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After decades of isolation, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the largest city in Myanmar, is finally coming into its own as Southeast Asia’s unspoiled wonder. A visit here feels like stepping back in time, with British colonial buildings scattered throughout the city, most dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. Book a flight to Yangon with Qatar Airways and revel in its golden pagodas and ancient temples and unique character.
A few lofty, glass-and-steel structures have also started to spring up in Yangon, as Myanmar (also known as Burma) gradually embraces modernity. The city is a heady mix of Chinese, Thai, British and Indian influences, which have all left their mark on its amazingly varied architecture. From Mongol invaders to modern high-rise office blocks, Yangon is a city of contrasts.
A trip to Yangon should start with a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded stupa at the top of Singuttara Hill. This bejewelled marvel is the city’s most important monument, adorned with 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, sapphires and other gems, and 1,065 gold bells. While magnificent during the day, at night it is illuminated by floodlights and becomes a haunting spectacle.
Within the pagoda complex hangs the Maha Ganda Bell, which was cast in the 18th century. During the First Burmese War, the British reportedly attempted to take it away, but gave up because, at 23 tonnes, it was too heavy for transportation. The Gems Museum displays precious Burmese stones, including rubies, sapphires, jade and pearls. The museum is also home to a Gems Mart, where you can buy certified gem products, from uncut stones to fine jewellery.
Also worth a visit is the National Museum, where you can learn more about Myanmar’s history and culture. It houses many Burmese artefacts, including the last Konbaung Dynasty regalia. Another fascinating attraction in Yangon is Karaweik Palace, a floating structure built in the form of a royal barge. It is moored on Kandawgyi Lake and offers a buffet meal, as well as traditional dance and music presentations.
To get a good idea of genuine daily life in and around Yangon, hop on the Circular Train. This is a British colonial-style train that will take you on a three-hour journey of the city and its suburbs. Also, take the Dallah Ferry across to a traditional village, enjoying watermelon and tea on the way.
For a spot of Burmese culture, the National Theatre hosts special dance displays. There are also nightly shows at the Karaweik Palace, with performers donning traditional dress.
Thai, Japanese, Western and Korean restaurants have made their presence felt in Yangon, reflecting the multi-ethnic nature of Myanmar. Chinese and Indian cuisine is especially prominent, and also venues that specialise in traditional Shan dishes, which originated from the country’s central-eastern region. One of the most famous foods in Myanmar is Shan noodles, made up of noodles, chicken, broth and lots of spices.
Another must-try dish on your visit to Yangon is mohinga, a hot and sour noodle and fish soup, which is a quintessential Burmese classic. And because of the Indian culture’s influence on Myanmar cuisine, you’ll also find restaurants serving local versions of biryani, curry and naan.
When travelling to Yangon for shopping, visitors are usually after precious gems, handicrafts and clothes. There are lots of vendors selling souvenirs in Chinatown, and Bogyoke Aung San Market – a major bazaar – is good for handicrafts such as lacquer-ware and wood carvings. For Burmese antiquities and gems, head for Shwedagon Pagoda and the Gems Market, located inside the Gems Museum.
When shopping for gems at the Gems Market, you can get your precious stone verified at its laboratory.
Essential facts about Yangon
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip