Thursday, January 29, 2015

Visit Yangon in three days!

After a few months in the city, I decided to put together an itinerary for those who plan to visit Yangon any time soon. I also wrote down a few useful tips.
You may decide not to hire a guide when visiting Yangon because:
  • More and more information and itineraries are available online or in travel guides;
  • The city is safe;
  • There are plenty of taxis available at an affordable price to take you from one place to another;
  • You want to save some money!

So why not discover the city by yourself? Take your travel guide with you for detailed information on each of the sightseeing I propose below.

Before you leave your hotel or place of stay:
  • take a map of the city, a hat and an umbrella (for rain or sun), flip-flops (in pagodas you have to leave your shoes at the entrance), sunscreen and make sure you have your passport (some museums will ask for it) and money (both USD and local currency) with you;
  • wear appropriate clothes so that you can enter pagodas (some rent longyi skirts in case of need) and take a plastic bag for your shoes (especially for the Shwedagon Pagoda, shoes need to be removed so it is better to put them in your bag);
  • take a scarf to protect you against the air conditioning in some place; 
  • book your dinners in the morning to make sure you will get a nice table and note on a piece of paper the addresses for the day.

If you have more than three days you could include a visit to the National Races Museum (more information here), go to the Nagar Glass Factory (details here) or take the circular train for a three hours ride around the city. For the ones who would like to visit the other side of the Yangon river go to the pottery workshops in the Twante village (see my previous post here).

One of your visiting days falls on a Friday? Relax before dinner at the terrace of the Sailing Club (132, Inya Road) where you will enjoy a cold drink, listen to live music and enjoy the lake when the sun sets. The club is open for non-members only on Friday evenings.

Day 1


National Museum will be the first place to visit so that you can learn more about the history and culture of the country. Details here.

After not more than two hours of immersing yourself into the country's rich history, take a taxi to downtown for a massage at the Genky Physiotherapy Clinic. Read my post and note down the address here.


Try the Asian kitchen at the Green Gallery (number 58 on the 52nd Street, lower block, Botahtaung Township) in downtown Yangon. The restaurant is a very popular place with both locals and expats and it is run by a Myanmar lady who lived and worked in Thailand where she learned the Thai authentic cuisine.

After lunch, take a stroll and mix with the locals on the crowded streets of downtown Yangon. You will return here on your last day for the Chinese quarter and the Bogyoke market but for the moment just look around a few minutes so that you get a glimpse of the daily life of locals. Buy some fruits from the street sellers.


It is time now to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most famous pagodas of South East Asia. In the late afternoon the sun is less intense and the light will help you have some beautiful pictures of the pagoda especially when the sun is setting.  Take your time to relax by watching life unfold around the pagodas, from pick-nicks to prayers and chanting. You have free wireless access so take advantage of that to send a picture with the main stupa, while the sun is setting down, to your loved ones. You may also hire one of the guides from the various entrances of the pagoda and find out more about your astrological sign.


It is time to taste the meals prepared by the ShweSaBwe Restaurant staff (20 Malikha Street, Mayangone Township). This is a social enterprise with young cooks and waiters from disadvantaged backgrounds who are taught how to cook and serve in a quality restaurant. After successfully completing all the classes they are assisted to get hired in one of the Yangon hotels or restaurants. Some of them become teachers for the new students arriving. The project was started in 2011 by Fran├žois Stoupan. Ask for a table in the garden to enjoy the beautiful setting between the green bamboo and the colorful plants. You can choose between a three or a two course meal.

If you would like to go for a late drink try the open-air terrace at the Vista Bar (168, Shwegondaing St, Bahan Township, opens at 6pm) with beautiful views of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The terrace is not very big so places are limited. In case you are told at the entrance that there are no seats available try still go up just to admire the view. You will definitely find a place at the bar.

Day II


If you manage to wake up early head out to a local market like the one in Hledan. It is a unique experience! The Hledan Market is situated at the end of University avenue, close to Pyay road and Inya lake. Every taxi driver knows the address. Leave your hotel around 7.45 so you will be not stuck in the morning traffic. Stay until around 9.00 so that you will have a quick ride to the Gems Museum which is your next stop.

But if you are less interested in the local food, smells, colours and curiosities of an Asian market head straight to the Gems Museum. You will learn interesting facts about the precious stones of Myanmar which is most known for its ruby, jade and sapphire. Inside the building you will find gems shops in case you were planning to buy something. Do not forget to negotiate the price. There are plenty of shops in Bogyoke Market as well. I would advise to buy from the Gems Museum's shops as the quality is certified by the license the shops receive to be allowed to sell inside the building. Read more here.


