Insider’s Guide: Yangon
Myanmar: a deeply spiritual and captivating country, it’s a place that leaves an everlasting impression on those who visit. This former British colony borders India, Bangladesh China, Laos, and Thailand. Its biggest city is the former capital city of Yangon, home to 7 million people.
The country’s devotion to Buddhism is something to behold; you’ll no doubt see the gleaming, golden spire of the Shwedagon Pagoda rising above the rest of the city, the cornerstone of Buddhism in all of Myanmar. Along with traditional buildings, the urban core of Yangon is also where you’ll find the largest number of colonial-era buildings in the region. I’ve included some of the most important sights of Yangon, as well as some of my favourite places to eat in town.
Dominating the skyline of the city, this is the most revered pagoda in Myanmar and the most iconic symbol of the whole country; a beacon of Buddhism. Shining with more than 4,500 diamonds encrusted upon its stupa and endless layers of gold, it is believed that holy relics are enshrined here, including hair from the Buddha himself.
The heart of Buddhism in the country, it is surrounded by dozens of intricately decorated buildings and statues. Walk amongst local people who are praying and making offerings, and experience the true devotion of the locals here. One of the best times to visit is at night, where hordes of families and devotees flock.
Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market)
Once named for the municipal commissioner in colonial times, this public market in central Yangon is a prime example of colonial architecture. The labyrinthine market sells pretty much anything: Myanmar’s handicrafts, art, gems like Burmese jade and ruby, traditional clothing, artifacts, fabrics, and more.
If you need to exchange money, you’ll find the best (black-market) rates located in jewelry shops. Of course, any good public market worth its salt offers food, and this is no exception: here you’ll find terrific food from all corners of the country. In my opinion, the best mohingya (fish curry, the national dish of Myanmar) can be found here! The market is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Over 2,500 years old, this gilded stupa at the centre of Yangon is a useful landmark for navigating downtown. A key point in the city with its ever-glowing sphere, it is a rallying point for political demonstrations and politics, and as such has played a large role in contemporary Burmese politics.
Another wonderful place to people-watch. At night, as the gold reflects the evening, you’ll find a lively market here with street vendors selling all kinds of delicious Myanmar foods (which also reflect the culinary influences of neighbouring India, China, Thailand and Laos).
Some specialties to try are: Indian breads like roti & paratha, Burmese noodle salad, samosa thoke (salad) with lentil broth, samosas, sweet rice cakes in banana leaf, glutinous rice, and an incredible array of dosa (similar to a crepe), available in both sweet and savoury options and fillings!
Where to Eat
Yangon has a large Indian population and an incredible array of Indian restaurants.
This authentic North Indian restaurant is one of Yangon’s best Indian eateries, featuring great prices and a semi-formal atmosphere that caters to Yangon’s professionals and expats.
Located in the Loft Hotel, this large design-oriented restaurant also includes a bar and lounge. There is a mix of European and Asian food available here. It can also accommodate vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free diners as well.
Reputed to be the finest restaurant in Myanmar, Le Planteur is housed in a beautiful colonial mansion overlooking Inya Lake. On the menu, you’ll find French/Indochina elements and Asian flavours, as well as cheeses and desserts to round out your meal.
Enshrined in a hundred-year-old colonial villa, this restaurant features a range of international cuisines, so depending on what you feel like, you can dine upon Burmese traditional food, Thai, Chinese or Western cuisine. The home itself is also a museum of sorts that commemorates important times in Myanmar’s history: it once served as the first office of General Aung San, Myanmar’s leader of independence (and father to Aung San Suu Kyi), among other facts. Open daily.
This chain of restaurants is known around the country, but with good prices and tasty food, it’s an excellent place to sample traditional Myanmar dishes. Although touristy, it’s still worth a visit. In the evenings, it’s nice to grab a seat on the wide open terrace for a meal.
One of the first old shop houses to be restored for public use, you can find foods from around the region, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Old colonial feel with photos of old Yangon cover the walls and is right downtown—definitely a great place to sit and have a cold drink too!