Formerly known as Rangoon, the city that forms Myanmar’s primary point of entry is a picturesque coastal destination located in the south of the country. No longer holding capital status, Yangon is nevertheless the country’s largest city.
Yangon held capital status for 120 years following Mandalay, which was stripped of its status in 1885 after the British occupation of the north of the country. Naypyidaw, 200 miles north of Yangon, took over as capital in 2005, although Yangon still remains the country’s hub for culture, intellectualism and business and commerce.
A busy port adds to the city’s already vibrant atmosphere, while numerous interesting sights, both natural and manmade, increase its appeal as a tourist destination. The Shewdagon Pagoda is perhaps the biggest draw with its status at the most important religious site in the country and its glimmering golden stupas.
Demotion from capital has done little to detract from Yangon’s appeal as a visitor center since its historic and cultural attractions remain and its rich traditional ambience is as tangible as ever. Aside from an abundance of interesting colonial buildings, the city is home to sightseeing gems such as Sule Pagoda and Aung San’s House.
Aside from religious and historic sights Yangon has a nice choice of parks and gardens in which to unwind, with Inya Lake offering a pretty shoreline that is far removed from the city center bustle. Shopping is most authentic at Bogyoke Aung San Market, where Burmese handicrafts abound.
Unlike in other parts of the country, you will find all types of international cuisine in Yangon, from Japanese to Italian, and there are even a handful of nightclubs in the city’s larger hotels. Cheap hotels are in ready supply but be aware that many don’t provide 24-hour electricity
There is a large military presence in the city which can be intimidating, but visitors are rarely targeted for crime, with locals deterred by often disproportionately severe punishment. It is important to keep away from any demonstration after the city saw massive anti-government demonstrations in 2007.
Getting There & Away
For the vast majority of visitors, Yangon International Airport is the chief gateway to the city but since its connections with major international destinations are limited, a flight to Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok followed by a connecting flight to Yangon, is the most sensible travel option. If you are already in Myanmar then you can take the train from Mandalay or a number of other significant towns and cities.
- Shwedagon Paya: this is the country’s most important religious site and Yangon’s best-known attraction.
- Yangon Zoological Gardens: a feature of the city since colonial times, this is Myanmar’s biggest collection of animals in captivity.
- National Museum: a large collection of Burmese historical artifacts is on display at the country’s best museum.
- Inya Lake: the city’s largest lake draws visitors with its pretty mansions, relaxing gardens and famous Inya Lake Hotel.
- Strand Hotel: this turn of the 20th century landmark still welcomes guests with its colonial charm.
- Aung San’s House: take in interesting exhibits of this nation hero at the home he inhabited with his family before his assassination.