Yangon-A Hidden Gem
Myanmar, a place where pagodas are at birds-eye view. Yangon, in particular, showed a contrast where the old coincides with the new – where tradition and culture can still live amongst the gradual development as the capital city of the country. My family and I had the opportunity to visit Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) for 3 days, and we were pleasantly surprised by the city has to offer even for such a short period of time. To think that Myanmar has always been overshadowed by other more popular Southeast Asian countries, this will be a great time for you to explore this hidden gem. And I can be quite certain that there is no need for taking many days off your work schedule, because 3 days around the city is all you need.
Accommodation and Transportation
Yangon city isn’t that big, so it will be easier to look up any cheap and affordable budget hotels around. we managed to find a good deal of a budget hotel in Bo Aung Kyaw Street, which is very close to most of the tourist destinations such as the Sule Pagoda. Our strategy was to spend a little on accommodation and save the rest for the other activities and souvenirs. AirAsia Go has many great packages of flight and hotels which offers very reasonable deals so that we make sure we do not overspend on flight and accommodation.
As for transportation, the taxi is available at all the tourist attractions. There are also cab booking services if you wish to book and tour around for a few days in the city. The prices charged are also not too high, but make sure to ask the price before entering the cab. Public transportation such as bus would be a little difficult to travel around and it may take a longer time to arrive at your destination.
Day 1 – Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, Bogyoke Market and Shwedagon Pagoda
We had a taxi driver contact upon arrival. He basically planned our itinerary and maximised out time here in Yangon for the next three days. We were first brought to a nearby pagoda to look at the scenic view and structure of one of the many pagodas in Myanmar. Note: All shoes and socks must be taken off while entering the pagoda premises. Men and women are also not allowed to wear shorts and tank top inside. This is a sign of respect and practice. Kyauktawgyi pagoda isn’t one of the famous ones but their interior and ancient structure is also something to boast about. We could feel the heat from the ground as it was around 11 in the morning. That was when we knew why there were so few people visiting the pagoda at such an hour. We decided to have a quick lunch and rested in the hotel.
Later that evening, we were brought to the famous tourist market called Bogyoke Market. This market is well-known among the tourists for souvenir-shopping. When we were there, we saw so many tourists bargaining prices with the locals. You can find almost any souvenirs you want here. Many stalls sell gemstones and jewelry, but there was another thing in the market that caught our eyes – longyi. Longyi is a traditional Burmese clothing worn by both men and women. It is a cloth tied like a skirt, and the locals still wear it everyday. Just looking at the array of colourful cloth stacked up was so inviting. Each of my family member decided to get one. Then, we spotted the popularised Burmese traditional slippers. Local women love to wear heeled slippers, where its straps are plastered with bedazzling sequins. I, on the other hand opted for a pair of simple black velvet-straps bamboo slippers. It felt good to kick out of my kickers and slip in those slippers! (Walking in the streets of Yangon does not require you to wear shoes, trust me)
Pagodas, pagodas everywhere! I’m Christian so I took it as a tourist attraction whenever we visited a pagoda. The majestic Shwedagon Pagoda was situated strategically in the city of Yangon. Talk about perfect timing. We were able to witness a spectacular view of the brightly-lit Shwedagon at night. The temple, filled with lights, glistening in the full moon, shining in the night sky. It was like the temple was covered in a bed of gold. What a breathtaking view! According to some travel websites, at night is the best time to stroll along in Shwedagon Pagoda because of the cool weather and lights. However, if you don’t like the crowd, avoid going during weekends. I was there on a Friday night, many worshippers were there to pay their respects, and many tourists were there to witness the spectacular view. It was definitely a great way to end our first day in Yangon.
Day 2 – Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Golden Rock Pagoda)
Day 2 of our journey started pretty early. Our taxi driver arrived at the hotel at 5.30a.m. because the next destination we were about to visit was not in Yangon, but a 4-hour drive to a state called Mon State. To see what? You may ask. To see a rock, I tell you! But, it is not just any rock, it is a golden rock pagoda! Whaat?! Golden rock with a pagoda on it?! How can that be?! Yes, the people practically built a pagoda on the rock that is very close to the edge, and plaster gold paper on it as offerings. I was more interested on how they managed to stick the whole rock with gold. And, another thing to be concerned about, how am I getting up the hilly, slopping road? Easy! transport us in cargo trucks! We were all squished and sandwiched into trucks with benches at the foothill. Then, the bumpy and rugged journey begins! All of us were shocked when the workers who tried to fit in as many passengers as possible in the truck, but were quickly blown away by how amazing the journey was up the hill. We even spotted a white-water, crystal-clear waterfall along the way! There were many sharp corners that made us hold on to the bars tightly in case we accidentally squash someone next to us. There were humps that lifted us slightly off the bench, and landed hard on your butt.
It was the serenity of cloud-hovering temple that calmed us from all that ‘turmoil’ we had in the truck. Step by step up the temple, we paused to gaze at the horizon. We finally reached the boulder, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. Like Shwedagon, gold can be seen clearly out in the skies. The reflection of the sunlight enhanced its presence. The view was nothing short of mesmerising. Gold paper were for sale, and many of them bought and wished for good luck and paste it on the rock.
As we traveled another 4 hours back to Yangon, we stopped by at a war memorial park. It is located not far away from Yangon, and it had a nice green field with tombstones engraved with names of people who died in the Myanmar war. We couldn’t make it to see the building inside as the park closes at 5 in the evening. Although Day 2 ended with our tiredness, it was indeed filled with adventure.
Day 3 – Yangon City Tour
St. Mary’s Cathedral
We wanted the last day to be free and easy as we had to catch a flight back to Kuala Lumpur later in the afternoon. Hence, the taxi driver decided to take us on a city tour. Our first stop was to St. Mary’s Cathedral. It was one of the earliest church built when the British first came to Myanmar. It has a typical catholic influence style to its building and the surrounding was very calm too. We couldn’t go into the church as it was closed for certain purposes. Nevertheless, it was worth once a visit.
Inya Lake is also a popular attraction especially to the young people. However, when we were there, it was surprisingly quiet. The Inya Lake oversees the city’s skyline just across the lake. It is definitely a nice place to chill and have some snacks and drinks as there are stalls set up by the roadside. We took a stroll along the lake before heading to our last meal in Yangon.
With that, we wrapped up our 3-day trip in Yangon. It was a more relaxed way to end our trip but we took home many pleasant memories. As for now, I am already looking forward to the next vacation!