I’ve completely fallen in love with the city of Yangon! Her name doesn’t conjure up the same exotic images as that of Mandalay, but her delights are subtle. Found in the everyday pulse of the city.
The longyi is king (and queen), and worn by almost everyone from young to old. The faces of many of the women and children (and some men) are decorated with various designs of yellow thanaka. The men’s teeth are stained red from years of chewing betel quids, although it’s uncommon to see anyone spitting it out. Everyone smiles or points at the girls, but very few have taken pictures (unlike China), so the girls are relaxing again with all the attention. Plus, the people are just so friendly, it’s hard not to smile and wave in return. There’s a reason Yangon tops the list for must-visit destinations in Myanmar.
And then there’s the food.
After leaving Bangkok, and all the delicious Thai food, I had low expectations for Myanmar! And, I had no idea the city of Yangon had such an amazing street food culture. It’s seriously everywhere, and it all seems to be delicious! Some is better than others, of course, but we haven’t had a bad meal yet. After almost every meal Kacela asks, “can we eat here again?” There are markets aplenty, especially in the downtown core, and so much fresh fruit. Our favourite has been the mini-mandarin oranges, and watermelon. We’ve eaten ½ kg of oranges, and a big slice of cut-up watermelon every single day. Calais is in heaven because she gets noodle soup whenever she wants it. And both girls have acquired a bit of a resilience to spice. Calais more so than Kacela, but at least they can both handle a little bit. I only wish I would’ve known it was so good before, and I would’ve looked into doing a Yangon food tour!
I think I also loved Yangon because we just existed in the city. Even though there are a lot of great things to do in Yangon, we barely scratched the surface. Our days were spent lazing around the common area of our hostel, and our evenings were spent exploring the streets in search of great food. We also lucked out, and happened to arrive during the holiday for the Full Moon of Tazaungmone. Our first experience with Yangon was a pop-up street festival, complete with food, hawkers, and a manual ferris wheel. Yes, you heard me right!
A manual ferris wheel!
People sat in these wobbly-looking carts, four each, and slowly loaded for about 20min. Once everyone was loaded up, about a dozen guys climbed to various positions along half of the wheel. There was the squeal of a whistle, and they came running off the end, one at a time, pulling the ferris wheel with them. It went a pretty substantial speed for about 30seconds, with people screeching and screaming from above. The screams died off as it slowed to a stop. Then, the 20-30min reload started all over again. It may have been the coolest, and craziest, thing I’ve ever seen!
The girls initially wanted to go on it, but there was no way I was letting them! We can be a bit reckless with safety sometimes when we travel (i.e. no seatbelts in cars, almost ever), but this was pushing the limits of my comfort zone. Probably because it was high, and fast, and I could just picture Kacela leaning out of the chair at the top and plummeting to the sidewalk below. Instead, we compromised with a merry-go-round, which was also man-powered. It went pretty fast as well, and the girls were happy enough with their ride.
The second evening, we lucked out on another Full Moon celebration!
I promised the girls a visit to the park, but we were so lazy we didn’t make it out of the hostel until late in the afternoon. As we hopped out of our Uber there seemed to be a lot of people mulling around the park. It was also really noisy! I slowly realized that there was a giant stage set up right beside the park gate, and a massive mob of people between it and us. After a few kind elbow jabs, and finally giving up and climbing over the park fence, we were out of the fray. The girls played in the park until it was too dark to see them, and we feasted again on amazing street food for dinner.
One of our favourite dishes in Yangon is a samosa thoke, or a samosa salad. It doesn’t really fit within my definition of a salad, but it’s sure delicious! They chop up a few potato & chick pea samosas, toss them with some julienned carrots & cabbage, top it with fresh herbs, and finish it with a lentil broth, similar to dal baht in Nepal. We’ve come to realize that a meal in Myanmar isn’t complete without some kind of broth or soup. If I had to pick one type of salad to eat for the rest of my life…this would be it!
Visiting Shwedagon Pagoda was one of the two touristy thing we did in Yangon. We all saw the large golden pagoda on our drive into town, and everyone was in awe of it. Thankfully, the girls both love visiting temples and pagodas, and were thrilled to visit a “golden” pagoda!
