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Top 9 Attractions in Yangon - Old-world Charm

Top 9 Attractions in Yangon - Old-world Charm

By Wendy Updated Feb. 20, 2024

Yangon is a diverse city full of different cultures, religions, and communities. Walking through the streets, visitors will quickly notice this as they pass temples, mosques, churches, Chinatown, and Little India. Being a fusion of many cultures, Yangon offers excellent cuisine and is truly a fascinating and overlooked Asian metropolis.

Although experiencing rapid economic development, Yangon maintains its old-world charm, with impressive ancient monuments and vibrant colonial architecture. Described as chaotic and captivating, the city is full of lively outdoor markets selling everything from Indian samosas to electronics.

New restaurants, bars, and shops are quickly shooting up downtown, beside ancient temples and museums. For those who want a break from the hustle and bustle, the city also offers stunning lakes and blooming tropical trees.

To help you with planning, here are 9 must-see attractions in Yangon.

Shwedagon Pagoda—Sacred Golden Shrine

Built over 2,500 years ago, this gleaming monument is still one of the most famous religious buildings in the Buddhist world. Plated with 21,841 gold bars and encrusted with over 5,000 diamonds, Shwedagon Pagoda is simply unforgettable.

The central stupa is the largest, standing at over 325 feet in height and dominating Yangon's skyline. Encircling the base of the central stupa are 68 smaller stupas, creating a glimmering forest of golden pagodas to be explored.

Shwedagon Pagoda is actively used today and is a great place for observing local people performing their evening prayers. The peaceful scene of worshipers sitting at the base of the pagoda, with their heads bowed towards flickering candles, is truly inspiring.

The best time to visit Shwedagon Pagoda is at sunset, when the warm colors of the sky make a beautiful backdrop for this graceful golden monument.

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Sule Pagoda—The Meeting Place

Sule Pagoda is one of the most important monuments to the Burmese people, not only because of its religious significance but also for its historical and political importance.

The name of the pagoda means "meeting place" and this name has proven well-chosen, as the Sule Pagoda was a rallying point for students and political activists during both the 1988 Uprisings and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

This golden pagoda is located in the heart of Yangon and surrounded by busy streets, interesting markets, and colonial buildings. Spiritually significant and said to enshrine a hair of the Buddha, Sule Pagoda is often used by local people as a place of meditation and reflection.

Chaukhtatgyi Temple—The Great Reclining Buddha

With a crown covered in diamonds and at 217 feet in length, the reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi Temple is simply breathtaking.

One of the biggest and most graceful reclining Buddhas in Southeast Asia, the sheer size of the statue is impressive and the depiction of Buddha with a serene white face, colorful lips, and golden robes leaves visitors inspired.

The temple is calm with relatively few visitors, making it a great location for escaping the busy streets of Yangon for a few hours. It is mostly filled with local people, who pay their respects to Buddha by burning incense and offering flowers in the shrines at the base of the statue.

Surrounding Chaukhtatgyi Temple are several monasteries containing hundreds of monks studying the teachings of Buddha. It is possible to explore the monasteries or to find a local person to help show you around.

National Museum—Priceless Ancient Artifacts

The National Museum located near Shwedagon Pagoda is a five-story building containing an extensive collection of ancient artifacts, ornaments, and works of art. Home to an incredible collection detailing the history and culture of Burmese people, the museum entices history buffs and art lovers alike.

The museum has two main sections. The first focuses on Burmese culture and contains examples of historical Burmese scripts, details of Burmese rural life, jewelry worn in ancient times, and an exhibit showing the progress of art in Myanmar, from cave paintings to 20th-century contemporary works.

The second section of the museum focuses on the history of Myanmar and contains examples of drawings from the Stone Age, weapons from the Bronze Age, an exhibit describing the history of Burmese architecture, and beautifully decorated objects used in the royal ceremonies of kings from different time periods.

Truly all-encompassing, the National Museum in Yangon is the perfect place for getting a better understanding of a beautiful people and their culture.

Scott Market—A Bustling Bazaar

Also called the Bogyoke Aung San Market, the Scott Market was founded in 1926 at the end of British rule, and is located in an old colonial building. It's the most popular market in Yangon and includes 1,641 shops selling an assortment of different items ranging from art and precious stones to handicrafts and textiles.

Stands are set up haphazardly throughout the building creating a maze of stalls to be explored when looking for perfect souvenirs or good deals.

The market is very large and a lot of walking is required to cover it all, but there are plenty of food stands selling local cuisine, for people who would like to take a break. The market is closed on Mondays but is open every other day of the week.

Yangon Circular Railway—Countryside Views

The Yangon Circular Railway is an incredibly photogenic 39-station loop that connects villages and suburbs to the city center. Taking the circular railway gives visitors an opportunity to see the outskirts of Yangon, including some rural villages.

The entire loop takes about three hours and gives you a truly local experience. The train slowly meanders through the countryside helping travelers get a view of the daily routine of the people far away from the commercial center.

Costing only 10 cents to a dollar, a circular railway trip is one of the best-value investments available in Yangon. Tickets for the train allow you to get on and off trains multiple times, which is convenient, as many stops have tea shops and markets worth wandering through.

The best time to take the Yangon Circular Railway is early morning, as Yangon life is most active just after sunrise when the temperatures are cooler.

Yangon Colonial Buildings—Remnants of the British Empire

With hundreds of 19th-century structures, Yangon has the highest number of colonial-era buildings of all Southeast Asian cities. Because of rapid development, many of these colonial structures have been destroyed and replaced by modern high rises.

To help stop this destruction, the Yangon City Heritage List was created to protect and restore remaining buildings. The list consists of 188 structures, most of which are located in an area of several square miles downtown.

Some colonial buildings in Yangon take on a traditional look while others are a mix of Burmese and colonial styles, with bright popping colors and intricate colonial detail. Offering a glimpse of what life was like in Myanmar under British rule, the colonial portion of the city gives travelers a better understanding of the country as a whole.

Inya Lake—Rich and Romantic

Inya Lake is a popular recreational area just north of downtown Yangon. It is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the scenery while walking the paths around the lake or taking a boat ride.

Including floating gardens and homes on stilts, Inya Lake is a romantic location and an important part of pop culture in Myanmar. It has been featured in many romantic films, novels, and songs and is well-known to local people.

The area surrounding the lake is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Yangon. Many of the city's rich and powerful live in mansions and lakefront properties here. Over the years it has housed many politically important people, such as Aung San Suu Kyi and the current U.S. ambassador.

Kandawgyi Lake—Royal and Serene

This man-made reservoir is surrounded by a green park, with restaurants and cafes offering lakefront views. Kandawgyi Lake is within walking distance of the Shwedagon Pagoda and its picturesque beauty often draws people wanting a break from the chaotic city center.

The lake itself contains floating structures such as the Shin Upagot Shrine and the imposing Karaweik. A replica of the royal barge, Karaweik can be best described as a floating temple. Visitors can enter Karaweik to explore, or to relax and dine in the restaurant inside.

The best time to visit Kandawgyi Lake is the morning, when the air is still cool, or at sunset when the reflection of the glimmering Shwedagon Pagoda can be seen on the calm waters.

Visit Myanmar with Asia Highlights

We provide tailor-made tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.

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