Yangon - Abbey Travel, Ireland


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Welcome to Yangon


Yangon is Myanmar's largest and most interesting city, and its economic and diplomatic centre despite the 2005 creation of remote Naypyidaw as official capital of the ruling military junta.

The city was occupied by the British in 1852 when it became the centre of the Burmese Raj.The resulting influx of traders, diplomats and wealth transformed the city into a glorious regional hub. The legacy of this time is evident in the decaying though stately colonial buildings found along the Rangoon river and toward the centre of town.

The shining jewel of Yangon's many attractions is Schwedagon pagoda, the golden temple visible throughout the city and an iconic sight emblematic of the country and its strong Buddhist traditions. Other attractions include 2,200 year-old Sule pagoda, the fragrant exoticism of Little India and Chinatown, and the vibrant night markets including Bogyoke Aung San Market. Inle Lake is lined with gardens and luxurious villas and provides a cooling distraction at sunset. Another worthwhile stopover is a visit to recently released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house, on University avenue.

Yangon is hot and humid, especially at midday when most of the population takes refuge indoors or by the shade of a temple or banyan tree. It is a noisy and chaotic place too, with innumerable scooters, orange robed monks, neon signs and golden temple spires clashing in a visual landscape of uniquely Asian contradictions. Yangon is also Asia's safest city, the only positive consequence of the dictatorship that rules this country with impunity.

Information & Facts


Yangon has a tropical monsoon climate featuring a long rainy season which runs from April through November. The dry season is short-lived, lasting only from December through March, where little rainfall is seen and pleasant warm weather prevails. Average daytime temperatures are fairly constant in Yangon with highs ranging from 84F to 96F (29°C to 36°C). The dry season is the best time of year to visit Yangon.

Burmese is the official language, yet English is widely spoken and understood. Burmese's alphabet is made up of circular and semi-circular characters. Other languages spoken are Karen, Shan and Kachin.

The official currency is the Kyat (MMK) pronounced 'Chat'. The best currency to travel on in Myanmar is the US Dollar. The Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) is a legal currency for visiting tourists that is usable in government shops and hotels. It is no longer a requirement to convert US$200 into FEC upon arrival in Myanmar. One FEC is equivalent to one US Dollar. It is recommended to use US Dollars. It is difficult to cash American Express travellers cheques in certain cities, such as Mandalay, and even when it is possible the commission can be as high as 10 percent. US Dollar notes will not be accepted if they are damaged or torn in any way, or have pen marks on them. There is a big difference between the official and unofficial exchange rates; street moneychangers offer favourable rates at hotels and Scott Market. As a rough guide, the black market rate is in the region of US$1 = MMK 1000 - a dramatic difference when compared to the official government rate. Very few major hotels, airlines, shops and restaurants accept credit cards and ATM cards can rarely, if ever, be used. It is advisable to carry cash. Banks are closed on weekends.

Bagan is quite simply one of Asia's most astounding sights, an impossible collection of thousands of temples and monuments scattered over a vast plain. The buildings range in condition from ruined to resplendent, although many retain the power and majesty their devout designers intended. Most of the structures were built between the 10th and 12th centuries when Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire. Regrettably, many temples have suffered under the government's ham-fisted attempts at restoration. The temples can best be viewed via bicycle which allows for a self-directed exploration as bike trails link all the temples. Sunset is prime time in Bagan as locals and visitors alike head for the highest temples to enjoy the magnificent sunsets over the stupa-dotted plain.

Bogyoke is an important market for tourists arriving or leaving Myanmar and not only for shopping, for this is the best place in town to convert foreign currency. The official exchange rates of the Myanmar kyat is kept artificially strong by the government set rates. This has created a large black-market trade in the currency at a much better price for tourists. The best place to change currency is in the central jewellery section of the market. Most of the shops provide the service and money exchanging hawkers line the area waiting for tourists. To maximize the rates it is best to ask several different vendors and bargain hard. Be careful to count your money and do the exchange math yourself.

Once the tourists have money the market is a great place to buy crafts, art work, jewellery or antiques. Popular souvenirs include Burmese cigars, and old currency, some of which was issued in the curious but numerologically auspicious denominations of 35, 70 and 90 kyat notes. It is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and is centrally located in downtown Yangon.

Inle Lake, beautifully located at the base of steep green hills, is remarkable because of its inhabitants. Thousands of people live around the lake but, most impressively, many live on it. Whole villages rest on stilts surrounded by water, rather like a bamboo and teakVenice where men steer rowing boats through water roads. The men have adapted a unique way to row, wrapping one leg around an oar and standing with the other, their hands are often busy fishing.

Tourists can hire a boat and driver to lead them through floating markets and workshops making silks, cigars (cheroots) and jewellery. An impressive wooden temple is also able to be visited; the months are famous for having trained cats to jump through hoops and perform tricks.

Visitors first arrive to the town of Nyaugshwe to a host of river side guesthouses and restaurants. Boat hire can be done through hotels or independently at the town's river. Expensive hotels on the lake can be booked before hand. Depending on season the town can flood making the experience of living on water a little more practical than it first seemed.

Mandalay is Myanmar's second-largest city and the former royal capital of the Burmese kingdom. The city is modernising rapidly, due to an influx of Chinese money and businessmen, and while facilities are improving the charm of old Mandalay is receding.

A good place to start a visit here is to hike up the 780-feet high (240m) stairwell to the top of Mandalay Hill, itself a holy site with an ornately decorated temple and Buddha statue overlooking the former capital city and far reaching flatlands. Dominating the city's centre are the 150 year-old palace grounds of King Mindon and King Thibaw with an adjacent temple and wide surrounding moat. More than 50 people were buried alive during construction. A prison visible below is a reminder that human rights haven't improved much since. For local travellers the Mahamuni Buddha is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Myanmar. Another worthwhile experience is to catch a performance of the Moustache Brothers, a subversive satire show that takes the considerable risk of poking fun at the military and aspects of Burmese life.

Aside from sightseeing, shopping is Mandalay's other pastime. A fun jewel market, where visitors can watch craftsmen shape gems, is worth a visit. Crafts such as monk's umbrellas, gold leaf, ornate furniture, and lacquer-ware are made and sold in the city. Motorbike taxis seem a bit overeager in a city where horse and wagon are more common. Better to use the trishaw and fall into Mandalay's slow rhythms. Bland guesthouses are splashed about the city offering similar variations on the theme of cheap and gritty accommodation.

This beautiful 15km (10 mile) palmed lined white sand beach is amazingly almost empty of tourists. The area must be expecting a large influx of visitors as empty luxury resorts line the north end. At the town's main junction and bus stop the street goes left, to cheaper accommodation, or right, towards town. A small touristy village resides on the beach's parallel road selling cheap trinkets and delicious seafood. In low tide a small island is available to walk to and around. Package tours can orchestrate transport and hotels but the beach is easily reachable from Yangon without prearrangement. The bus station next to Yangon's train station sells tickets for the 6 hour bumpy ride. However passengers should be wary of being passed off to smaller buses and charged again. Air Bagan flies to Pathein which is an hour away by bus.

Shwedagon pagoda is Myanmar's most famous sight, an iconic image of the country that stands as a highlight for any visitor to the region. The stupa is covered in genuine gold plates weighing an estimated 52 metric tons and topped with a 76 carat diamond. The temple was built between the 6th and 10th centuries although the site atop Singuttara Hill has been considered holy for over 2,500 years. Also known as the Golden Temple, Shwedagon is the most sacred site for Burmese Buddhists, and is a daily focus for worship and contemplation. Dress conservatively, with long pants and sleeves, and remove your shoes when entering the complex. