This post will tell story about my first (and last) day in Myanmar. I went to Myanmar from 29th November 2017 until 2nd December 2017 (four-days trip). The short itinerary was more or less like this:
- Day 1: Arrive in Yangon, Explore Yangon, take overnight bus to Bagan
- Day 2: Explore Bagan am-pm
- Day 3: Travel from Bagan to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe & Heho) + Explore Inle Lake
- Day 4: Travel from Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe) to Yangon, Explore Yangon, going back home
So, I have two (or one and a half) days to explore Yangon, which is the first and last one. So, this post is a combined story from those two days. You can read my Bagan experience here 😉
I did quite a lot of research on Yangon as per usual, with the help of Lonely Planet Myanmar. During my research I was quite surprise to find so many diverse religious buildings in the city. With Buddhism being the majority in the country, Buddhist Temples and stupas are myriad and occupy almost every corner of the city. What surprised me was that there is also synagogue, Hindu temples, Taoist Temple, Christian and Catholic Church as well. Beside historical buildings, Yangon also has unique neighbourhood in its Downtown, as well as lake in its city. There were also sooo many places of interest in Yangon that I had a hard time to choose to begin with. But, i will go through it one by one. I will also detailing how to getting around in Yangon from what i have experienced.
Getting out from the airport (to the city)
About Taxi in Yangon
Taxi in Yangon is bargain-based. So, you have to bargain your way to every destination. I don’t like bargaining and therefore I found myself in a very uncomfortable place every time I had to move from one place to another in Yangon.
Although each terminal has its Taxi Counter and from one terminal to another only takes 5-8 minutes-walk away, it is cheaper to bargain from the terminal 3 to get to the city since Terminal 3 is the southern-most terminal of all three. And, it’s also cheaper if you bargain a taxi outside the airport. There are taxis in front of the airport that will try to offer to drive you. There are also middleman walking around in front of the airport trying to offer you cheaper taxi. But, you have to bargain.
From the airport to Shwedagon Paya the range is from 6000-10,000 MMK. This also depends on the traffic and what hour are you travelling to the city. They will insist on MMK 10,000 and mention about the traffic in the city and how long that is from the airport. If you bargain from Terminal-3, you can get MMK 6000. But this applies to daylight. The common tariff that they insist is on MMK 8000. So, it depends on how tough you are at bargaining. You are mostly welcomed at MMK 6000 without tougher bargaining if you hail taxi from outside of the airport.
Storing Luggage in Yangon International Airport
First thing that I did was going from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 are within the same building and within walking distance. So, without going out through the exit door I can reach Terminal 2. Yangon International airport does not have luggage storage, be it operated by the airport nor vendors. But, it has Ministry of Hotel and Tourism counter. The counter of Ministry of Hotel and Tourism are just outside the arrival gate of Terminal 2. It wasn’t fancy nor wide. It was a humble counter near exit door where two people usually at the front desk to assist us with our inquiries. And this is where we go if we want to store our luggage.
If you want to store your luggage, you can ask the ladies at the desk to store them. It costs MMK 2000 for each Bag. The counter opens from 8 am until 9 pm (please ask its closing time before putting off your luggage). I didn’t ask, so I do not know if they also accept overnight luggage.
At this counter I also bought ticket from Nyaung Shwe back to Yangon. As I mentioned in my other posts, I had had some difficulties in booking the flight online. Thus, I opted to book the flight once I was in Yangon. So I asked the reception desk on Ministry of Hotel and Tourism counter in Yangon to book it for me and my friend. They made some calls to the flight company, and after several minutes I was summoned back to make the transaction. I was given the print of the booking details and everything else after I made the payment.
I also asked if they could assist us in booking an overnight bus ticket. But since the quoted price had a big difference with those that I read in a blog, I decided to hold the purchase and bought it directly to the Bus’s office. That being said, after get my plane ticket and dropping off my luggage, I went to JJ Overnight Bus Office in Aung Mingalar Bus Station.
What about using bus to get around?
So, I got about MMK 6000 from Yangon Terminal to Aung Mingalar Bus Station where I bought the JJ Overnight Bus Ticket from Yangon to Bagan for later in the night. After that, I went to Shwedagon Paya.
We tried to not use taxi at that time. Me and my friend decided to try using Bus to get to Shwedagon Paya. We asked the employee at JJ Bus Office the Bus number (I don’t remember it now, but I guess its either 37 or 57, I’ve forgotten about it already). But the point is, they were not sure where the bus is going to stop, although there were three spots at that intersection where the bus stops.
So, we tried to stop at bus stop #1 and waited for about 15 minutes before the bus came. But the driver rejected us to come in and pointed out to other direction, so we thought that maybe we need to go the other bus stop. Also, we saw was that Bus #37 were passing at the other bus stop. So, we changed our position to Bus Stop #2, but after waited for about 35 minutes the bus that we waited for were not coming. That, combined with the dust of the road and hot weather were really making me irritated and anxious about how did we going to see Shwedagon Paya, Sule Paya and Kandawgyi Lake on that day.
It was also worsened by the fact that while we waiting for the bus, so many people around us spitting on the road. People in Myanmar has a red spitting habit. They chew betel on their mouth and spit the saliva out everywhere on the streets. You will see so many red saliva stains on the street. I’d say the bus situation and the spitting on the streets made my day one in Yangon (and in Myanmar) quite ‘interesting’.
