30 Sep Top 10 Unusual and Authentic Things to Do in Yangon
Yangon (formerly known as ‘Rangoon’) was once South East Asia’s most cosmopolitan hotspot, and traces of its marvellous past are still very much present. Old Yangon is charismatic and incredibly diverse: from quiet streets lined with traditional teak villas to the bustling streets of China Town and the spices and vibrant colours of the Indian quarter. Yangon’s pastel-coloured facades may be crumbling, but its charm and uniqueness are once again attracting creative entrepreneurs who are bringing exciting retail and restaurant concepts, as well as a fresh coat of paint to the city.
We have compiled a list of top 10 things to do in Yangon — highlighting both the city’s historical hotspots and fresh indie venues — for an authentic and honest travel experience. So, if you prefer to move away from the crowds and want to experience Yangon like a local, keep on reading!
1. Start the day with a Mohinga breakfast at a traditional teahouse
Mohinga is Myanmar’s national dish, and Lucky Seven at 49th street is a great place to try it! Grab a plastic stool at this popular local hotspot, which is just around the corner from the Secretariat. This teahouse has people coming from all over town, it’s that good.
What is Mohinga? – Mohinga is a rich and tangy catfish broth with ginger and lemongrass poured over thin rice vermicelli, topped off with spring onion, crushed chilli and fresh herbs. There’s no better way to start your day in Yangon, even if you — like us — don’t normally have fish for breakfast!
What else should I order? – Be sure to try Nyan Gyi Thoke, a mouth-watering dish of cold rice noodles and tender pieces of chicken tossed with a light sauce made of peanut and chilli oil. It’s served with slices of hard-boiled egg and crispy bean fritter, zested with lime and finished with a dash of coriander. Another local classic is egg paratha, a moist and flaky roti served with a sprinkle of sugar.
Mohinga is Myanmar’s national dish, and Lucky Seven at 49th street is a great place to try it!
Why is this place so popular? – Lucky Seven is a little oasis in the urban hustle and bustle of Yangon. Colourful lanterns and clay figures create a cosy atmosphere and an array of leafy pot plants shade you from the morning sun. The food is amazingly affordable here: A full breakfast will only set you back anything between 2,000-3,000 Kyat.
The teashop has a long history and a loyal clientele: It’s been around for nearly 20 years and word has it that it was once a favoured place for secretive meetings… Lucky Seven has become so popular that it’s now a small chain, but the one at 49th Street is where it all started!
Help, I don’t speak Burmese! – Don’t worry, an English menu is available. A small army of teaboys refills your cup without asking. When you want a waiter’s attention, make a little kissing sound (or two, or three). Yes, really! It’s custom here in Myanmar.
Nice to know! –The red brick colonial building next to Lucky Seven is the Thambara Reddiar High School. While you dig in, you may hear its students singing; every day starts with the national anthem followed by the school vision.
Lucky Seven | at the corner of Anawrahta Road and 49th Street, Upper Block | open daily 6 am – 5 pm
2. Stop for a little prayer at a hidden temple in China Town
Temples are plentiful in Yangon’s Chinatown. You can’t miss the large red incense-scented temple near the waterfront. It’s Yangon’s oldest, biggest and popular meeting place for the Chinese community. But this isn’t the only sanctuary worth visiting: Be sure to stop by the colourful Guan Yin Temple on the corner of Maha Bandoola Road and Latha Street, and explore the many other smaller temples hidden in the side streets. They come in all shapes and sizes! Crowded Chinatown even has rooftop temples elegantly perched on top of buildings. Each temple is dedicated to a different god; from prosperity, wisdom and war, to carpentry skills.
They all look the same to me! – But they all have a different story to tell. The Mazu temple, for instance, was built by rich shipping tycoons from Fujian province to honour the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. To this day, this temple is a popular meeting point for the local Hokkien community. The Guan Yin Temple on Mahabandoola Road is a Cantonese stronghold, dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Historically, the Hokkien Chinese settled along Strand Road in the lower blocks while the upper blocks of Chinatown have always been a Cantonese enclave: Locals even refer to Maha Bandoola Road as ‘Canton Road’!
