More of Yangon – Attractions, Shopping And Food
Apart from the golden temples, Yangon has a lot of charm and character. Most of it, you may find, is the roughness and antiquity of the city. You will find that the road, and especially the footpath needs to be fixed up. The taxis are possibly one of the ugliest taxis in the world (and this is not just one taxi or taxi company, it’s many of them!) And of course, there is the old colonial Rangoon, with the myriad of colonial-style buildings. You can really imagine back in its hay days that it would easily be one of the wealthiest cities in Asia!
Below are some more things I got to experience in Yangon:
The Strand Hotel
There is one hotel in Yangon that is considered one of the best small hotels in the world, and this is not just another 5 star hotel. The Strand hotel was built in 1901 by the Sarkies Brothers, who are known for building remarkable hotels in Southeast Asia like the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Eastern& Oriental in Penang. The Strand is truly one place that tourists must check out while in Myanmar. This hotel has hosted several well-known historical figures and modern day celebrities like Mick Jagger, Somerset Maugham, Oliver Stone, Rudyard Kipling, and Pierre Cardin.
A high tea at the hotel’s cafe is a MUST! Try the Myanmar high tea, which comprises of a tea leaf salad, vegetarian spring rolls, a banana stew, sticky rice cake, and a couple other local delicacies. Very delicious! Truly worth trying out!
The great thing about The Strand is that it is comprised of only suite rooms and no other types of room. There are only 32 suites on offer, and it comes with a 24-hour butler service. It is absolutely luxurious, and one that many tourists only dream of staying. While I was there, I started inquiring on prices, just out of curiosity. I found out that a one-night stay at this hotel will normally cost US$550, BUT, if you go during the off-peak season (May-September), the hotel offers a heavily discounted rate of US$180! This is absolutely an awesome deal, considering it also includes a buffet breakfast and the 24-hour butler service! It costs about the same as some standard 4-star hotels in other parts of the world!
Of Monsoon and Biryani
Now let’s talk about food! Food glorious food! I love trying out different cuisines. It was my first taste of real Burmese cuisine, as you could hardly find Burmese restaurants outside Myanmar. Aside from Burmese cuisine, Myanmar is also known for having good Indian and Chinese food. This is due to the fact that Myanmar has a good number of Indian settlers who were brought in by the British to work in the farms and mines. They stayed on and kept their culture and cuisine, and has now formed part of Myanmar’s culinary repertoire.
I managed to try an Indian restaurant in the heart of Yangon. This restaurant is quite basic, but it is clean and very efficient. In fact, it can easily beat McDonald’s hands down when it comes to service! The Indian restaurant is called Nilar’s Biryani, and their specialty is, of course, Biryani! It was quite a different biryani from what I have tried before, but I think it must be based on a recipe from a different region in India, perhaps the southern part or somewhere near Kolkata (Calcutta). The Biryani at Nilar’s Biryani shop was the cheapest meal I had in Myanmar, and one of the tastiest!
Another great restaurant I tried there was the much-rated Monsoon Restaurant, which is considered one of the top restaurants in Yangon. It offers typical Burmese dishes, as well as dishes from other parts of Indochina, particularly Thai and Vietnamese dishes. The ambience at Monsoon Restaurant is certain great, and while it may not be the cheapest place to eat in town, the price is very reasonable and still very cheap for Western standards. The food was excellent, and I would recommend it to people who would want a good restaurant to go to in Yangon that looks clean and has airconditioning.
Both these restaurants were also recommended by Lonely Planet’s Myanmar guidebook
Shopping at the Scott Market
Yangon has one big market that is a must visit if you want to shop for souvenirs, crafts and jewellery. This market is known as Bogyoke (pronounced Bo-joke) Market (formerly known as Scott Market). Myanmar is known for its abundant supply of jade and precious gemstones like sapphire, ruby, turquoise. My mom wanted some jade jewellery and I found so much jade that market! I was spoilt for choice! It also sells things like the traditional longyi, clothing, footwear, cosmetics, jewellery.
This is also a great place to change your US Dollars to local currency (called kyat – pronounced as “chat”). The one thing that you will find strange though is that there are no money changer or foreign exchange counters in this market. It’s all black market when it comes to currency exchange in Myanmar. The government banks have terrible rates so don’t bother with them. Most people opt to go to these “money changers” who would approach you and ask “Excuse me sir, change money?” Do not be afraid of these people, but canvas and negotiate on the rate. And more importantly, get the kyat from them first before handing over your US Dollar or foreign currency (just to be sure that they actually have the money).
City Views from Sakura Building
The Sakura Building is Yangon’s tallest building, and it offers great views of the city. The 20th floor has a restaurant called Thiripitsaya restaurant, which serves traditional Myanmar dishes as well as Western-style food. At night, they have Happy Hour from 5pm-11pm, and beer is only $2. You can see the Shwe Dagon on one side, and the Sule Pagoda and Yangon River on the other side. You will also get a view of the cityscape of Yangon, mainly the look of the crumbling colonial buildings and rusted roofs. Admittedly, they give a distinctive character to the city.
Walking on Broken Footpath, Riding On Rusty Taxis
One thing you will notice as you go around Yangon’s central city is that the footpath is not as smooth as other places. Sure, a lot of Asian cities would have the same problem, but the degree of degradation of Myanmar’s footpath is more evident in that you would kinda need to hopscotch your way on the pieces of cement and stones.. Watch out for manholes that have been left uncovered. There are some that have a bamboo pole sticking out with a plastic bag tied to one end to mark that there is a manhole there.
Aside from the broken footpath, you will also notice that a good number of Yangon’s taxis are very old and ill-maintained. So much so that sometimes I feel like those cars are going to just fall apart in the middle of the road! Such is the degree of poverty there that people can’t afford to fix up old cars. In their credit, most people in Myanmar drive gently, and I haven’t really seen or experienced a driver that made my heart skip a beat! So despite their rundown conditions, the taxis in Yangon are quite safe. Being in one of them is one of those experiences that you will remember just because of the sheer horror of the look of their vehicles.
Yangon is not so much a touristy city from my experience. It has a certain rustic charm that will definitely appeal to those who seek out adventure and get a feel of what Asia was like 50 years ago. Not much of the infrastructure has changed, and life in Yangon is still quite laid back and simple.
More stories on Myanmar coming your way, so watch out for it!
Have a Fabulous Journey ahead!