BURMA: A week in and around Yangon

Just some suggestions

Introduction

For travellers heading to most countries in Southeast Asia, a week can go a long way. One could whiz through Laos taking in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, or go from Cambodia's Killing Fields to Angkor and probably still have time for Battambang. In the case of Burma, however, a week is not going to get you far.

Waking up in Rangoon
Waking up in Rangoon

If you only have a week in Burma then sticking to Yangon or Rangoon is your best bet. A mad rush around the country's major upcountry sites would be exhausting, expensive and be all about ticking sites off a list rather than appreciating them. So stick to the Yangon area and leave the rest for another time.

Shwedagon - so good you could go twice
Shwedagon: so good you could go twice.

The city is often dirty and dusty, frequently smelly and pretty much hot and sticky all year. Bangkok or KL this is not, nor does it resemble HCMC or Phnom Penh. Yangon is in many respects what Southeast Asia used to be, which makes it a wonderful destination. Taking in the main sites such as temples, markets, museums can keep you busy for a couple of days. From there you can take a boat cruise on the Rangoon River, a train ride around the famous Circle Train, wander the streets of Chinatown, check out the old colonial period architecture and generally lap up the street-life.

The Circular Line
On the train.

You also have the option of some excellent short excursions from the city to nearby sites such as Bago and the Golden Rock, or Pathein and the Irrawaddy Delta. If you are still left with a spare couple of days, check out the Bay of Bengal at Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha.

Ngwe Saung
Life rolls along at Ngwe Saung.

A suggested Yangon and surrounds itinerary:
Day 1: Don't plan anything and roam the streets to get a feel for the place. Check out downtown, Sule Pagoda, Chinatown and the old Strand Road and waterfront area. Several outfits offer Rangoon River sunset boat tours so head down to the jetty to sound them out. On Fridays, the historic Strand Hotel does an all-evening half-price happy hour. Sip on a G & T on the same bar stool that Somerset Maugham or George Orwell did. Dinner in a Chinatown pavement cafe at 19th Street is a good way to finish your day.

Day 2: A great way to see the rear views of downtown and chat to friendly locals is to take a ride on the Circle Train. The trains leave hourly from Central Station and take around three hours to do a round trip. If you are pressed for time, you can get out at the halfway point. Otherwise, a late morning train will take you up to lunch, after which you could stroll through the picturesque Kandawgyi Gardens . Around the corner is Shwedagon. Head there for dusk to soak in the view, then take a short taxi ride to the excellent Feel Restaurant.

Sunset on the Rangoon River
Sunset on the Rangoon River.

Day 3: You still have the Scott Market, National Museum and countless pagodas to take in. Don't miss the first two and see where your temple inclinations lead you otherwise. A sundowner at one of the rooftop bars may be a good way to end the day. Try the upmarket Sakura Tower or head to Asia Plaza Hotel's top floor if you're not worried about decor or service but want a great and unobstructed view. For dinner or drinks, head down to 50th Street Bar to see how the expat community spend their evenings.

Now, a few options for getting out of the city.

Plan A: Head east
Day 4: Heading east takes you to Bago and the Golden Rock. Take the 08:00 train to Bago, where you could do worse than head to the Bago Star Hotel at Kyaikpun Pagoda Road and ask them to find you a bicycle to rent. From Bago, a southbound bus trip plus a short moto-taxi ride will take you to "base camp" at the foot of Kyaiktiyo or the Golden Rock. An overnight stay allows you to take in both sunset and dawn at the Rock, but make sure you book ahead as accommodation is limited.

Sunset at the Golden Rock
Sunset at the Golden Rock.

Day 5:  Spend a leisurely morning taking in the views, take a walk down the mountain, wander around the market at the foot of the hill for lunch then grab any Rangoon-bound bus. Allow four hours back to Rangoon.

Day 6: Catch up on any last minute shopping or visit any sites you missed earlier. If you're feeling energetic, take a local ferry from opposite the Strand to Dala Village.

Plan B: Head west
Day 4: Take the local bus to Pathein. It's a rough road so allow three to four hours to get there. Pathein is worth the journey as it's great, super friendly and untouristy. Check out the market, after which ensconce yourself in a waterfront cafe and watch the riverside hustle and bustle. Check our accommodation suggestions.

The road to Pathein
The road to Pathein

Day 5: Continue west for another hour or two and you'll hit the bay of Bengal Coast at either Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha beach. It's a toss up between the two and your selection will depend upon budget and room availability.

Day 6: Depending upon departure time, you can either head back in the afternoon of day six or morning of day seven. While it may not look far on the map, the road is awful and bus connections may require a change in Pathein so check beforehand!



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