After spending about one hour waiting for the bus, we decided to hail a cab (sigh, bargaining again).I I forgot how much we were charged from Aung Mingalar to Shwedagon Paya, but I do remember the taxi driver used traffic as reason for his bargain). But at that time the traffic to the city indeed bad, it took about an hour from Aung Mingalar Bus Station to Shwedagon Paya. Based on that experience, I strongly suggest for anyone to ride a cab in Yangon (or you can book a tour and let the tour ease your way through the city) instead of using the Bus unless you are accompanied with locals who experience with the local buses.
There were many entrance gates at Shwedagon Paya. The taxi dropped us at the Northern Gate (I didn’t know which way it was and nobody to ask to). At that time, it was already lunch time and me and my friend were so hungry, so we decided to search for a place to eat around the North Gate. And there were no restaurants near that area. So, we walked and walked until we found a restaurant named Mai Thai. It was around 1 km away from the front gate. It was a decent restaurant with delicious Thai food. I even bought a takeaway for the dinner. My suggestion is that before going to Shwedagon Paya, try to grab some food in Yangon Downtown, or if you’re from the airport, try to grab some meal in the Airport.
The entrance fee to Shwedagon Paya costs MMK 8000. It was a vast complex with so many entrance and exit gates. Try to note where do you go in and where do you want to get out from the Pagoda. When entering through North Gate, you will be welcomed by ascending stairs with so many kiosks on its left and right selling souvenir and flowers, and many other offering goods. I even bought a yellow umbrella here.
Shwedagon Paya is said to be the best pagoda, rightfully so. The gilded top of the Pagoda shines very bright and beautiful. The stupas that surrounded The Bigger Stupa are also gilded by gold. At each of the gate, there were prayer room with Buddha Gautama Statue. It is believed that Shwedagon Paya contains relics of the four previous Buddhas from the current kalpa, this includes eight strands of hair from Buddha Gautama (source: Wikipedia). It is best to allocate 2-3 hours on this Pagoda. You’ll be amazed by its detail and ornament.
With all the drama all the stuffs we faced early that mornings (storing luggage, buying ticket to the bus station, waiting for a bus that didn’t come, searching for restaurant around Shwedagon Paya) the time was really wasted. We landed at Yangon’s Airport at 8 am, and by the time we finished Shwedagon Paya it was already 4:30 pm. Meanwhile, I had to go back to the airport to grab my luggage, and from the airport I still needed to go to back to Aung Mingalar Bus Station for 8 pm ride to Bagan.
So that was the most unproductive first-day of travelling I have ever had in my experiences so far. All were consumed by traffic (I think that there was good four to five hours wasted on the road: traffic and other stuffs other than exploring the main attraction itself. So yeah, my first day impression on Yangon was not great. So I guess the best thing about my Day one in Yangon were Shwedagon Paya and JJ Overnight Bus 😉
Continue exploring Yangon on the fourth day
The places that I will mention below were explored on the fourth (and last) day in Myanmar. So on the fourth day, I departed from Heho (nearest airport from Inle Lake) to Yangon by Golden Myanmar Airline that I booked on the first day in Yangon through Ministry of Hotel and Tourism Counter in Yangon Airport. The flight arrived around 11 pm in Yangon and I had about 6 hours to explore Yangon before my flight Back at 7 pm. So, it was more than enough.
What I did was hailing a cab outside terminal 3 (after storing my luggage in Terminal 1) to Kandawgyi Lake in downtown Yangon.
I was attracted to Kandawgyi Lake because of its Karaweik Palace. Karaweik is mythical bird with melodious cry and that was the building shapes like. So, picturing the building reflected on the lake drew me to this place. But the lake wasn’t as I expected. There was fencing surrounding the lake, so make sure you make a stop at the front gate. The entrance to the lake area was free, but going inside Karaweik Place would cost an entrance fee. The walkway around the lake was made from woods, and they were under poor condition. The woods were already mouldering and gaping. I caught my breath when another tourist walked down the path and one of his feet sunk in those wood gaps.
So, I would suggest anyone who wants to visit this lake be very careful in stepping on the wood walkway around Kandawgyi Lake.
Walking around Anawrahta Road, its narrow streets, and Bogyoke Aung San Market
Try to walk around the anawrahta road and explore its alley, from 32nd street to 17th street. They are narrow street with two to three stories buildings coincide to each other. Most of the buildings here are store or market. They sell everything from kitchen utensils to wedding card. Its very crowded, busy, colourful, and I got a bit of a sensory overload when I took the stroll along its alley.
Don’t forget to check out its market as well. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, just a stroll around the market will buoy your senses. I bought souvenir here (T-shirt, key chain, and magnet).
- Plan ahead. It’s nice to be independent and travel by your own in Yangon (not joining a tour group), but plan ahead and manage your expectation. This include preparing yourself to bargain here and there. If you don’t want this hassle, you can always book a tour through travel agent.
- Wear a sleeper, especially if you want to visit pagodas in Yangon. It’s easy to put on and off a sleeper than shoes.
- Bring plastic bag. This is for you to keep your sleeper. Beside preventing sleeper theft, it is easy for you to get out at any gate of any temple if you have your sleeper with you. There will be hawkers outside the Pagoda that sell plastic bag for your footwear as well.
- Bring masker. If you plan to take a walk, bring masker won’t hurt as it can be very dusty sometime.
- Beware with your surroundings, as spitting is common habit in Myanmar. Walk carefully so you won’t step on a fresh spit.
- Dress politely, ensure your arm and legs are covered properly especially when entering Pagoda/Temple. Pay respect to their religion and its sacred places.