Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon was once Myanmar’s glittering capital (it has since given up its status to Nay Pyi Taw, one of the world’s strangest capital cities.) Known for a skyline dotted with golden pagodas, age-old traditions that blend seamlessly with the present (like men wearing “sarongs” paired with a Western shirt,) and friendly betel nut-chewing locals, Yangon is also one of the few cities in the world "where tea is eaten as well as drunk."
Contrary to popular opinion, this charming city isn’t just about ancient stupas, religious edifices, and bustling street markets. Intrepid travellers can venture off the beaten track to sample alternative experiences that lie under the radar of the average tourist.
Bookmark this guide to Yangon’s best-kept secrets and unforgettable experiences, brought to you by the team at PARKROYAL Yangon.
Yangon Central Train Station
|Address||Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar
People's Square and Park
|Phone Number||+95 9 862 2246
|Opening Hours||7:00am to 10:00pm daily|
Most people view train rides as a means to an end, but nomadic couple Oksana and Max calls it “a destination in its own.” Even independent travel guide Travelfish rates a ride aboard the Yangon Circle Train as a must-do in Yangon. It may be 29 miles, or 3 hours, of bumpy, non-air-conditioned ride, but it is the perfect way to experience a slice of authentic Yangon life.
A minuscule fare of 100-200 kyat (SG$0.10) gets you a ticket to what might be your most enchanting adventure in Yangon. There will be ample opportunities to mingle with (and be gawked at by) the locals, capture rich photographs of old-school antiquity, and trundle though Yangon’s sleepy suburbia and rural landscapes.
Once on board, don’t be surprised to see vendors trotting up and down the trains peddling boiled peanuts, corn, and other traditional Myanmese bites. Do note that monks and elders get priority seating on the trains, so it would be respectful for you to do the same. If it gets uncomfortably hot in the trains, you can always hop off and explore the surrounding neighbourhood, or take a taxi onwards to your next destination.
The circle train departs daily from platforms 6 and 7 of Yangon Central Railway Station, just a 7-minute walk away from PARKROYAL Yangon. Trains begin at 8:30am, and run every 45 minutes to an hour. Passports are required for ticket purchase.
Everyone has visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon’s star attraction, and stood in awe of its grandiose structure of gold. But did you know that you can capture some of the best photographs of the Shwedagon at People's Square and Park?
One of the best spots in Yangon for travellers with kids, the park boasts spectacular sunset views. There are shady picnic spots to be found here, along with swaying bridges suspended between trees (near Ahlone Road entrance) daring you to step out onto their creaky wooden floorboards. Other notable curiosities include a small museum featuring a diorama of the country’s ethnic groups, and even a decommissioned Myanmar Airways Fokker plane that you can climb into.
With tales and images of the awe-inspiring one-legged rowing prowess of traditional fishermen, Inle Lake is one of Yangon’s most alluring waterways. But don’t just stick to the tourist-trodden paths; you can make your own ripples in the remote countryside villages surrounding the lake.
If you can set aside a leisurely day of exploration, aim for destinations that are further afield, such as the quaint villages of Thaung Thut and Inthein, which is known for its pagodas on a hilltop. You can even opt for a hot air balloon ride and take in the natural beauty of Inle Lake from a bird’s eye view.
Tip: The best times to capture photos of fishermen are at dawn and sunset.
Get directions to Yangon Central Railway Station
Get directions to People's Square and Park
Get directions to Inle Lake
Nagar Glass Factory
|Address||Hlaing Mahasi Road, Yangon, Myanmar
Pomelo for Myanmar
|Address||89, Thein Phyu Rd, Yangon, Myanmar
|Phone Number||+95 1 295 358
|Opening Hours||9:30 to 9:30pm daily|
|Address||No 62, Shan Gone Street, Sanchaung Tsp
|Phone Number||+95 9 952 255153
|Opening Hours||10:00 to 8:00pm daily|
Treasure hunters, take note! Nagar Glass Factory, or what’s left of it after the damage wrought by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, is a treasure trove of colourful glassware. Be warned though: You’ll have to bash through a section of jungle until you start seeing landfills of glass or other inquisitive tourists bent earth-wards – whichever comes first.
Sadly, most of the pieces are broken. However, you might chance upon some exquisite handmade glass bottles, vases and cups on a lucky day. If you have the good fortune of meeting the owners of the factory, they might regale you with the stories surrounding this once-famous, but ill-fated, glass factory. (Aung San Suu Kyi was even once its customer!)
Chase Chisolm, author of Involuntary Joy, describes the glass-hunting experience: "You’ll need several hours to explore what’s left of the glass factory. Don’t rush through your experience. Bring a friend, dig for gems, and then sip some tea while waiting for your finds to be cleaned and polished."
The glassware varies in price. Some may be more expensive than you’d imagined, but think of it as supporting a family and a participation fee for a treasure-hunt adventure that you’d never get elsewhere. Plus, you’ll get to bring home some of the most unique gifts from Yangon.
Tip: Don covered shoes/socks, and long-sleeved shirts and pants. You will also need a strong insect repellent.
Pomelo for Myanmar is a not-for-profit fair trade outlet in Yangon designated for local artisans to hone their crafts. Look out for handcrafted jewellery under the label of Amazing Grace; these are made by a group of women with disabilities living on the outskirts of Yangon.
The store, just a 10-minute ride from PARKROYAL Yangon, also stocks a range of artisan coffees, all locally made, and recycled glassware of all shapes and sizes.
Yangoods is another pioneer on Myanmar’s retail scene that is a forerunner of Burmese design. The retail store offers unique gifts, lifestyle items, fashion staples, and souvenirs that appear to straddle both past and present.
From handmade souvenirs, functional scarves, to locally designed handicrafts, there is always something for everyone at Yangoods.
To nab other Myanmar gifts and memorabilia, be sure to read about these best shopping places in Yangon.
Get directions to Nagar Glass Factory
Get directions to Pomelo
Get directions to Yangoods
From quintessential Yangon street food to its more established and modern culinary counterparts, you can be certain that a Yangon holiday will expand the horizons of your taste buds.
Tea houses are the go-to places in Yangon, and they still attract a crowd in this modern age. Bitter, strong, and rich, with smoky undertones, the nation’s tea is reportedly one of the best in the world. Tea is taken very seriously here, and is firmly embedded in the rituals of everyday life.
But tea isn’t just a national drink; it’s also a dish. Guests entering a Burmese home are typically greeted by lephat thoke, a fermented tea leaf salad. This comprises a cheerful medley of fermented tea leaves, crunchy lentils, peanuts, dried shrimp, sesame seeds, fresh tomatoes, and ginger. According to The Guardian, you will taste the best lephat thoke while sitting on a plastic chair at a street-side stall.
If you find yourself wishing for a more refined dining experience, head to Acacia Tea Salon. At this tea brewery, patisserie, and restaurant rolled into one, you can muse over Myanmar’s long and illustrious history while nursing an exclusive blend of tea and biting into morsels of afternoon tea staples such as English scones and delicious cakes.
If you need help with arranging various sightseeing tours or day trips in Yangon or its outer lying areas, get in touch with PARKROYAL Yangon’s tours and activities team.
Get directions to Acacia Tea Salon