Our favourite temple! – Hidden behind the hardware stores on Anawrahta Road, you’ll find the charming Long Shan temple. This small clan temple isn’t specifically dedicated to a particular patron god, but to ancestor deities of the clan members. Founded in 1877 by two clans from Fujian province the Zeng and Qiu, the Long Shan temple is all about the value of education in Chinese culture. A good place to come and say a little prayer before exams. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see the many scrolls — some from pretty prestigious overseas universities — donated to the temple upon graduation.
Find the temple hidden behind a giant banyan tree and some small hardware stores (Why not stock up on some nuts and bolts while you’re here)
Do you know other ‘secret’ temples? – Yes! Hidden inside a hardware store along Anawrahta Road you find Yangon’s only Lo Pan temple, built for the patron saint of builders and contractors. Three generations ago, it was taken over by a hardware store, but the owners have not forgotten their heritage, and are still worshipping Lo Pan on the top floor.
Behind ‘Summit’ plastic goods store on Maha Bandoola Road awaits yet another surprise. Look carefully behind the stacked plastic chairs, and you’ll realise this isn’t just another shop. You’re in one of the oldest Cantonese clan houses in Yangon! Clans were a migrant’s home away from home; a source of food, shelter, jobs and comfort. They also served as a place to keep burial stones of the dead who could not be brought back to the motherland͛, and so became a place to honour ancestral spirits. Today, the clan houses remain a popular meeting place. Locals like to come here to read Chinese poetry or play a game of chess.
Nice to know! – You’ll find Mazu temples in Chinese communities all over Asia. Thanks to the Chinese diaspora, the goddess of the sea has become their most famous goddess overseas: There are over 1,500 Mazu temples in 26 different countries!
Mazu Temple (Kheng Hock Keong Temple) | 426-432 Strand Road. 慶福宮
Guan Yin Temple | Maha Bandoola Road X Latha Street. 觀音古廟
Lo Pan Temple | Anawrahta Road X Bo Ywe Road. 魯班廟
Long Shan Tang Temple | Anawrahta Road X 21st Street. 龍山堂
Summit Plastic | 658 Maha Bandoola Road
3. Shop like a local at the bustling Tein Gyi Market in the Indian Quarter
The traditional market sprawls two whole blocks and even spills on to the pavement of 26th street
Fancy a shopping spree traditional Myanmar style? Visit the Theingyi Market in the Indian Quarter. It’s the city’s true commercial heart and a firm favourite with the locals.
Sprawling two whole blocks, it’s not just the biggest market in Yangon, but also one of the oldest — it’s built in 1905! — and certainly one of the liveliest. Located in two giant warehouses, the Theingyi Market is a maze of small alleys with hundreds of stalls that sell about everything you can think of: from fresh figs, red roses and clucking chickens, to spices and countless varieties of rice. Sales also spill over onto the pavements of 26th street. It’s great fun to see how local market vendors display the simplest products like a true work of art.
Goods delivery across this busy market is a balancing act
What should I buy? – The eastern block of the market is especially renowned for its large selection of traditional herbal medicine and cosmetics. There’s even a snake section that sells serpents’ organs for medicinal purposes. Pick up thanaka, the cosmetic paste that Burmese women put on their face to protect their skin from sunshine. Traditional Burmese herbal shampoo is said to be the secret to Burmese women’s beautiful shiny hair, so be sure to buy some!
Don’t miss – On the fourth floor you’ll find a fish sausage factory that not only makes the oddly named ‘fish sausage’, but also produces vinegar, wine and brandy.
Good to know! – When the rest of the city is asleep, Theingyi Zay is also the top nightlife spot in Yangon to have some fun with a tipple of Mandalay Rum. At night, it comes alive with dozens of bars, discos, nightclubs, restaurants, gambling halls, fast food and karaoke joints.
