Dazzling golden pagodas, mouthwatering local fare, colonial-era remnants — these are just a few reasons why I quickly fell in love with Yangon, Myanmar. The nation’s former capital is hard to describe; it’s a hub in search of a revitalizing renaissance while also seemingly staying true to its roots. When I first arrived in Yangon, I was in desperate need of an adventure. I’d just spent two weeks bumming around on the southern beaches of Thailand and was feeling restless and yearning for some culture and contrast. Within 24 hours in Yangon, I was hooked.
The day before booking our flight to Myanmar, James and I made the executive decision to cut our trip much earlier than planned because we’ve decided to save our funds in order to visit America this October. Mama, I’m comin’ home!
So, for the first time in nearly four months, we had an actual end date to our journey – a major adjustment as we were so used to floating along.
Since we wanted to spend most of three weeks in the countryside, we only gave ourselves a day and a half in Yangon, so our schedule was jam-packed. Although our 24 hours in Yangon was slightly exhausting, some of my favorite memories are from the hectic day. Those wondering how we made the best of our time, keep reading!
Heads up: there’s a trip to a holy site included in this agenda, so be sure to wear something that covers your knees and shoulders as to not offend the Burmese culture. You guys know how I feel about traveling responsibly by now, right?!
24 HOURS IN YANGON
8:30 A.M. – Have a small breakfast at a Burmese tea house
One thing that you must know before your trip is that Burmese people live by the sun. Take advantage of this lifestyle. While most guest houses and hostels throughout the city offer complimentary breakfast, use your time in Yangon as an opportunity to experience a traditional Burmese breakfast. There are a variety of tea houses in Yangon catering to a variety of customers. If you’re feeling more of a contemporary and hip vibe, I suggest popping into Rangoon Tea House for some upscale Burmese street food and tea. If you’d like to have a traditional experience, swing by Lucky 7 Tea Shop and dine with some locals. Pinkies up!
Rangoon Tea House – No. 77-79, Lower Pansodan, Yangon, Myanmar
Lucky 7 Tea Shop – 49th St, Yangon, Myanmar
9:30 A.M. – Take a stroll through Maha Bandula Park
Located conveniently in the center of town, this beautiful park is definitely a must-see on a sunny afternoon. One of the more impressive structures in the park is the Independence Monument, a tall, white tower commemorating Burma’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. The park is a great spot to people watch or spark up a conversation with some locals. While we were there, we noticed how eager Burmese people are to talk and how genuinely kind they are. Across the way is Sule Pagoda, one of the nation’s oldest Burmese stupas – and quite an impressive one at that.
10:00 A.M. – Dine at the best noodle shop in town
Noodles for breakfast? Welcome to Asia. During your 24 hours in Yangon you must try Shan Noodle, one of the signature dishes of Myanmar. After a disappointing first meal the night before, we decided to check out the best there is in town: 999 Shan Noodle Shop. This hole-in-the-wall eatery is always bustling with tourists and locals alike – and for good reason.
For just 1,500 kyat, or, $1.30 USD, customers are treated to warm cups of tea, a bowl of soup and noodle dish. There are a variety of side dishes available for those interested in sharing. Vegetarians, fear not! Like each of its neighboring countries, Myanmar caters to you as well.
Please note: this can be skipped if you’re too full from breakfast!
Location: No. 130 B 34th Street | Kyauktada Township, Yangon, Myanmar
11:00 A.M. – Take a train through rural Yangon
One of the best things I did during my 24 hours in Yangon was hop on the Yangon Circular Railway. As a lover of train transport, I find few things more satisfying than looking out at a back drop of rolling hills and hearing the rumble of the wheels against the tracks while waving to the smiliest children I’ve ever seen. For just 200 kyat – $0.17 – tourists can observe the daily lives of local Yangon-ians (that’s a word, right?!) for several hours via train. One of the coolest things about it? This train operates as a popular commuter train for the locals.
It makes stops in several communities and farm towns as well as near some well-known markets in town. The entire journey takes about three hours in total if you don’t get off at any stops. I suggest sitting near the door for optimal viewing. Or, if you’re like me, just hang out in the doorway the majority of the ride!
Location: Central Station, Yangon, Myanmar
2:30 P.M. – Gorge on some South Indian curry
Indian food lovers rejoice: there is quite an array throughout Myanmar. Located just a short walk from the Yangon Circular Railway, Nilar Biryani is certainly a spot that will satisfy any and all cravings. Curries range anywhere from 1,500 – 3,000 kyat ($1.30 – 2.50 USD) and naan bread, rice and samosas are offered at the no-frills mom and pop restaurant for a low price as well. If you’re a fan of biryani, this is definitely the spot for you. Stop in, obtain food baby, move on with ya bad self.
Location: No. 216 Anawratha Road, Pabedan Township, Yangon, Myanmar
3:30 P.M. – Blow your mind
After acquiring said food baby at Nilar Biryani, hop in a cab toward the Shwedagon Pagoda. Word to the wise, be sure to bargain with the cabbie beforehand; you shouldn’t pay more than 3,000 kyat. Ask your driver to drop you off in the East Gate area – I’ll get to that part later. Once you arrive, you’ll be asked to pay a 8,000 kyat ($6.75 USD) entrance fee and to leave your shoes at the front. Whatever you do, take care of your shoes – don’t forget to exit through the same gate!
This site was hands down, one of the most impressive places I’ve ever seen. Reminiscent of a real life, fantastical Disney World realm, this holy site is quite literally capable of taking someone’s breath away. I recommend giving yourself an hour or two to fully get a sense of the space.
5:30 P.M. – Watch the sunset at Kandawgyi Lake
The reason I mentioned the East Gate earlier is so you have prime access to the path which leads to the lakefront. Take a stroll down to the lake to bid farewell to the sun as it glistens and makes its way behind the Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance. While you’re at it, walk along the path until you can get a good view of Karaweik Palace at the south east corner. This giant, floating restaurant was built in the 1970s now serves as an entertainment space for tourists and locals alike. The boat-shaped structure contains conference rooms, reception halls, buffet rooms and theaters and hosts a traditional Burmese performance each night.
I opted out of the show as it was a bit too steep for my daily budget, but I preferred admiring the golden beauty from afar.
7:30 P.M. – Explore markets and dine with locals
Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean your 24 hours in Yangon are finished. Once the sun goes down, head toward 19th Street to Yangon’s Chinatown neighborhood to check out the night markets and some local street food. Many of the food options in this lively area are barbecue; a variety of meats, vegetables and even tofu are available to snack on. The portions aren’t big, but that’s because the Burmese don’t traditionally eat large meals for dinner. There are plenty of restaurants and street stalls to pick from, so choose your own adventure!
After your late night snack, head down one of the alleyways for some Myanmar beer or tea and call it a night!
If you’re heading to Bagan the following day, chances are your bus will be anywhere from 7:30 to 9:30 as it requires overnight travel. The buses out of Yangon are not only comfortable, but cheap and impressive as well. A company I recommend is Elite; the service was akin to the kind you get while flying with a great airline! This country really knows how to do hospitality well. But, more on that later.
If you’re interested, I stayed at 20th Street Hostel Yangon near Chinatown. The staff is super kind and accommodating and offer a private room or dorm stay. The location is great and the price is pretty competitive. I highly recommend it!
Do you have any suggestions or tips for spending 24 hours in Yangon? I would love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below! Stay tuned for a more in-depth guide on how to make the most of three weeks in Myanmar!