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The one-time capital of Myanmar, Yangon is still its cultural and commercial hub. The city's many cultural sites appeal to visitors from all over the world, yet Yangon is also so big that there's still a chance to get a glimpse of authentic Burmese urban culture today.
Best known for the 300-foot-tall gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon is also home to fantastically huge Buddha statues, beautiful lakeside parks, and bustling markets. In Chinatown, for example, markets and fairs bring the streets to a boil as shoppers and clubbers make their way through the crowded alleys.
Whether you're looking to shop for unique handicrafts, visit history museums, or try new food, you won't leave Yangon disappointed.
While Yangon is modernizing, it is still very much a historical place, much different to any other Southeast Asian metropolis. From traditional clothing, to architecture, to the attitude of its inhabitants, it truly feels like another world.
Locals wear longyis, which are cloth tubes that tie around the waste and descend nearly to the ankles. Many have beautiful patterns, and foreigners are welcome to wear them too. Additionally, Yangon has multiple museums and cultural centers, like the National Museum of Myanmar, that showcase Burmese history and culture to guests.
Yangon is home to an incredibly devout population, and its many pagodas offer places for contemplation as well as aesthetic appreciation.
Burmese food has heavy Indian and Thai influences, with plenty of local flavors thrown in. If you're feeling adventurous, be sure to try innards, a popular local delicacy.
A sight in itself, the city's circular train takes many locals to and from work during its three-hour route. It's a great way to interact with locals.
As with much of Southeast Asia, winter months are the best time to visit, as they are neither scorching hot like summer, nor insufferably wet like monsoon season. Average temperatures in January hover just under 80 degrees.
Yangon International Airport (RGN) sits about 30 minutes north of the city and serves flights from both domestic and international locations. Food at the airport is easily 10 times as expensive as it is in the city, so you'll do well to eat before you get to the airport. Taxis to the airport cost approximately K8000.
Trains are a popular mode of travel in Myanmar, and Yangon is no different. Several trains connect daily with Mandalay, while a scenic route to Pyay is quite the experience. Sleeper fares to Mandalay run approximately K48,000 and take nearly 24 hours.
Driving to Yangon is for many travelers not possible as foreigners are not permitted to drive cars in Myanmar.
Buses provide a much faster alternative to trains. They leave throughout the day and night to a wide range of domestic locations including Bagan and Inle Lake. Buses are affordable, with a nine-hour ride costing about K15,000. The main bus station, Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station, is located on the northern outskirts of town.
Yangon is a massive city, with five million inhabitants and few skyscrapers to maximize urban density. Hotels are not as cheap as one would expect, and there is often a trade-off between noise and location in the city center. All hotels include breakfast. Good budget options include the Pickled Tea Hostel and the Okinawa Guest House. Mid-range prices can be found at the Eastern Hotel, while luxury can be found at the Savoy Hotel.
Dagon - one of the city's most historic areas, Dagon is home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, as well as the National Museum of Myanmar and the National Theatre of Yangon.
Bahan - just to the north of Dagon, Bahan hosts the beautiful Bogyoke Aung San Park, Kandawgyi Lake, and the Yangon Zoo. A massive Reclining Buddha statue, one of the largest in the world, can also be found in this neighborhood.
Chinatown - Yangon's Chinese community is thriving, and Chinatown is now one of the city's most vibrant areas. Here, Burmese and Chinese residents mix with the odd tourist in the streets.
Yangon's bus system is extensive and very complicated. For tourists, this is made worse by the fact that few locals speak or understand English, and the local text is difficult to read. Drivers will try to help you if you announce your destination, and prices are cheap at K200. One of the central bus stations in town, the Parami Bus Station, is a good place to hop on.
Taxis are everywhere in Yangon, and they are often the easiest way to get around the city. While not metered, bargaining is not difficult. Taxis charge a K1500 pick-up fee, and additional miles usually raise the price by about K500.
Foreigners are not allowed to drive cars in Myanmar. However, cars can be hired with a driver for K45,000 a day (for 10 hours).
Yangon is renowned for its handicrafts, gems, and clothing, and you can find all three at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. A wide variety of lacquer ware and wood carvings can be purchased here. Prices vary greatly from vendor to vendor and haggling is typically a must. For the sake of comparison, tailored shirts run about K50,000 in Yangon.
Street vendors sell a wide variety of fruit and nuts in Yangon, while convenience stores abound. A pound of apples will run you about K2700, while a loaf of bread costs K752.
No trip to Yangon is complete without a few meals purchased from street vendors. However, restaurants also have plenty of authentic flavors. Biryani (a mixed rice dish) is a popular dish. Seven One One Restaurant offers a unique blend of Indian and Burmese food, while the 999 Shan Noodle Shop has great noodles. Expect a meal to run from K3,000 - K5,000.