This will be at the top of everyone’s list in Yangon. The pagoda can be seen from quite a long way away, since it is set on the top of a hill. The pagoda remains one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, but is very much part of contemporary life in Yangon. It is open from dawn, and Buddhists will go to the pagoda from early morning to late evening. It is very high and has a crown of gold. On the crown you can find 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies and the top of the crown boasts a 76 carat diamond. In total there are nearly 80,000 precious stones and 3,154 gold bells here. This is a living, practicing site, so the visitor should know some of the basic rules of visiting a Buddhist temple in Myanmar: You will be asked to take off your shoes and socks. Dress with respect: no shorts (although this is less of a problem in Myanmar than Thailand). Walk around the Pagoda in a clockwise direction, which is starting from the left side and going round to the right. This applies to all Buddhist sites. If you want to sit down, make sure your feet are not pointing towards any images or figures of The Buddha, and especially, keep the bottom of your feet tucked inside, towards yourself. Have a look at the way the local people sit, and copy them. Most sit cross legged. Try not to pat children on the head. Try to make your picture taking the least intrusive as possible. The Buddhist people who come here are worshipping, and may not want to be the centre of a photo.
Kan Daw Gyi Lake is close to the city centre and to Shewadagon Pagoda, so it is an ideal place to relax and get away from the traffic and crowds. At Set Yon Road, in the east end of the park, there are plenty of lakeside cafés and restaurants. Also in the vicinity is Karaweik Palace, which is a very large gold coloured structure in the shape of a boat - or is it a pagoda? The ‘Palace’ has a restaurant, and around the corner is the Kandawyi Palace Hotel.
This is the larger of the two lakes in Yangon, which lies further away from the centre. There are some very good hotels at the lake, or nearby, so it can be a more relaxing place to stay than the city hotels. As with Kandawgyi Lake, there are plenty of vantage points to take in the views and enjoy the gardens. There is an amusement park near Kabaraye Pagoda Road.
Myanmar is famous for its gems, so anyone interested in the history behind the gem industry will find this a good place to start. The main source of these gems was from the mines in the northeast, near Mandalay. Rubies, sapphires and jade were mined from these sites. Private companies as well as state run enterprises exhibit on three floors.
In Yangon you can find the oldest and largest zoo of Burma. The great collection of local wild animals makes it a popular destination for weekend travelers and locals alike. Next to the animal park, the area hosts the Natural History Museum, an Aquarium and you can join animals shows throughout the day.
As you stroll through Mahabandoola Garden you can take in all the beautiful sights of the city on the way. The City Hall , the High Court, the Independence Monument Obelisk as well as the Rowe & Co department store are located in the area. Don't forget to bring your camera, the park is a great backdrop for holiday pictures.
Alongside the lake there are a number of cafés serving food all day. Motico Bay offers a huge menu boasting fish and seafood specialities. There are eels, squid, sturgeon, lion fish, tempura, as well as frogs, octopus, crabs and prawns. Each appears in a range of cooking styles from Chinese to the local variations.
Karaweik Hall is a very impressive golden restaurant floating in the Kandawgyi lake and is the ideal place which will take you to a cultural journey. In the evening you can enjoy a large buffet offering international cuisine and watch the cultural dance performance and listen to a Myanmar orchestra.
The main shopping streets in the centre of town are Mahamdoola Road and Sule Pagoda Road. Scott/Bogyoke Aung San Market is open all day, and anything and everything can be bought here. You can usually get a better deal here than out on the streets when buying your souvenirs.
There are fewer shopping malls to investigate in comparison to the other major Asian cities, which is something of a change. It does mean there is less of a ‘global market’ feel to shopping in Yangon. If your heart desires a more Western style shopping centre, there is one situated in the heart of Yangon, Dagon Center.
Yangon International Airport is relatively small and located 17 kilometres from the city. No lengthy waits at immigration or for baggage means that the visitor can be through in 10 to 15 minutes. In the tradition of older Asian airports, there is a throng of ‘helpful’ people waiting to take you to hotels, taxis and exchange money. Porters hover around hoping for some business. Taxis are the best way to get into town. The price should be negotiated first.
This circular train takes you around the city clockwise or anti clockwise. It is a 45.9 kilometers long railway track with 39 stations. It takes nearly three hours to complete the journey. You can buy your ticket at the Central Railway Station. To take the train is a great way to explore the local Myanmar life and see picturesque sceneries.
This is hard to believe, but in Myanmar, they drive on the wrong side of the road – literally. Cars have the driver positioned on the right side of the car, but they drive on the right side, and thus go around roundabouts the wrong way. For any visitor this is confusing and care should be taken crossing the road. No matter which country you are coming from, this will seem odd, and it is. No one knows when the change happened, but the suspicion is that it came after independence, as a snub to the British who introduced the rules of the road.
Taxi is the easiest way to get around the city. There are plenty of City Taxis, which are mostly very old Toyotas running way beyond their expected lifespan. Cars vary in quality from bad to very bad, and common faults include bad steering, bad suspension and parts which fall off. Some cars have all three. Prices are negotiated in advance of the ride and it is worth a small amount of haggling.