We started our 2 weeks Myanmar adventure at Yangon. It was not difficult to decide which city to enter and depart from, since the airlines that fly to Myanmar from Singapore mostly covers Yangon only.
When we were planning our holidays, we were torn between Myanmar and Australia (self-drive holiday). Then we decided that since Myanmar had just opened up her doors to tourism, it would be a great opportunity to visit before she inevitably change and modernise. Given another 10 years time, we are also pretty sure we will still be game enough to do a self-drive tour of Australia!
Arrival in Yangon
- Jetstar flight from Singapore Changi Airport to Yangon International Airport (0910/1040 local time, duration of 3 hr) – SGD$285/pax
- Changed US$500 to local currency, Kyat (pronounced as ‘chat’) at a rate of US$1 = 968K
- There were a few money changers at the luggage collection area. All had the same exchange rate.
- We were previously informed that the exchange rate at the airport is the best. But during our stay in Yangon, we found a better rate (US$1 = 978K) at a money changer in Bogyoke Aung San Market.
- Took a taxi from the airport to Chinatown where we already had made reservations with a hotel – US$10
- Taxis in Myanmar do not operate by the meter, so it is always necessary to agree on the price before boarding the taxi.
- Collected a map from the lady at the taxi service counter as well.
Chit Sayar Hotel
For the standard of rooms, hotels in Myanmar are way too expensive. This is due to the booming number in tourists and lack of accommodations country-wide.
- Checked in at Chit Sayar Hotel (646,Mahabandoola Road (between 21st & 22nd Streets),Latha Township). We had previously booked this from Agoda.
- Standard double room (incl. breakfast) – US$62/night
- Operated by a Chinese boss. Some of the staff were also proficient in Mandarin, and communicated confidently (and eagerly) with guests. We also observed quite a number of Mandarin speaking guests at the hotel during our 2 nights stay.
- A restaurant operates on the ground floor, where the hotel lobby is situated. The food smell in the lobby was slightly overpowering.
- Room was like what was shown on the Agoda website. Note: the windows do not open to the streets. Instead, they open up to the common corridor of the building. Bathroom was very basic, and YM’s sensitive nose detected rust smell from the tap water. Hence we purchased more bottled water for brushing of teeth (we kept up this habit throughout our trip).
Walking tour of Downtown Yangon
The Downtown area follows a Victorian grid-like system. It was relatively easy to navigate. We wanted to walk straight down the Mahabandoola Road that will lead us to the Sule Pagoda. But we decided to be a bit adventurous and turned into the side streets lining the Mahabandoola Road. The atmosphere in these streets were mostly sizzling, with hawkers selling their wares, people carrying their goods and going about their daily activities, and with upbeat music blaring from public loudspeakers. As we walked on, we made our way to the Sule Pagoda, and from there continued on to the City Hall and Old High Court Building.
Along the way, we chanced upon a local coffee shop and had briyani for lunch – US$6 for two.
We also walked to Bogyoke Aung San Market, where CL found a tailor, Mantops, at a corner of the complex. He made a total of 4 shirts, and we were told that we could collect them on the day that we return to Yangon from Bagan (a total of about 6 working days). There was only one staff who could communicate in English, and he was also the same guy who did the measurements. Even then, there was some miscommunication and the tailor ended up making 2 long-sleeved and 2 short-sleeved shirts when we wanted only 1 short-sleeved shirt. 4 shirts – US$34. Address of Mantops: 124/125 West Wing Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon.
The Bogyoke Aung San Market was a very crowded complex with specific areas selling cloth, longyis, shoes, and jade. After such a long Downtown walk, we were pretty tired to try to jostle with the crowd. From our brief walkabout in the market, we did manage to purchase a longyi for YM – US$6.
We continued our walking tour, and ended up at the Strand Road that runs parallel to the river and port. You can’t see the views though, so it really wasn’t worth the walk. Along the way we witnessed an unforgettable incident as well: A boy rushing from a roadside stall to the gutters along the road, quickly pulling down his pants as he immediately released his wastes. We happened to be walking by, and this sighting coupled with the sound effect proved too much for us. And we hurried along!
From the Strand Road, we made our way to The Strand, the iconic hotel in Yangon. Its timeless elegance makes it stand out from all other buildings. We made a round through the hotel lobby to soak in some of the old colonial-style atmosphere, and decided that we will come back for tea and/or drinks during our last day in Yangon.
Two blocks down from The Strand, we found a restaurant/bar called Union Bar and Grill where we each had a drink and rested our tired feet. CL claimed that the best Myanmar Beer he had throughout the trip was from the tap at Union. Later on in our trip, we found out that the Union Bar was one of the favourite weekend hangouts for the booming expatriate population. Drinks – US$6 for two.
