. Downstairs is an impressive patisserie and upstairs you can order from a huge menu of teas and coffees, most of which will be generously refilled for as long as you are there, plus a small selection of lunch items. There is even a small shop of baked goodies. The English scones with homemade lemon curd are highly recommended! http://acaciateasalon.com/demo
10. Go to Yangon Zoo. Seriously, it’s shabby and definitely in decline but reserve your western judgement and go and see for yourself how it used to be in the olden days. You can feed the animals! Including the hippos, elephants and monkeys. The sight of the ‘dancing elephants’ made me cry and being only centimetres from a hippo’s huge jaws is a weird feeling indeed. There are tigers, snakes, so many African deer they look like a tableaux in their little pen and plenty of crocs. It’s cheap as chips (2000kyats for foreigners) and open most days, opposite Kandagwyi Lake. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yangon_Zoological_Gardens