Tein Gyi Market | Kon Zay Dan Street & 26th street
4. Marvel at Yangon’s grand colonial architecture along Pansodan Street
Walking along the city’s grand Pansodan boulevard, it’s not difficult to imagine the cosmopolitan grandeur of old Rangoon; here is where you used to find prominent banks, grand mansions and luxurious department stores. While the once prestigious pastel-coloured facades may be crumbling, the city’s charm and uniqueness is again attracting entrepreneurs from all over Myanmar and beyond, who are bringing creative retail and restaurant concepts as well as a fresh coat of paint to this street. Here are some of our favourite buildings on Pansodan Street:
Sofaer Building – Now known as ‘Lokanat Building’, this was once one of the city’s most prestigious business addresses. It was built in 1906 by the successful Baghdadi Jewish trader Isaac Sofaer, who evidently had a passion for architecture. Isaac and his brother Meyer made a fortune importing wine, liquor, speciality foods and other little luxuries from around the world. No building better epitomises the city’s cosmopolitan past: the Sofaer shop carried anything from Egyptian cigars and Spanish olives to Irish whiskey. The other units in the building were rented out to a Reuters telegram office, a Chinese life insurance company, a German photographer, a Greek leather merchant and a hairdresser from the Philippines. The Sofaer brothers were part of a thriving Jewish community of more than 2,000 people, typically traders from the Middle East, in the early 20th century. Most of them left the country after WWII and nationalisation, including the Sofaer brothers, who left when their business was in trouble and the bank foreclosed on their properties, including the iconic Sofaer building.
Must visit! – More than a century later, the building is once again one of Yangon’s most sought-after locations. It’s home to popular watering hole Gekko, local artefacts shop MyanHouse, swanky café Sofaer & Co, and pioneering art gallery Lokanat.
Paradise of Literature – Beautifully preserved, the Sarpay Beikman Building is an example of the immediate post-war period in Yangon. Designed by a Russian architect in an eclectic mix of architectural styles with monumental balconies, classic columns and art deco influences, the building is home to a popular public library and the Myanmar Translation Society. Plans exist to redevelop it into a true ‘Paradise of Literature’, keeping the library and complementing it with space for literature-related events, a coffee shop and a book store.
Nice to know! – The original 1953 elevator is still in working condition.
Most modern building in Southeast Asia – When the Chartered Bank’s new Burma headquarters was completed in 1941, it was the most modern building in South East Asia, featuring state of the art vaults, a spacious banking hall flooded with natural light and the first underground parking lot. But, just a year after completion. the Japanese marched into Yangon and the staff had to abandon the building and hastily ship records, securities and other valuables to India.
Have a look inside! – These days the Myanmar Economic Bank occupies the building. Have a look inside and marvel at its vast spaces and many original details.
Strand Hotel – What Raffles is to Singapore, the Metropole to Hanoi and the Peninsula to Hong Kong, the Strand is to Yangon: simply an institution. By the end of the 19th century, Rangoon was on its way to becoming a lucrative trading destination. The Armenian Sarkies Brothers, who had just opened the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, came to town looking for a good location to open another world-class hotel. With a full river view and proximity to the jetty, right where visitors arrived, there was no better location than Strand Road. At the time, most buildings were made of wood, so when the 60-room hotel boasting a dining room, electrical ceiling lamps and six table billiard room opened in 1901, it was the talk of the town. For decades, it was regarded as the best hotel in the country, where the likes of George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling came to stay.
Must do! – Have a drink in the swanky Sarkies Bar. The recently refurbished bar has been a famous watering hole since 1901 and hosted many thirsty travellers, explorers and celebrities.
The eye-catching pastel green building housed the colony’s tax collectors, cashing in on the lucrative opium, teak, salt and rice trade. The giant spiral staircases inside No. 1 Pansodan are still intact
No. 1 Pansodan – This eye-catching pastel green-domed building at the southern tip of Pansodan Street used to be the office of the British Accountant-General. One of Pansodan’s first buildings, it was the colony’s financial centre. All government taxes were collected here: levies on opium, teak, salt, and rice, as well as proceeds from the railway, postal and irrigation companies. The building is now occupied by the Yangon Divisional Court.
