How to Really Experience Yangon (Without the Pagodas)

Best known for its golden pagodas, Yangon is a remarkable destination rich in culture and history. The majestic Shwedagon Pagoda can be spotted a distance away; a symbol of pride, faith, and hope for many locals. While visiting these Pagodas is at the top of almost every visitor’s to-do list, they are definitely not the only places worth visiting in Yangon.

There are a host of other activities you can add to your itinerary in order to make the most of your trip and here are some you can look forward to:

Fresh buys at the local market

what to do in yangon

The most popular market for visitors in Yangon is the Bogyoke Aung San Market. This 70-year-old market contains around 2000 shops and you can find fresh produce, dried goods, local handicrafts and even jewellery here. Many visitors flock here to get interesting souvenirs and buy themselves beautiful Longyis aka traditional Burmese clothing for visits to the Pagodas. Goods, in general, aren’t expensive but if you know the art of bargaining, you might get yourself an even better deal!

If you’re looking for a more local experience, you might like to visit the Thiri Mingalar Market. With rows of baskets filled to the brim with fresh fruits and vegetables, the vibrant market scene makes for a great place to take photos.

A ride on the Yangon Circular Train

what to do in yangon

A ride on Yangon Circular Train is perhaps the best way to immerse yourself insights and scenes of locals’ day-to-day lives. The trains and tracks have been in use for some time and are a common mode of transport for locals who are getting to the city or going back to the suburbs. Along the way, you’ll pass by small-scale markets, homes, and perhaps just scenes of children playing near the train tracks.

Visit the Saint Mary’s Cathedral

what to do in yangon

Laced with intricate cornice, Saint Mary’s Cathedral’s Gothic architecture is truly a thing of beauty. Standing since 1899 and is the largest cathedral in all of Burma, making it a protected heritage site. If you’re interested to have a look at its interiors, you can drop by the Cathedral during mass which is held on a daily basis.

SEE ALSO: Get your tickets to private train tour in Yangon, Golden Rock private tour from Yangon, and Bagan hot air balloon tour

Be part of the local tea culture

things to do in yangon

Tea drinking is an integral part of Burmese culture – people don’t just simply have tea for a break, it’s a time where they come together to relax and socialise. Walking along the streets of Yangon, you’ll realise that the city has a pretty unique tea culture. Lots of locals sit along the crowded sidewalks on low stools while they enjoy a cup of Laphet Yay – a Burmese concoction of black tea and condensed milk. You can’t say you’ve had a taste of local Burmese culture until you’ve experienced drinking tea the Burmese way.

Try the local street food

what to do in yangon

While you’re out having a fragrant cup of tea, it’s also a good opportunity to try out some Burmese street food. There are lots of street food stalls, especially in the area right across Bogyoke Aung San Market. You can find sweet desserts to cool off from the heat or try from a range of more savoury options like noodles and grilled meat.

Most signs hung at the stores are in Burmese and it can be hard to figure out what exactly you’re having but that’s the fun of it! If you’re still not sure what to try, look out for the coconut pancakes – they’re light, fragrant, and are good starters for your food trail adventure.

Explore the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue

what to do in yangon

First built in the 1850s, the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue is the only Synagogue in the whole of Myanmar and a sacred place for the Baghdadi Jewish community. Its current stone architecture, however, was built in the 1890s, replacing its original stone structure. Even so, the Synagogue has a rich history and has stood the test of time. If you’re into heritage, culture, and history, you should definitely give the Synagogue a visit.

Check out the Ancient Portuguese Church in Thanlyin

Another religious site on this list, the Ancient Portuguese Church is also another place of worship with historical value. The church is not exactly located in Yangon – it’s located in Thanlyin, just a short boat ride across the Bago River.

Built in the 1500s, the Ancient Portuguese Church was the first Catholic church built in Myanmar. Much of it has been destroyed, but you do get a sense of the significance of this church when you visit the ruins. Shrubs and creepers cover portions of the remaining brick walls, giving the ruins a mysterious and dreamy atmosphere. If you’re the adventurous sort, you might like to take a take a boat ride across Bago River to visit the ruins and have a day trip at Thanlyin city.

what to do in yangon

As one of the earliest civilisations, it’s not surprising that Yangon has many cultural sites. Even if you’re not a history geek, you’ll still have a great time simply experiencing local culture in Yangon. With tantalising street food and unforgettable street scenes, visiting Pagodas is definitely not the only activity you’ll do in this lively city.

What’s your favourite spot in Yangon?

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