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I visited Yangon in Myanmar for 3 nights/2 days and it was such an incredible first visit! Here is my Yangon Itinerary to help you plan your 2 days in Yangon.
During the hour-long taxi ride from Yangon Airport into the city, I stared out the window at the constantly changing scenery.
Quiet residential neighborhoods surrounded by green parks gradually gave way to shabby apartment blocks and traffic-choked streets. Golden temples shone in the distance. We weaved through the congested traffic, slowly edging closer to our destination.
And suddenly we were there, the beating heart of the city. Yangon.
Introduction to Yangon
We pulled up in front of a dilapidated building on a busy street. A dank, unlit stairwell piled with rubbish and make-shift shelters led up to our guesthouse.
Stepping inside the clean oasis of our guest house, we had entered a sparkling refuge from the chaotic city.
The guesthouse staff didn’t understand much English but were friendly and welcoming. Our small but comfortable bunk room reminded me of a ship cabin, it was just missing the port holes.
We left the guesthouse on our first foray into Yangon to go for lunch and were instantly swallowed by the frenetic city. There was so much going on. Car horns beeping. People yelling out to each other. A sea of faces surrounded us on all sides, busily going about their days.
The twenty-minute walk to the restaurant was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
We constantly had to have our wits about us to avoid walking into someone and to sidestep the numerous giant holes in the footpath that were threatening a broken leg to those unfortunate enough to be distracted.
Uncountable and undistinguishable smells scented the thick and humid air. Various foods, putrid rubbish, what else – I don’t know.
Colors of every hue, in the traditional longyis (long skirts) that the men and women wear, of the dirt-encrusted colonial buildings, abandoned by the British and left to rot. There was little to no tourist infrastructure. It was incredible.
Scooters are banned from the streets of Yangon which also gave it a different feel to other major Asian cities, where crossing the road you run the risk of being hit by one of the millions of scooters zipping around.
My Dad said he hadn’t experienced anything like it since traveling through Indian cities in the seventies. We didn’t see another tourist, at least not an obvious one. I didn’t know this was still possible in South East Asian cities.
Locals curiously stared as we passed and kids with giant smiles on their faces waved with fervor. Like Greased Lightning – it was electrifying.
Once we reached 999 Shan Noodle House, a restaurant serving its namesake soup, the spell was broken. We weren’t the only Westerners in sight anymore, there were two groups already sitting at the tidy tables enjoying the soup. Well, the restaurant was recommended by Lonely Planet.
Yangon was already blowing our minds and we had only been in the city for an hour. Over the next two days in Yangon, it got even better as we explored further, discovering more and more about this previously closed city, and there was so MUCH to discover.
Our Yangon 2 Days Itinerary
History of Yangon
Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and the former capital until it was replaced by Naypyidaw in 2006. It may be one of the most undeveloped cities in Southeast Asia, but it has the highest number of colonial buildings. You can see them everywhere throughout the city, faded reminders of the British colonial past.
Yangon was seized by the British in 1852 and didn’t gain its independence again until 1948, almost 100 years later.
Since gaining independence from Britain, a military junta took over by force and ruled with an iron fist from 1962 to 2011, shutting off the country from the rest of the world. With democratic elections in 2015, the first non-military leader since 1962 was elected.
Then Myanmar finally opened its doors to the rest of the world after all these years. Unfortunately since my visit in late 2015, the country is now again dealing with civil unrest and it is advised that it is not currently safe to visit.
Day One Yangon Itinerary
We started the first full day of our time in Yangon by riding the Blue City train around the city and surrounds.
The Lonely Planet recommends this as a great way to witness the local way of life but to be honest, we didn’t see anything too interesting from the train windows.
I did enjoy the people watching, as I always do on a train, just watching life go on around us as people got on and off the train at each station.
Maybe it would have been better had we done the full loop but we somehow ended up on the wrong train and had to turn around and return the way we came.
I’m still pleased we did it although I much preferred wandering the streets, experiencing the city on my own two feet rather than through a grimy window.
After departing the train, we did a self-guided walking tour of the city for the rest of the day.