I knee-jerk reacted and hired a guide just after buying our tickets. I don’t necessarily think hiring a guide was a bad move. But, Kacela almost instantly started complaining about having a guide, so I asked the guide to keep things short and sweet so the kids didn’t get bored. (She doesn’t like guides because she says they “take too long”!) Her version of short and sweet was to give us the most basic information, that could be easily read in the Lonely Planet book, and answer questions. I hadn’t actually read the chapter in the Lonely Planet book however, so it was nice to have someone explain as we went.
Shwedagon pagoda is truly amazing.
It’s a 100m golden pagoda that shimmers in the sun, surrounded by dozens of ornately decorated temples. At some points, there’s so much to look at during the clockwise loop around the central pagoda, it’s hard to know where to direct your gaze! The girls loved pouring water on their birth-day-of-the-week “animal” and making a wish.
They just soak up any type of tradition or superstition! Calais wished for Santa to bring her everything on her Christmas list, because she thought it was the most likely wish of what she was thinking to come true! We’d made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday, and as the sun started to set, the temple area got busier and busier.
We left the Pagoda before it got too busy, and went looking for the playground in People’s Park. We didn’t find the playground, instead we stumbled upon the Sunday evening watershow and performance in the park. I guess it wasn’t so bad visiting on a Sunday after-all! It was fun to watch the traditional dancing and puppet shows, with the lit-up water fountains as a backdrop.
The Circle Train
The only other touristy thing we did in Yangon, was to ride the circle train. Our hostel was only a couple blocks from the third stop on the line, Lanmandaw, so we started there rather than making our way to the central train station.
We got a little bit lost looking for the train station. I was expecting a big yellow building with a pointed roof, which was the description I was given. It wasn’t big at all! The building was indeed yellow, where there was still paint left, and I’m not sure if you could call the roof pointed. The give-away was that we could tell the cars were driving over a small bridge which presumably went over the tracks. We bought our tickets, 200kyat ($0.20CAD) each, the girls were free, and wandered down the stairs to the tracks.
It was only a few minutes and the train arrived. We got on the train at about 10:15am, after the end of rush hour. The train was relatively quiet, with only a few commuters and a few tourists in our carriage. We sat for a brief moment before Randy & the girls wanted to head towards the front of the train. I’m so glad they did!
We had the best seats in the house.
The girls found seats right at the front of the train, inside an open doorway beside the driver. It was amazing! We all sat there, with the wind blowing our hair, as the train trundled down the track. I had read that it rocked enough to induce motion sickness, but I didn’t find it to be that bad. It certainly wasn’t a smooth ride, but the slow bouncing back and forth gave it character.
Life goes on right beside the track, and it felt like we had a front row seat. We saw small farming fields, child monks, dogs, a large market (with a LOT of garbage on the tracks), clothes hanging out to dry and so much more.
It was so relaxing, I could’ve sat there all day!
The train we were on stopped at Insein station, unbeknownst to us. So, we were forced to get off. Kacela was happy to be done, Randy felt like he’d seen enough and didn’t feel any great urge to get back on the train, and Calais & I could’ve ridden for much longer! In the end, we decided not to wait for the next train.
Instead, we made our way back to the hostel to hide from the heat of the day, before taking to the streets again to wander around the town. The buildings in downtown Yangon are in various states of disrepair. Some are brand new or beautifully restored, and others are almost crumbling. Many even had trees growing out the sides of the building. It has a bit of a gritty feeling to it, but it just adds to the character.
After almost a week in the city we were ready to explore something new. Myanmar has so much to offer, so we needed to move on. We weren’t going to get to all of the Top 12 Destinations in this Myanmar destination guide, but we wanted to see a few. Although we didn’t do much while we were there, we truly loved the city of Yangon. Just being in the city, eating the food, wandering the markets, and observing local life, was enough to mesmerize me and make me want to come back for more.
If you’re thinking of venturing to Yangon, you might want to check out this Myanmar travel guide. Myanmar isn’t a complicated place to travel in, but it’s not quite the same as the rest of South East Asia either.