Good to know – During World War II, a bomb destroyed an entire wing of the building and it was never properly repaired; the ruined brickwork laced with weeds remains an evocative memorial to the fierce battles fought over Rangoon.
Sofaer Building is at the corner of Merchant and Pansodan Street.
Myanmar Translation Society | Merchant Street 525- 531 | Open daily 9:30 am-4 pm
Myanmar Economic Bank | 2-27 Pansodan Street, Lower Block | open weekdays 10 am – 3 pm
Strand Hotel | 92 Strand Road | open daily 7 am -10.30 pm
5. Find Yangon’s artistic spirit in the many art galleries downtown
After decades of military isolation, Myanmar’s art scene is blossoming again. Bit by bit, poets, painters and artists are regaining their freedom of expression. Galleries and art spaces pop up all over town, and the city’s social calendar is filled with poetry nights, photography exhibitions, movie screenings and other creative happenings. These are some of favourite galleries downtown:
River Gallery – Managed by New Zealander Gill Pattison, River Gallery is the leading art space in the country, giving visitors the chance to view an unrivalled range of the best contemporary art that Myanmar has to offer. With over 30 established and emerging artists represented, River Gallery provides a great selection of the many different styles and techniques used by local artists.
Myanmart Art – A small experimental art space, gallery and reading room, Myanm/Art embraces expression through different mediums from paintings to poetry and provides an exciting podium for emerging talent. Definitely worth a walk up the steep stairs!
Nice to know! – Myanm/Art also hosts Myanmar Art Resource Center and Archive (MARCA), a much-needed archive and resource centre with hundreds of books referencing Asian art and Myanmar history, as well as a photography darkroom. Nathalie Johnston, one of MARCA’s founders, says: “Myanmar’s cultural and artistic history is strong but nowhere exists a place where that strength is illustrated through collected records, images, and online access”.
Myanmar Deitta – Deitta, which means ‘in front of one’s own eyes’, is an apt name for an NGO supporting documentary photography, filmmaking and multimedia production in what is one of the most photogenic countries in the world. Myanmar Deitta has been part of the recent and unprecedented changes in what used to be a tightly controlled media landscape. Free press may still be in its infancy, but it’s blossoming. Myanmar Deitta operates as a gallery, library and workspace. Check out their website for regular workshops, exhibitions and screenings.
Lokanat Gallery – On the first floor of the iconic Sofaer building you’ll find Lokanat gallery, one of the first art galleries in town. This unpretentious art space was established in 1971 by U Ban Tha, a retired military officer and art lover. At the time, opportunities for artists to display their work were few and far between. Up until today, Lokanat is a popular and pioneering art venue, with new exhibitions every week. Lokanat is a great place for an accessible and affordable introduction to contemporary Burmese art.
Pansodan Gallery – This vibrant and dynamic gallery doubles as a meeting place for the local art and music scene. More established artists share wall space with aspiring creatives, and there are literally hundreds of paintings stacked in the backrooms for those who want to browse. Pansodan’s selection is both eclectic and extensive: You’ll find classic paintings, abstract pieces and a great selection of movie and Pop-Art posters and photography. Owner Aung Soe Min is very knowledgeable and happy to share his passion with you in a warm and welcoming informal atmosphere; you’re likely to spend a bit more time in here than you originally intended… Check Pansodan’s Facebook page for other events, such as Sunday drawing club and art lectures. Every Tuesday night, Pansodan Gallery hosts an open gallery café night. Artists, musicians, academics and other creatives come together for a chat, a beer and some music. All are welcome!
Nice to know! – Aung Soe Mins brother Myo Min Tun (known as ‘Ko Myo’ to his friends) runs Last Leaf Gallery & bookshop next door. This lovely little gallery’s focus is on something else: education. Ko Myo uses the gallery to run Greenthumb, an English-language school providing basic education to underprivileged students; typically, young boys and girls from the suburbs, who do the odd low-paid job at KTV houses, massage parlours and beer stations. “I started with a single student two years ago, now the centre has more than a hundred students,” says Ko Myo.