Yangon is also known for its Indian food and we ventured to another place recommended by the Lonely Planet, this time an Indian restaurant called New Delhi, for a delicious Dosa lunch.
Dosa are southern Indian pancakes made with fermented ground lentils and filled with potato and vegetable curry. This time there were no other tourists in sight.
The waiter seemed excited to serve us and practice his English.
Away from the crush of narrow side streets and busy main roads is the centrally located Mahabandoola Gardens. This swath of green was a very welcome escape from the concrete and crowds.
Surrounded by colorful and crumbling colonial buildings, and with the golden stupa of the Sule Paya next to it, the park is one of the most beautiful spots in Yangon.
In the center of the park is a giant obelisk, the independence monument commemorating the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.
Some cheeky novice monks, begging for donations, and an aggressively persuasive postcard salesman tailed us through the park.
Bogyoke Aung San Market is Yangon’s answer to Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar, albeit on a much smaller scale. The covered market sold textiles, clothing, souvenirs, and jewelry among other things.
I bought myself a longyi, which came in very handy for temple visits throughout my time in Myanmar.
After resting back at our hotel for a couple of hours, we headed out again once it got dark for dinner.
At night the city pulsated with the same energy as during the day. Impromptu night markets popped up wherever there was space. Candles were stuck with wax directly to the asphalt, dimly lighting the wares for sale.
There were live fish, gasping on the concrete as they slowly died, all manner of fruits and vegetables, slabs of rich red meat haphazardly lying out in the open, covered in flies.
Some vendors had so little, just selling a small basket of vegetables or a couple of fish, sitting on the concrete and hoping that the people walking past them might want what they have.
19th Street in Chinatown really comes alive at night. It is a popular spot with tourists but was still delightfully full of locals, seated al fresco at the many BBQ restaurants lining the street.
We picked a restaurant and then selected skewers from a cold buffet. They are then taken away and cooked on a BBQ. This is a food tradition that I came to love in Myanmar.
We tried a selection including prawns, mini potatoes, boiled quail eggs, mushroom-stuffed pork rolls, and marinated chicken. Washed down with Myanmar Beer (the best local beer in South East Asia in my opinion), it was one hell of a delicious meal.
Along with BBQ skewers, I came to love the ubiquitous Shan noodle soup which was similar to Pho Ga: basically a very delicious chicken noodle soup.
Street food was also available everywhere and the range was staggering. There was unripe mango tossed in fish sauce and spices, deep fried wontons and potato cakes, boiled quail eggs, long ribbons of grey cooked tripe, chicken skewers, tropical fruit including one of my favorites – longans, and sugary local style pancakes, to name a few that I saw.
I loved the food in Yangon and only managed to try a fraction of what was on offer during my 2 days in Yangon.
Day Two Yangon Itinerary
Drinking tea is an important Burmese ritual and tea houses abounded in the city. After breakfast at our hotel, our first stop was a tea house.
Burmese tea is milky but with a strong tannin taste. After this first experience with Burmese tea, I ended up drinking quite a lot of it during my time in the country.
Myanmar is a deeply Buddhist country so unsurprisingly there are a lot of payas, or temples, dotted throughout Yangon.
Along with discovering the cuisine and wandering around the city, it was important to me to visit at least a few of these buildings that are so sacred to the Burmese people, so that is what the focus was for the second day of our Yangon Itinerary.
Sule Paya was the first temple we visited as it was closest to our guesthouse. We had seen this golden temple when we walked around the city the day before. It’s kind of hard to miss a giant ancient temple located in the middle of a busy traffic circle.
Sule Paya is believed to have been built during the time of the Buddha, more than 2500 years ago.
As we entered the sacred site we were told to buy flowers, they didn’t cost much so we just went along with it. A guide latched onto us and took us on a tour around the temple complex, telling us about its history.
Around the central golden stupa, there were shrines dedicated to the eight signs of the Burmese Zodiac. Your zodiac sign is based on what day of the week you are born, with Wednesday being split into two.
Our guide had a book with dates and corresponding days of the week and I found out I was born on a Saturday which makes me a Dragon.