Where We Stayed
This was our homebase for 6 nights. The rooms are basic, but comfortable. They all have A/C and a fridge, and a shared bathroom down the hall. Breakfast was included. It was basic but varied each day. We always had toast with butter & jam, and a fried noodle or soup, with tea and coffee. We spent the good part of a few days sitting in the breakfast area, playing games or on our computers.
Cost: $46.16 USD ($59 CAD) for 2 twin rooms per night.
Where We Ate
Try International Restaurant
The food was mediocre, and the service was okay. It’s not somewhere we’d be rushing back to, but it was air conditioned which was a plus! We had veggie soup (that had meat in it), fried noodles with egg, and mixed tempura.
Cost: 11000 kyat ($11 CAD)
This was our treat, as the girls love Sushi. It was as good as we expected, and the kids gobbled it up. We had a plate of sashimi, mixed tempura and a spicy tuna roll.
Cost: 17500 kyat ($17.50 CAD)
999 Shan Noodle
These were the best noodles we had in Yangon. There seemed to be a lot of hype about it in the Lonely Planet book, and it popped up on every blog post I read about food in Yangon. Again, it comes by it’s reputation honestly! Our favourites were #5 and #7! I haven’t had a Shan noodle (#7) since that beat it, even in the Shan province! We brought our friends back for a second noodle bowl.
Cost: 7150kyat ($7.15 CAD) for 2 noodle bowls, 1 noodle soup and a big bottle of water.
The rest of our meals were on the street. There’s a great street food market that runs along the east side of Maha Bandula Park, as well as in Chinatown (along Maha Bandula Park between Landmandaw & Shwedagon Pagoda Rd).
Cost: Our meals ranged from 1300kyat ($1.30 CAD) to 4600kyat ($4.60 CAD).
What We Did
You have to take your shoes off to walk around, and must have your knees and shoulders covered, and your head uncovered. There are longyi’s and scarves available to rent at the East entrance for the foreigners who show up without appropriate attire!
We had fun finding the animal associated with the weekday we were each born on, and pouring water on it 3 times to make a wish. If you’re coming here, make sure you look that up before you come!
Cost: 8000 kyat ($8 CAD) per person, children were free. Guide: 12,000 kyat ($12 CAD)
Circle Line Train
I wasn’t sure what all the hype was about, but everyone seemed to recommend taking the Circle line train around town. We figured we’d give it a go. It’s a 3hr round-trip ride, or you can take Lonely Planet’s advice and ride until you’re tired of it, and then grab a cab back to the hotel. Sitting up at the VERY front of the train, with the wind blowing in our faces, watching life happen alongside the tracks, was one of our favourite experiences in Yangon. Now I understand the hype!
Cost: 200 kyat ($0.20 CAD) per adult, kids free.
The streets of downtown Yangon are fun to explore. There are stalls lining most streets, selling everything from fruit or a meal, to books and old coins. It’s easy to spend a couple hours just wandering and taking in the sites. To make the walk more interesting for the kids, we set the Post Office as our destination, mailed our post-cards, and then made our way to the playground. As long as there’s a destination they’re much more amenable to walking!
Playground in People’s Park
The playground is tucked in the south-east corner of People’s Park. It’s well shaded and full of lots of monkey bars and a variety of play structures for all ages. As an added bonus, there’s an old plane just West of the playground, that’s worth a few minutes exploring. There’s a public toilet (200 kyat/$0.20 CAD) between the playground and the plane.
Cost: Entry into People’s Park 300 kyat ($0.30 CAD) for everyone 5 years and older.
Playground in Maha Bandula Park
There are two playgrounds situated along the southern edge of the park. The one in the South-East corner is better for older kids, or men practicing gymnastics! The park in the middle is best for little kids. Both playgrounds are surrounded by trees, with lots of shade to sit and watch. There’s a public toilet in the very South-East corner of the park (200kyat/$0.20CAD).
We’re doing a pretty decent job of keeping ourselves on budget so far!
Average Spent Per Day in Yangon: $96.68CAD/day
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