Try the traditional Myanmar kitchen by eating at the Mother’s handmade restaurant (25/27 New University Avenue, Bahan Township). In a very friendly atmosphere you get to choose the curries, the dried or grilled fish, the prawns and the vegetables from a counter; you will get them served at your table together with a wide range of sauces/dips and side dishes.  


Visit the reclining Buddha at the ChaukHtatGyi Pagoda in the Tamwe Township. You can admire there the 65m long reclining Buddha. 

In the afternoon I would advise you to relax at a Thai massage center or take a swim in one of the hotels. I would recommend Hotel Chatrium for a nice swim and gym (wireless, towels, water, shower and soap are provided in the 20 USD entrance fee) and Inya Day Spa for a nice massage.
Alternatively, if you still feel very active visit the National Races Museum which closes at 5pm!

Reserve a table at the House of Memories (290, U Wizara Road, Kamaryut Township), an old colonial building which sheltered the Burma Independence Army during the Independence war and General Aung San's office was in one of the rooms upstairs. It is a beautiful colonial building with traditional cuisine. My favourite starter is the eggplant salad. But all plates are delicious there.



This morning you will walk and admire the old-style colonial buildings of downtown Yangon. I have some pictures of them here. You should take a map and follow this proposed itinerary: start your tour at the city hall, close to Sule Pagosa. Cross the Maha Bandula Garden and on your left hand-side you will notice already the red bricks of the High Court building. You walk down then to the Merchant’s street which will come on your left and you advance on it until you reach the Pansodan street and you walk on it (left direction) until you reach the Strand Avenue. Admire the buildings on the way there, some renovated and some with black stains and run down hopefully to be renovated soon. Once on the Strand Avenue try to cross the road and head to the left to see the Strand hotel building. Maybe the traffic is too heavy for you to safely cross the street.

Walk then to the Strand hotel where you will get a well-deserved coffee, tea or fresh juice. Enjoy and do not forget your scarf. It is quite cold inside from the aircon! Before you leave make sure you visit the art gallery inside at the back of the lobby. It is beautiful but pricey!

If you still have the strength to walk head to the Secretariat building on Theinphyu Road (you could take a look at it on the first day when at the Genky massage; it is opposite the street). Otherwise ask a taxi to drive you around the building to admire the impressive structure which was the former Ministers’ building. General Aung San was assassinated in this building in 1947. There are plans to open a museum there once the building will be renovated.


Take a taxi to 999 Shan Noodle Shop (34 street, middle block, downtown). The restaurant is a must, in my opinion. A cosy little restaurant of which I wrote here. Try the Shan sticky noodles served as a soup or a main dish (which I prefer).


This is your last day and it is time to do some shopping. The best place to do this is still the Bogyoke Market where you will find traditional clothing like longyi, the Myanmar silk scarfs from Inle Lake, wooden products, traditional painted paper umbrellas, gems, etc. 

You can walk to Bogyoke Market from the 999 Shan Noodle Shop. Use your map! On your way to the market you can stop for a coffee at the Shangri-la hotel (the former Traders hotel as it is still known). You will be impressed by the colonial setting inside.
(Alternative for shopping, especially for buying souvenirs for the loved ones back home and where you can pay by Mastercard (total above 50USD): Pomelo (89 Theiphyu Road, close to Monsoon Restaurant, downtown). It is opened until late in the evening, 9 p.m.).


I propose you choose from three dinner options for the last evening in Yangon. All three of them are unforgettable.
The very romantic and pricy one is having dinner at the Governor's residence. This colonial building, which was the residence of the British Governor during colonial rule is a hotel with a very elegant restaurant. The food is good and pricy but the location only makes up for it. 
The second choice is the Shwe Kaung Hot Pot restaurant, popular amongst locals. You get a spicy and a non spicy soup in which you can put different raw ingredients from vegetables to fish and organs (!). You choose what you like from big refrigerators. Read more about this interesting dinner concept here.

For the most daring and curious ones there are the street barbeques in the Chinese quarter of the 19th street. There are many restaurants and bars serving fresh barbeques from meat to fish and seafood. The food is fresh as they are quite popular. You will see a lot of young tourists enjoying the meat skewers and seafood plates while drinking a Myanmar beer.
And, in the end, do not be surprised:
  • when landing to be greeted by large smiles with rotten red teeth due to the betel chewing;
  • to notice and step into the red saliva that has been spat out by the betel chewing men!
  • to possibly see rats in downtown;
  • to notice dogs at every corner. Most of them do not even stare at you; the friendly attitude is due to the fact that most locals feed the animals and treat them well;
  • to see all kind of behavior in pubic like loudly clearing the throat, spitting or being stared at. 

