Any list will always be subjective and will depend on the individual’s interests but if you manage to see all of the following you can consider yourself well versed in Yangon’s attractions. Visitor accommodation is scattered around the downtown area and the suburbs and it is not possible to walk to all these no matter where you stay. I have, however, grouped the attractions into different areas to help reduce the need to travel too far. Fortunately, taxis are fairly easy to find in Yangon so this is the best way to travel between most of them.
Let’s start in the downtown area.
This is probably the busiest area of Yangon. It is centered on Latha Road in the western part of downtown but it spreads across several blocks in each direction. The shops, with their bright neon lights and garish advertising, are a seething mass of people during both daytime and evening, and restaurants abound. It is an extremely important commercial center especially for gold, jewelry, electronics, mobile phones, consumer goods and groceries.
19th Street between Anawrahtha and Maha Bandoola roads is packed with restaurants and roadside barbeque vendors selling all manner of dishes. Aging buses run on the east-west streets while pedestrians and vendors cram the north- south streets seeking and selling fruit, vegetables, fried snacks and more.
There are also pockets of quiet, such as the Guang Dong Kwan Yin Temple between Latha Road and 20th Street. The temple is about 170 years old but was rebuilt in 1868 after a fire. There are several smaller Chinese temples on the other side of Latha Road.
02. Theingyi Zay
This is a really authentic Yangon market experience, where the customers are almost entirely locals. It is a huge place that takes up four downtown blocks around Shwedagon Pagoda Road, and is housed in a mixture of buildings. Here you can experience the hustle and bustle of Yangon and see an array of products, including a wide selection of herbs and medicines.
In the center of this area, you find the 26 Street Market and Shri Kali Temple. The morning market (from about 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) is in full swing every day rain or shine. Vendors line both the sides and center of 26 Street.
Shri Kali Temple is a Hindu temple which was built by Tamil migrants in 1871, when Burma was part of British India. The temple is noted for its colorful architecture, especially its roof, which contains images and stone carvings of many Hindu gods.
03. Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
(Corner of Anawrahta road and 26th street)
This is Myanmar’s only Jewish house of worship. It is on the busy lane off 26th Street in central Yangon, and it is a reminder of the once thriving and influential Jewish community who lived here during the first half of the 20th century. It was constructed in the 1890s to serve several thousand Jews, who migrated here from the Middle East.
The Japanese invasion during World War II, forced most Jews to escape and the community never became vibrant again. There are very few Jews in Yangon today.
The synagogue has kept its blue colonial-style facade and it has a spacious interior with simple decor while the adjacent cemetery housing more than 600 gravestones is a little run-down. It is open to visitors from 9 a.m. until noon daily, and on Saturdays and other holy days it opens until the evening. A service is held every Friday. Immediately north of here is the famous market.
04. Bogyoke Aung San Market
The market on Bogyoke Aung San Road in the heart of the city was built in 1926 and was originally named Scott Market. Nowadays, it is called Bogyoke Aung San Market in honor of General Aung San who was assassinated in 1947. It is a very large beautifully ragged old colonial building with nooks and crannies filled with trinkets. It is the most famous shopping place in Yangon.
Myanmar arts and handicrafts are popular buys with visitors and they are available at reasonable prices. There are over 1.600 shops selling handicrafts, food, clothing, jewelry, fashion and consumer goods. Most of the vendors are willing to negotiate a price and they are not overly aggressive. There is free wifi and traditional Myanmar and Chinese food within the market.
The market has four wings but specific items are not confined to just one area so it can be difficult to make a good comparison between different stores. It is perhaps a little more expensive than some other markets as it targets the tourist trade but the range is unsurpassed and it is the easiest for a tourist to negotiate. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but is closed Monday, full moon days and public holidays.
05. Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral
This is the primary Anglican cathedral in Myanmar. Construction began in 1886 to a design by an architect based in India. It is a quiet oasis in the heat, hustle, and bustle of the busy city. It is usually empty and very peaceful except for the services at 7 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. on Sunday. I am told that it served as a brewery during the Japanese invasion of Myanmar in World War II. The next point of interest is north-east from here.
06. National Theatre of Yangon
This theater on Myoma Kyoung Road, Dagon Township was financed by the Chinese and was completed in 1990, and some refurbishment has just been undertaken. It is used for cultural exchange programs with foreign countries, workshops, religious ceremonies, performing arts competitions, and for musical stage shows. You need to be lucky to arrive when something interesting is happening because the building does not get great use.
From here on it becomes more difficult to walk from the downtown area so a taxi would be useful to start the next series of attractions which are north of downtown.
07. National Museum
(66/74 Pyay Road)
The National Museum, on four floors at Pyay Rd., has much of interest. It covers artifacts from pre-history through ethnic group costumes, rural life, royal regalia and history, art, jewelry, toys, early transportation, ancient musical instruments and so on.
The museum’s highlight is probably King Thibaw’s Lion Throne, originally from Mandalay Palace. The 8m-tall wooden throne, covered with gold and lacquer work, is a particularly striking example of the Burmese art of woodcarving.
In the Hall of Myanmar History, there are the pagodas, temples, monasteries and ordination halls of the Bagan Period and the marvelous murals of the Pinya, Inwa, Toungoo, and Konbaung Eras.
In the Hall of Prehistoric Times, there is a model of the Padah-Lin Cave where Stone Age men once dwelt and etched drawings on its walls over 10,000 years ago. Other highlights are the Mandalay Regalia which include gem-studded arms, swords, jewelry and serving dishes.
Cameras are not allowed and, along with bags, need to be stored in a locker at the entrance. The museum opens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but is not open on Mondays and there is a $5 entry fee for foreigners. Although there are some English signs, they are not detailed enough for foreigners to understand the full picture.
The museum has an air-conditioning problem and some sections seem to have no ventilation at all. Equally frustrating in the unfriendly attitude of the reception staff who seem to think they are doing you a favor by allowing you to visit, but despite all this, a visit is recommended.
08. Yangon Regional Parliament Building
The Yangon Region Hluttaw, the legislature of the Yangon Region, convenes at the Yangon Region Hluttaw building on Pyay Road which formerly housed the national parliament before this was moved to Naypyidaw. Now go just a little to the north.
09. Martyrs Mausoleum
(Corner of West Shwegontaing Road and Arzarni Street)
This memorial mausoleum at Ar Zar Street, north of the Slwvedagon Pagoda, is dedicated to Aung San and the six cabinet members who were assassinated with him in 1947. It is now open to the public daily except on Mondays and public holidays, after two decades of tightly restricted access. Entry is $3 for foreigners but is free for everyone on July 19.
This mausoleum was destroyed by a North Korean bomb during a ceremony in 1983 in an attempt to assassinate the visiting South Korean president. The president escaped, but 21 others were killed in the blast. It has since been rebuilt.
10. People’s Park
(Between Pyay Road and Uwizara Road)
This large park, with a lake and areas of grass and trees, is immediately west of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The area used to be part of the palace grounds 600 years ago during the reign of Queen Shin Sawbu. During the colonial period it was a golf course.
A little over half of the complex is called Peoples Square, a flower and tree-lined socialist- style marble esplanade. There is a small museum in the park with life-size models of ethnic groups in their colorful dress, and a beautiful fountain with white elephants.
Other attractions are a planetarium and an amusement park with swimming pools, water slides, rides and a water fountain garden. A handicrafts center and art gallery adds to the appeal for some. The restaurant serves Myanmar and European Food. Opening hours are 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and there is a $3 entrance fee and a $3 camera fee for foreigners.