The flowers we bought on arrival were to offer at our respective shrines and we were also told to pour cups of water over the statue at our shrine and ring the bell. It was all very interesting and I would say that our guide actually deserved the large tip that he demanded after the tour.
Botataung Paya is famed for its gold-leaf interior and for housing what is believed to be the sacred hair of the Gautama Buddha.
I can’t get enough of the sparkling gold stupas against a bright blue sky but I found the gold leaf interior not so exciting, although the air-con was much appreciated.
A cloudy green pond was home to hundreds of terrapins including a monster that was quadruple the size of its brothers and sisters.
There were a lot of street food stands near the entrance to the temple, so for lunch, we tried a few different dishes and went for a stroll along the Yangon River.
We saved the most famous temple of them till last – the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is the most sacred temple in Yangon and houses relics from four Buddhas including eight hairs from Gautama Buddha (take that Botataung Paya). It is a very important player in the history of Yangon.
The magnificent golden central stupa is 99 meters tall and is surrounded by smaller shrines. After looking around the shrines we took a seat in front of the iconic gilded stupa, as sunset slowly encroached. A carefully coordinated line of women swept the marble ground around the stupa as we waited.
The sky darkened, and the spotlights around the stupa turned on, illuminating it in a golden glow. It was mesmerizing.
Shwedagon Pagoda was my favorite in Yangon, and not just because I patted a cat hanging out in one of the shrines or because a local lady said I was pretty. It was the most impressive and getting to see it lit up at night was simply spectacular.
The city itself was spectacular and I loved our short but sweet two days in Yangon. It is a city of raw energy, slowly emerging from fifty years of oppressive rule that saw it largely shut off from the rest of the world.
Like with Cuba, I want to see the progress that would benefit the people and hopefully help to combat the crushing poverty we witnessed.
But I also love that I got to see it as it is now, a truly incredible city that is like nowhere else I have experienced.
Unpolished but beautiful. And so very alive.
Plan Your 2 Days in Yangon
How to Get to and from Yangon
I started my Myanmar trip in Yangon, flying in from Bangkok which was a short and cheap flight with AirAsia. The airport is about one hour out of the city and the best way to get into the city is by taking a registered taxi or Grab.
You could also take a taxi for a short trip to the nearest train station which is Pa Ywet Seik Kone Station, then catch the train to Yangon Central Station.
I traveled from Yangon to Bagan by bus, and at the time it was a pain to book it as the bus station is about an hour outside of town and you couldn’t book online back in 2015 – luckily you can now through 12go.
There are a number of popular bus routes from Yangon that you can book online, here are the most common:
- Bus Yangon to Bagan which takes 9-10 hours
- Bus Yangon to Mandalay which takes 8-9 hours
- Bus Yangon to Inle Lake which takes 11-12 hours
- Bus Yangon to Mawlamyine which takes 6 hours
You could also take a train from Yangon to Mandalay which takes 14-15 hours.
Where to Stay in Yangon
I stayed in the Golden Star Guest House in Yangon but it doesn’t exist anymore. Since I visited in 2015, there are so many great new hotels that have opened in the Yangon, including the five-star Yangon Excelsior which is pure luxury with its high design and spa and pool on site.
For a more budget hotel option, try Hotel Balmi, a cute and colorful hotel with affordable rooms and a great city center location.
There are also several highly rated hostels that have popped up in Yangon since I visited, and staying in a hostel is great to cut costs and meet other travelers.
One of the most highly rated hostels in Yangon is HOOD Hostel which has dorms and private rooms and is centrally located. All the rooms have air-conditioning and it is in a refurbished colonial building.
The Best Travel Insurance For Your Yangon Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Yangon trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with – it also auto-renews every month unless you turn it off so you don’t have to think about it on longer trips.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
Also, don’t forget to pack this awesome water bottle with heavy-duty filter – it’ll allow you to drink from the tap, saving money as well as being more environmentally friendly.
If you liked this post, check out some of my other Myanmar content:
- Getting off the Beaten Path in Mawlamyine, Myanmar
- Why you Need to Visit the Bagan Pagodas, NOW!
- Trekking Kalaw to Inle Lake: The Best Trek I Have Ever Done
- The Perfect Inle Lake Itinerary For Relaxation