Little secret! – Owned by the same people as Pansodan Gallery, eatery Pansuriya on Bogalayzay Street brings together art, books and food. Charming and relaxing, the place is packed with paintings, old photographs, antiques and books. The Burmese food on the menu is value for money. We’re big fans of the salads: the squid, eggplant and tea leaf salad are all excellent. As for drinks, you can’t go wrong with ordering a refreshing yoghurt smoothie. Pansuriya also hosts art events, book launches, poetry readings, photography exhibitions and intimate concerts.
River Gallery | 33/35, 37th and 38th Street | open daily 10 am – 6 pm
Lokanat Gallery | No.62, 1/F Pansodan Street, Lower Block | open daily 9 am – 5 pm
Myanmar Deitta | 130 Bogalayzay Road | open Tues – Sat 10 am – 5 pm
Myanmar/Art | G-42 Urban Asia Centre, 48th Street, Middle Block, Botataung | open daily 11 am – 7 pm
Pansuriya | 102, Bogalayzay Street | open daily 7 am – 10 pm
Pansodan Gallery | 1/F, 286 Pansodan Street, Upper Block | open daily 10 am – 6 pm
Last Leaf Gallery | 2/F, 286 Pansodan Street. Upper Block
6. Hang out with Yangon University students in Hledan
What is their favourite hangout spot? – A short walk from Hledan station brings you to the green leafy Yangon University campus. Head for the University Recreation Centre, this is where the students hang out between classes.
What’s not to miss? – ‘Create a learning society capable of facing the challenges of the knowledge age’ it says on the door of the Convocation Hall, the campus most iconic building. When President Obama came to Yangon in 2012, this is where he met with students.
Any instagrammable spots? – Next to the hall is a majestic large tree, made famous by a well-known Burmese song. Thit Pote Pin tells the story of students who get separated upon graduation and then many years later meet again to relive the fond memories of their student life, right under this tree. Just behind the Recreation Centre, you’ll find Lovers Lane, another popular Instagram spot. This quiet covered walkway isn’t just photogenic: it’s also perfect for a romantic rendezvous.
University of Yangon | University Avenue Road
7. Join a game of chinlone at the Mahlwagone sports club
Chinlone players kicking a rattan ball around in the Mahlwagone sports club
How to play chinlone? – Are you ready to get sweaty and fully immerse yourself in local culture? Join for a game of chinlone! Also known as ‘cane ball’, Myanmar’s most popular sport is a pure joy to watch. It’s not about winning or losing, and there is no opposing team: players simply stand in a circle and the goal is to keep the ball aloft with as much grace and skill possible. The small ball is made from rattan wicker and makes a distinctive clicking sound when kicked.
Where can I watch it? – Chinlone is played on every street corner, but the best place to watch it is the Mahlwagone sports club. Built in 1964, it’s is one of the oldest chinlone sports clubs in Myanmar. It’s the home of champions: The players of Myanmar national squad are from this club! There’s no need to feel intimidated though, all are welcome. Here, you’ll see people of all ages, from young athletic types to older men with gracious skill.
Mahlwagone sports club | Dhama Wi Ha Ra Street, a trishaw ride away from Mahlwagone station
8. Peek inside the majestic Secretariat Building
Once the bustling centre of the colonial administration, The Secretariat is now eerily quiet. After independence, this was the seat of the parliament of the new Union of Burma, but when the government moved to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005, the building was left empty and it’s been empty ever since.
What’s so special about it? – Well, for starters, it’s huge. Occupying a site as large as the Louvre in Paris, this colonial edifice was the centre of British power, home to thousands of civil servants. Built in 1905, the entire colony was run from this sprawling complex for nearly a century. It perhaps wasn’t universally loved by the people who worked there, but after office hours the gardens were open to the public and it was an immensely popular place for locals to have a picnic on the grass and enjoy the cool evenings.