Did I forget something? Probably yes, but I let you discover the rest for yourself!!! 


Young locals love People's Park

Yesterday I planned to visit the Yangon Art Gallery which is situated at the entrance of the People's Park when coming from Ahlone Road (the entrance closer to Pyay Road). The gallery was hosting the exhibition of painter Nay Sun whose watercolours landscapes and river views I liked very much. The best paintings were already sold with prices between 150 and 200 USD, depending on the size.

Below you can see my favourite painting:

Afterwards I entered the People's Park located close to the Shwedagon Pagoda(for which the foreigners have to pay a 300 Kyats entrance fee). The park is big and has two lakes, some watch towers, small taverns, coffee shops, plenty of benches, tree top suspension bridges for children, a Planetarium, and I read about a small museum with life-size models presenting the different nationalities of the country. There is also a huge square which has an equally huge water fountain with beautiful views on the Shwedagon Pagoda. 
They say the park was renovated in 2011 but for me some places were still very much under renovation. The park can offer the perfect location for a leisurely afternoon of stroll, far from the city's hustle & bustle especially if you visit with children. In the morning at around 7 a.m. you can join the locals in the morning gymnastics.

It seams that the main theme of the park is around love. Many symbols in form of benches or flower hearts can be found scattered around. And, of course, the loved up couples who are hiding under umbrellas, trees and bushes. Indeed, the park provides a perfect place for couples to express their feelings without being undisturbed. Don't forget that many young adults often still live with their family, most of them in one or two rooms and that it is difficult to find an adequate location to meet with their partners.

Monday, January 26, 2015

National Races Village

Mingalaba! We returned to Myanmar some time ago.

The weather is warm and dry, a real warm European summer. Sometimes, in the evening, I am enjoying the fresh air with scents of burnt leaves from some of the gardens around and I remember the childhood when people were burning their weed in my country in Europe. There is no trace of humidity in the air. It is just pleasant. Flowers are blooming and the mango trees are showing their fruits. It is the strawberry season!

We visited the National Races Village this weekend, one of the last sightseeing sights we had on our list for Yangon. It is an open-air ethnological museum which displays houses from the different regions of the country.

The park which hosts the museum expands on the shore of river Bago. It is situated close to Thanlyin Bridge, in Thanketa Township, around 30 to 40 minutes’ drive from downtown Yangon. The entrance fee for foreigners is 3000 Kyatts. It is nice as you can rent bicycles and ride along the long alleys. There are some cafes and locals sell fruits around the park.

(One should not pay more than 6000 Kyatts from downtown to arrive there. Of course, the taxi drivers will try to get as much as they can from the tourists (show them a picture of the entrance of the park on your phone together with the address so they quickly understand where to take you). The first taxi driver tried to charge us 15000 Kyatts!!! It is best to say "no, thank you" and just leave than try to negotiate even if he is reducing the price and calls after you. Of course, we did not have an idea where the park is and how long the drive would be. But asking different taxi drivers we realised that it cannot be more than 5000 Kyatts from our home. With a bit of negotiation we could even have gone a bit below but knowing the heavy traffic we accepted this price.) 

Myanmar is a very diverse and rich country with different cultures and traditions. It has over 135 different ethnic groups gathered in eight national ethnic 'races' as they are called (Bamar, Chin, Kayah, Kayin, Kachin, Mon, Rakhine, Shan) each of them with their particularities. You can visit a house from each of these areas.

Traditionally the houses are built on stilts because of the long and strong rains but also because the cattle is kept under the house. The architecture of the house differs from region to region depending mostly on weather conditions and the wealth of the region. Inside of a region you have variations of style depending on the position, religion and wealth of the inhabitants.

The houses are built out of wood and bamboo, and most of them have thatched roofs. Some have large and numerous windows while some, which are in areas with a colder climate, have only some small ones. In each of the house there is a collection of household items, music instruments and costumes. Most of the houses have terraces where the guests are received and taken care of.

In some of them, young people are dressed in the traditional costumes of that region and are posing for pictures.

Each house has a small shop which sells traditional fabrics and small handicrafts of that specific region.
The locals come also to enjoy the park with its Watch Tower, the enclosures with birds, crocodiles or dears, a small artificial waterfall, the lakes, the mangrove park and the river bank. The young couples, again, hide behind umbrellas for a bit of intimacy. There are many locals but only a few tourists.

If you are in Yangon for a bit longer than three days it is worth a visit. The museum opens from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. But because of the long distance from downtown try to avoid the rush hour of lunchtime and around 5 p.m.