As night descended on the city, we made our way back to the Chinatown area. Roadside stalls had sprung up across the whole city, and locals seated on midget sized stools were savouring their dinner. We mostly saw stalls selling sticks of vegetables, meat, innards, and customers will dip/cook these sticks in a boiling pot of soup in the middle of the table. We decided not to be too adventurous at the start of our trip, and made our way to a Chinese restaurant just a few shops down from our hotel. The food was not bad, and cost us US$13. The most memorable part of dinner had to be the two uncles from Malaysia who started a conversation with us, describing to us how they had come back to this same restaurant for ALL their meals, how they had purchased some wood pieces (we believe they must have had purchased teak wood pieces) and fish maw to bring home, and how they came with 2 bags and will be leaving with 4…
Breakfast was taken at Chit Sayar Hotel. It was a simple fare – choosing from simple continental breakfast set to some local shan noodle dish. We then embarked on our long walking route of the day.
Walking tour to Shwedagon Pagoda and its surrounds
First stop was to the Air Mandalay ticket office to collect our pre-booked flight ticket to Heho (Inle Lake). A check of the maps showed the office somewhat near to the Shwedagon Pagoda. WRONG! After a long ‘trek’ to the stated address, we realised that they had moved. We met a France-Italy couple who had hired a taxi and guide, and they kindly gave us a ride to the new office together. Many of such airline offices in Yangon do not actually operate in a shop space. Their office is actually situated in a house-turned-office space. Upon collection of our tickets (in the form of handwritten receipts), the couple and guide again kindly offered us a ride back to the surrounds of the Shwedagon Pagoda. We will later find out that the guide wants a tip for this service. Air tickets from Yangon to Heho – US$117/pax. Address of the new Air Mandalay office: No (34) Shwe Taung Gone Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon.
With time to spare (we did not want to go up the Shwedagon Pagoda too early, as we had planned to catch the sunset), we decided to explore the surrounds, and ended up at the People’s Park. The park itself is free, but if you walk further in, the People’s Square (a concrete area with some water fountain structures and blasting music) you will need to pay. We only strolled through the park. Many local couples spend their weekends here lazing on the grass. The umbrella was a useful tool, not only for shading from the blazing sun, but also for modesty coverage for those couples (although we both agreed that certain umbrellas were shouting out for even more attention!). We chanced upon a simple local shop in the park, and had a light lunch consisting of fried rice and egg there. Ordering was quite difficult since the staff did not speak English. We ended up ordering via finger-pointing at what others were eating. Lunch – US$5 for two.
We spent the afternoon walking around some more, and ended up at a Black Canyon cafe along Ahlone Road, situated right by the Hotel Yangon International (33, Ahlone Road, Dagon Township, Yangon). Take note that coffee in Myanmar is different. The coffee tends to be too weak, and the sweetness level is overpowering. The only acceptable coffee we had throughout the trip were in a restaurant called ‘The Library’ at Bagan, and at The Strand Cafe in Yangon. More on these later. Despite the bad coffee at Black Canyon, it was a cool and much-needed respite from the heat outside. Coffee – US$7 for two.
Making use of the wifi in Black Canyon, CL managed to locate a well reviewed local restaurant that was just round the corner. We had a second part lunch at Feel Restaurant (124, Pyihtaungsu Avenue Street, Dagon Tsp, Yangon) where they served authentic local curries. They had a wide variety of curries of various meats and vegetables. Choose what you want, and they will serve the curries with free flow rice, salad sides and chickpeas soup. We had a big prawn curry and fish curry. Myanmese curries are not very spicy, and tend towards a sour citrus taste which makes them very appetising! Food was so good we forgot to take pictures. Second part of lunch – US$13 for two.
After lunch, we headed for Shwedagon Pagoda via the Eastern Stairway.We chucked our shoes into the plastic bag that we had brought along and ascended up the stairway. There were kids selling plastic bags around the base of the stairway. So if you don’t have one, you could purchase from them. It should cost 100 – 200 K. It is not advisable to leave your shoes at the base of the stairway, as you probably will be taking a different stairway down!
At the top of the stairway, we paid the Foreigners Entrance Fee (US$8.50/pax), which included a comprehensive Shwedagon Pagoda map, in English. The day we visited Shwedagon happened to be the Full Moon festival of some sort, thus accounting for the throngs of locals visiting the pagoda. The gold-covered main stupa was stunning, casting an ethereal glow over the other shrines and pavilions.
When we chose one of the many pavilions to take a breather, we were approached by a group of three boys aged between 15 – 18, for them to practise their English communication skills with. We applaud them for their initiative, desire to improve and bravery! With time to spare, we also made a round inside the Museum. And then we wait out for the sunset, doing some people watching to kill time. As night descended, lights surrounding the main stupa were switched on, and the whole appearance and atmosphere of the Pagoda shifted magically.
