The former capital of Myanmar, Yangon, is the largest city in the country. Home to over 5 million people, it is a bustling, noisy and enchanting place. Tropical tree lined streets are bordered with beautiful colonial-style buildings, traditional Burmese houses, golden temples, tea shops and busy restaurants. A walk around the streets of Yangon will amaze the senses – smells of delicious Chinese, Thai and Indian influenced food and incense, the sound of beaten-up buses and cars from the 50's and 60's, the heat of the steamy weather and a feeling of stepping back in time.
The peak period for visitors to Yangon is during the cool season, which runs from November to February and also during Thingyan (New Year) celebrations in April. From March to May the weather is extremely hot with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. Many budget guesthouses, hotels and restaurants do not have air conditioning to escape the heat. From June to October, the monsoonal rains can make travel difficult with flooding impacting on the city regularly. Although it is the busiest and most prominent city in Burma, Yangon is not a city that is filled with much modern development, but times are changing fast. In response to recent high demand, hotels have increased their prices along with improvements of some services, construction has reached new peaks as the city rushes to build new shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and office buildings to meet visitor demands. Along with all the construction, visitors will now be able to see Aung San Suu Kyi paraphernalia for sale all over the city. This previously banned image is now on t-shirts, posters and postcards for tourists and locals alike to purchase. Visitors should note that there are no cash machines in Burma yet, so you should bring more than enough hard currency (crisp $ notes!) to ensure you can travel without headache. Credit cards are only accepted at a handful of large hotels in Yangon but must not be relied on due to the horrendous interest rates they are charging. Fortunately, recent financial reports suggest this will also change in the near future.
The most important of all religious sites in Myanmar is in the centre of Yangon. Shwedagon Pagoda stands in all its golden glory at an impressive 99 meters high on the top of Tsingottara Hill. The gilded stupa at the centre of the complex can be viewed across the city and glows vividly at night time. The main stupa is covered with gold plates and the very tip is tipped with a 76 carat diamond. Visitors to the site can view the Pagoda between 6:30am and 10pm and a $5 entry fee is applicable.
Other important religious sites within Yangon include;
* Sule Pagoda – Reported to be over 2000 years old and houses relics of the Buddha.
* Chaukhtatkyi Pagoda – the 70m reclining Buddha is one of the largest in Myanmar. It is a replica of the original that collapsed in 1907 and rebuilt in 1966.
* Botatung Pagoda – Impressive pagoda with views of the river. This pagoda enshrines relics of the Buddha and was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in 1943 by allied bombers.
Visitors to any of the pagodas or religious sites should wear appropriate clothing - below the knee skirts for women, shoulders covered, no singlets or shorts. Guides, both official and unofficial, can be found within most of the pagodas and can provide visitors with extensive information about the site.
Other sites of interest in Yangon include;
* Bogyoke Market – over 2000 stalls selling everything from home-wares to gems and jewelery, handicrafts, silks, souvenirs, food, electronics, clothing and handbags are on offer. Although mostly geared for locals, the 70 year old market is an interesting spot to purchase some unique items such as locally made textiles or laquerware.
* National Museum – This museum houses an impressive collection of significant items such as chairs covered in jewels, ceremonial outfits, ivory carvings and art collections owned by previous kings of Burma. Although not a modern museum, it is an interesting spot to while away a few hours.
* Strand Hotel – A tourist attraction in its own right, the Strand Hotel is a wonderful example of colonial architecture that has been restored. Built in 1896 it is reported to be the hotel of choice for the rich and famous and previously was exclusively for the British white tourists to the colony.
All tourist sites can easily be accessed from anywhere in the city by flagging one of the many taxis for a few dollars – remember to negotiate the fare before embarking on your journey.