Although no longer the country’s capital, Yangon is Myanmar’s largest and most well-known metropolis. Recent years have seen the skyline change, but it’s still defined by the astonishing gold and diamond-encrusted stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda rising above the rooftops. Yangon has long been a city of contrasts, with the gentle bustle of traditional shophouses sitting side by side with the stark grandeur of 19th-century facades. Work is underway to preserve the city’s historic architecture and to protect its lakes and parks, whilst sensitively managing urban growth as Yangon continues its 21st-century transformation.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
The 2,000-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most significant religious sites in Myanmar, and a truly magical place; informally spiritual with none of the distance that can sometimes be found in places that inspire such awe. You will need to remove your shoes and cover up, at least further than your elbows and knees, but longyi - traditional Burmese wraps - can often be borrowed onsite. However, Shwedagon is by no means the only pagoda in Yangon worth visiting. Known as the ‘gathering point’ by the city’s residents, the ancient Sule Pagoda is said to have been built during the lifetime of the Buddha, making it more than 2,600 years old, and it plays a pivotal role in contemporary Burmese culture.
Jump aboard the Yangon Circle train, the most popular form of travel for local Yangonites, as it trundles along 29 miles of bumpy track through the city’s suburbs. Commuters, monks and snack-selling vendors hop on and off; feel free to take their lead as many stops have tea shops and nearby markets to meander through. Explore Chinatown’s thronging night market, then pull up a stool on 19th Street to sample a few street food snacks washed down with a cold Myanmar beer. For a contrasting dining experience, take time out for a high tea at The Strand before wandering through Yangon’s winding streets and taking in its patchwork history.
Tea is more than just a drink in Myanmar, it’s a way of life, and teahouses are much more than just cafes. With a social history putting them at the centre of everyday communication for centuries, teahouses are hubs for local news and important discussion. These days, the majority of their custom rests with older generations of men, as Myanmar’s youth tend to prefer more modern cafés and bars, but to find the real deal head out into Yangon’s urban edges. Here, tucked under awnings and around hidden bends, you’ll find plastic chairs and stools surrounding mismatched tables gathered in ramshackle corners. Sip a perfectly-poured brew and watch city life go by.