For nearly a century, the entire colony of Burma was run from this sprawling complex
But perhaps more importantly, The Secretariat is where the country’s very first Parliament was instated. It was also here in 1947 that the charismatic, young nationalist hero and independence fighter, General Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi), was gunned down with most of his cabinet; an event that tragically changed the course of the country’s history. The room in the south-west corner of the complex where they were assassinated is still maintained as a shrine.
Am I allowed to go inside? – For decades The Secretariat was a strictly off-limits place, its barbed wire fences preventing anyone from entering. Only once a year, on martyr’s day (19 July), the gates would open to thousands of eager visitors. Now, the building is being renovated into a cultural and art complex and you can have a sneak preview of what’s coming! Asia Tours Myanmar offers exclusive tours that take you back in time and explain how The Secretariat is being restored to its former glory.
You may also like – We also highly recommend attending the guided tours of Yangon Heritage Trust. Their trained guides give you an intimate glimpse into the heart of old Yangon, packed with stories and anecdotes from its colourful and layered history, from its earliest beginnings to the modern-day. Tours are on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in the morning and afternoon. All proceeds from the tour go towards YHT’s continued advocacy for the protection of Yangon’s unique urban heritage.
The Secretariat | Thein Phyu Road, Middle Block
9. Finish off with a glass of Myanmar rice whiskey overlooking the Yangon river
Nothing beats watching a sunset over the Yangon River. Chinatown is one of the few places where you can have a stroll along Yangon’s riverfront. The quay is a fascinating and colourful sigh: Fresh fish, bags of rice and logs of timber are off-loaded here to be sold in the city. Vendors sell drinks, noodles and freshly cut fruit to commuters, while workers take a rest or play chinlone. Time to get yourself an ice-cold Myanmar beer or rice whiskey and enjoy the vibe and pleasant breeze!
What’s on the other side? – To catch a glimpse of rural Myanmar lifestyle, hop on a boat or ferry and cross the river to Della/Dala. Being on the water is an experience in itself, with fishermen, wooden rowing boats, local ferries and seagulls passing by. The ferry, which costs about US$2 per person, leaves every 15-30 minutes from the pier. When you get to Dhala ten minutes later, take a trishaw to the local market and through the quiet village streets.
Sin Oh Dan Jetty is where Sin Oh Dan Street meets the river. To get there, cross the busy Strand Road in front of the Kheng Hock Keong Temple in 18th Street.
10. …or just get lost on the Yangon circular train
No visit to Yangon is complete without a ride on the Circular Railway Line. To get an intimate glimpse in the daily life of the city, nothing beats this bumpy journey. An astonishing 150,000 passengers use the train every day to travel to work, shop and play.
The full loop, which is 46 kilometres long, takes about three hours and introduces you to Yangon’s more authentic neighbourhoods. Our free Yangon neighbourhood guide – click here to download it for free! – highlights six of them that are worth a wander. Buy a ticket on platform 7 of Yangon station and hop on, trains leave every hour. Hop off where you like. Enjoy the ride!
Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Plenty of time to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Image Two Humans Travel
Read more about our discoveries along the circular railway line here.
Do you want to explore the city like a local?
Buy the Yangon Neighbourhood Guide in the iDiscover shop to discover more interesting things to do in Yangon. The Yangon Neighbourhood Guide contains beautifully illustrated maps to Yangon’s most fascinating neighbourhoods: Chinatown, Indian Quarter, Pansodan, and the Secretariat, plus six walking routes along the circular railway line. It comes with a free digital guide packed with insider secrets, background stories and a GPS-based map for easy navigation, so you can get lost without getting lost!
Our guides are created by locals, designed by locals and powered by locals …with a little help from iDiscover. Hear their stories, share their passion and learn what they love!
These curated neighbourhood guides are a spin-off from the Heritage Works project with immensely valuable input from the folks at Hla Day and the passionate local students from the Pre-Collegiate Programme Yangon. Last but not least, a special thanks to the fabulous crew of Two Humans Travel for capturing the spirit of Yangon so well.