We exited the Shwedagon Pagoda via the Western Stairway, and found our way to another highly raved local restaurant, Padonmar Restaurant (No.105/107, Kha-Yae-Bin Road, Dagon Township, between Pyi Daung Su Yeik Tha (Halpin) Road and Manawhari Road/ Ahlone Road, Yangon). With both garden/outdoor and comfortable inside seating, the food and service here were excellent. Sure enough, this villa-style restaurant attracted mostly tourists, but we did encounter a few locals who were also dining there. Dinner – US$22 for two.
A taxi ride back to Chinatown area (Taxi – US$2) brought us to the 19th Street where we had read about buzzing nightlife at ’19th Street’. We had thought it was a bar named ’19th Street’. Turned out that the article was literally describing the entire street. The whole street was lined with plenty of local coffee shops, with seats (and crowds) spilling out onto the street. Food fare were mostly grilled and barbecued meats and vegetables. If we had not have had our dinner, we most probably would have been game enough to try something at 19th Street!
This was the last 1.5 day of our 2 weeks Myanmar adventure, and we had came back to Yangon after making a round to Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan.
Getting around from Bagan to Yangon
During this time, YM was suffering from food poisoning. We had to shelve our plan of taking an overnight sleeper train from Bagan to Yangon. Besides, we already have had a Myanmar train experience from Inle Lake to Mandalay. So we proceeded to make reservations for an overnight bus ride. We were nearing the end of our trip, and we were both semi-battered by food poisoning so we decided to splurge and ensure comfort along this ride. The bus was a First Class sleeper bus by JJExpress, with reclining plush-leather seats. The 9 hour bus ride included 2 rest stops (first stop was a half hour break where passengers could actually have a quick meal at the Feel Express Restaurant, and the second stop was a quick 10 min toilet stop). For US$18/pax, the company provides pick-up service from your Bagan hotel, and also provide some simple pre-packed light snacks and drinks along the way. Do not expect a First Class pick-up service though… we were cramped into the back of a truck with other passengers and luggage. For price comparison, other buses/companies were charging US$15/pax for the average sleeper bus, and US$10/pax for the ordinary bus.
We made some friends along this journey and shared a taxi from the drop off point to Downtown Yangon in the wee hours of the morning at 5 am. Taxi – US$5 for two.
Clover City Center Plus Hotel
This was arguably the best accommodation we had throughout our 2 weeks adventure. We had predicted we will be drained by the end of our trip and had wanted to ensure we had a good rest and recuperate (some sort) prior to returning home (and work!). Some plus points of the hotel: great location that was within a 3 min walk to the Bogyoke Aung San Market (situated right behind Traders Hotel), very clean and modern, strong and fast wifi (even in the rooms), pleasant staff, very patient and conscientious house-keeping staff, early check-in at 0630 was possible! We had made reservations on Agoda on the night before we departed Singapore, and the room looked like what was down on the Agoda website. For a Deluxe room (incl. breakfast): US$115/night. Address of Clover City Center Plus Hotel: 229, 32nd Street (Upper Block), Pabedan Township.
Bumming around Yangon
Some of the activities we did while bumming in Yangon during the 1.5 days included:
- collection of CL’s tailored shirts (and realising the tailor had made a mistake. Refer to above post in Day 1)
- further exploring the Bogyoke Aung San Market in the morning as shops were just opening and discovering that there was a whole section on Level 2 where seamstresses were busy sewing away (it was probably possible for one to purchase some cloth from Level 1 and proceed up to get a dress sewn according to measurements)
- chilling at Bar Boon cafe at Parkson FMI building (this was right beside the Bogyoke market. Parkson is one of the newly opened air-conditioned malls in Yangon. We found a supermarket at the basement, and even Yakun (!!!) at the Terrace level) – US$17 for two
- lunched at a local shop ‘Takafuji’ opposite the Traders Hotel upon recommendation from our friend WS (the Thai BBQ fish was fresh and good) – US$7 for two
- having tea and reading at The Strand Cafe – US$10 for two
- having dinner and some drinks at Monsoon Restaurant (85 – 87,Theinbyu Road,Botataung Tsp, Yangon) – US$11 for two
- snacking at a local Shan noodle shop (the noodles were fantastic! from the corner of Clover City Center Plus, turn left and continue walking along that street until you see a coffee shop with a small glass stall selling noodles) – US$3
The hotel arranged a taxi for us to the Yangon International Airport (Taxi – US$8).Traffic was congested in the Downtown area, and the ride took about 45 min. Upon checking in and immigration clearance, there was only one cafe (which was almost impossible to find any seating), and some souvenir shops. It will be advisable to settle your meals prior to arrival to the airport, or pack something to bring along.
Tigerair flight from Yangon to Singapore (1510/1935) – USD$119/pax
CL and YM.