Since the political and economic reforms of 2011, Myanmar has become one of the newest tourist hubs of Southeast Asia, as it has opened its doors to the rest of the world and commercialisation. With less than a decade of development under its belt, the country is growing rapidly, while retaining parts of its colonial heritage, which can be found in abundance in its largest, most popular and erstwhile capital city Yangon.
If you're visiting Myanmar, chances are that you will spend some time in this city of contrasts, so here's a guide on what you can do in Yangon in 24 hours.
Start your day like a Yangonite by having a mohinga breakfast. Mohinga, a soupy noodle dish, is the unofficial national dish of Myanmar and a favourite breakfast choice of the locals. Similar to the Vietnamese pho or Malaysian laksa, it is a rice noodle soup flavoured with fish, aromatic herbs and spices. A morning staple, it can easily be found in traditional roadside stalls as well as high end restaurants and cafes.
After a hearty breakfast head to the National Museum (open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and closed on Mondays. Entrance fee for foreigners is 5000 kyat or ~USD 4) to learn about the country’s history and culture. While it is not well known, Myanmar shares a deep historical connection with its bordering countries such as India, China and Thailand, and this is well showcased in this five-storey museum.
Interestingly, Burmese history began with the Indus Civilisation and in ancient times, Indian scripts such as Pali and Brahmi were used in the region. I was surprised to learn that the first three alphabets of the current Burmese script are Ka, Kha and Ga, which are exactly the same as those of Hindi, India's most widely spoken language.
The National Museum also provides great insight into Myanmar's more recent opulent history, with dazzling showcases dedicated to the time of King Thibaw Min (the last King of Myanmar) and his court. With more than a couple of textbooks worth history on display, it's fairly easy to lose track of time and spend a couple of hours there.
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For lunch, make your way to Rangoon Tea House (open from 7 am to 10 am daily. Best to make a reservation for lunch. Average cost of a meal is ~USD 20), a stylish teahouse that serves traditional Burmese dishes with a modern twist and has become somewhat of a local institution. Don't skip the dessert section after your meal--the carrot cake and chai tea cheesecake are worth the calories.
The Pansodan Ferry Terminal* is within walking distance of the RTH, and after lunch, hop onto a ferry that will take you to the nearby town of Dala. As soon as you alight at Dala, you will find numerous taxi, auto and bike drivers waiting to show you around. You can strike up a reasonable deal with one of them to drive you around town for a couple of hours.
*Ferries for Dala depart every 20 minutes from the Pansodan Ferry Terminal and a round trip costs 4000 kyat (~USD 3). The ferries run from 5:30 am to 9 pm, and the ride itself is about 10 minutes. The local drivers in Dala should charge anywhere between 10,000 to 30,000 kyat (~USD 7 to 20) for a few hours of sightseeing, but it depends on the type of vehicle and number of sights you choose.
Located on the other side of the Yangon River, Dala is a prime example of what rural life in Myanmar looks like--small villages scattered along the river bed, narrow roads, and paddy fields. Given the time constraints, you can limit your visit to two things: a visit to the Kan Paw Aye Pagoda, and a tour of the traditional pottery village at Twante.
At Kan Paw Aye Pagoda aka the Snake Temple, you will find 20+ pythons curled around idols of the Buddha, and afternoon is the ideal time to visit as they will most likely be asleep. After that, take a drive down to the pottery village at Twante, where you will be able to see a centuries old pottery kiln and also observe local artisans making traditional earthen pots at one of the many pottery workshops.
Once you're back in Yangon city, it is time for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda (open daily from 4 am to 10 pm. Entrance fee for foreigners is 11,000 kyat or ~USD 8. There is a strict dress code as it is a place of worship. Traditional longyis are also available for rent near the entrance), without which any visit to Yangon is considered incomplete. Set atop a small hill, this 99 metre high gold plated pagoda with a bejewelled spire is the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar and is said to contain Buddha's hair relics.
The pagoda complex is visited by thousands of devotees daily, and is also a popular tourist attraction. It looks especially beautiful in the evening, as the setting sun reflects on the gold plated pagoda and surrounding stupas. For a more meaningful and spiritual visit, do get a guide to take you through the complex.
After a long day, you deserve to unwind and there is no better place than Babett Eatery and Bar (open daily from 6:30 am to 1 am; a complete meal including a couple of drinks and dessert can cost ~USD 40 to 50), a popular hangout spot for the locals and expats. With its assorted wine collection, locally inspired cocktails, delicious western food preparations, and occasional live music performances, Babett has the perfect recipe for a night out in Yangon.
To make things easier, you could stay overnight at the chic boutique hotel in which Babett is located--Hotel G Yangon (~USD 70 including breakfast). Its strategic location in downtown Yangon, reasonable pricing and cosy rooms often make it a popular choice for travellers to Yangon.
IndiGo has daily direct flights from Kolkata to Yangon. In order to reach Yangon from any other Indian city, you will have to fly via Kolkata.
Indian citizens must apply for a Myanmar eVisa online prior to their visit via the Official Myanmar website. The application process is fairly simple, the approval is received within 3 working days and costs USD 50
Do exchange money beforehand, as many money changers in Myanmar do not accept Indian currency
If you want to get a local SIM, then there are several telco stalls at the Arrivals section of Yangon International Airport and they all offer competitive rates and services
The easiest way to get around the city is via Grab Taxi
The writer is a consulting professional based out of Singapore who blogs about food and travel on her website.