According to legend, the city started life as a small fishing village. Around 2,500 years ago two merchant brothers called on King Okkalapa and presented him with eight strands of the Buddha’s hair. The King instructed that a great Pagoda be built on Thainguttara Hill to house the relics. The town of Dagon was born. In 1755 King Alaungpaya swept through Myanmar, defeated the Mon army and captured Dagon. He re-named the city Yangon, meaning ‘End of Strife’. In 1852 the city became part of the British Empire and the name was changed again to Rangoon. After capturing all of what is now Myanmar in 1885, the British made Rangoon the new colonial Capital. In 1989 the government changed the city’s name back to Yangon and in 2005, the Capital was moved to the newly-built city of Nay Pyi Taw.
British Rangoon was nicknamed the ‘The Garden City of the East’ for its parks, lakes and wide avenues and the city became an important regional trade centre. Large numbers of Chinese as well as Hindu and Muslim Indians moved to the city to trade and build its infrastructure, making the city a cosmopolitan mix of ethnicities. Today’s Yangon, a city of 6 million people, is most famous for its colonial heritage and is probably the most intact British colonial city in the world.
Yangon is our favourite city. Impressive, imposing colonial edifices line the streets of the downtown district near historic Sule Pagoda. Then come the markets; Bogyoke Aung San and Theingyi, local produce markets like Bogale catering to city centre dwellers and the morning, and night markets that set up along the streets of the Indian district. In amongst the markets and side-streets are the places of worship; Buddhist Pagodas, Century-old South Indian-style Hindu temples, mosques and colonial churches of various denominations. Then there’s Chinatown; hidden temples and traditional food shops, barbeque stalls and fruit sellers.
And that’s just downtown. North of the railway station (which is a sight in itself) lies that ‘Garden City’; Huge parks, tree-lined avenues, picturesque lakes and hidden colonial mansions. It’s here you will also find the best hotels and finest restaurants – this is the culinary capital of Myanmar. And then there are the shopping districts such as Myaynigone, the art galleries and museums that chronicle the history of this ‘Golden Land’. And crowning all this, of course, is Shwedagon; that most magnificent of pagodas; the most sacred site in Myanmar.
Yangon is one the safest big cities in the world. This is a place to stroll, linger over a cup of tea in a streetside teashop, wander the back streets, bargain for unique gifts, make conversation. Many visitors give Yangon only a day or two of their time – we think it is worth all the time you can spare.
Shwedagon is gilded with some 60 tons of gold. At its tip is a gold ‘hti’ (umbrella) weighing over a ton and hung with gold and silver bells. At the very top of the ‘hti’ is a golden orb, 10 inches in diameter, studded with 4351 diamonds totalling 1800 carats and crowned by a single diamond solitaire weighing 76 carats. The main pagoda is surrounded by dozens of smaller shrines, temples, bells and pavilions, and hundreds or thousands of pilgrims paying their respects. We recommend hiring a guide to explain the stories and legends; to bring history alive.
St Mary’s Cathedral.
Kaba Aye Pagoda and Maha Pasana Guha.
Kandawgyi Lake and Gardens.
Bogyoke Aung San Museum
Gem Museum and Market.
Bogyoke Aung San Market.
The majority of the market caters to local shoppers; it is a popular place to buy clothes, fabric and shoes. Mixed in amongst these outlets are shops catering to foreign visitors. The choice is overwhelming; paintings, rattan, puppets, lacquer ware, wood carvings, musical instruments, antiques, shoulder bags – if it is made in Myanmar, it is available here. The rear section of the market is devoted to gems and jewellery. Remember to bargain! When you are tired of shopping there is a very atmospheric tea shop area in the centre-west section of the market. Sip tea and nibble on some snacks whilst traders all around you haggle over loose gemstones.
Yangon is the gateway to the Golden Land – most visitors enter Myanmar via Yangon’s tiny International airport. The city is, therefore the starting and end point of most visits. We generally recommend that visitors explore the city upon arrival, spending one, but preferably more days taking in the colonial architecture and street life of this fascinating, liveable city.
All flights to Upper Myanmar (Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Lashio and beyond), Ngapali Beach and the hidden wonders of Mrauk U and the far South (Myeik Archipelago) originate in Yangon so this is the most convenient place to start a tour of the country. If you do not want to fly, Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange a tour of most parts of the country by comfortable, air-conditioned car with an English-speaking driver and / or guide.
Mr Myanmar Travel arranges day tours of Yangon that take in the most interesting sights of the city. We can also organise some alternative day trips which take you away from the city into the surrounding countryside and onto the local rivers. Please see the ‘Daytrips from Yangon’ page of our website.
Yangon is also the base for many short overnight trips. Popular overnight, or two-night trips include the amazing Mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock), Myaing Hay Wun Elephant Camp, The birding paradise of Moeyingyi Wetlands and short boat tours into the Ayeyarwady Delta, where you can anchor and overnight aboard near remote delta towns and villages. Longer overland (and river) tours can take you further, to Mawlamyine and Mon State, Hpa-An and Kayin State, Pyapon , Pathein and Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary by river and the beaches of Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha. Please don’t hesitate to ask us for details.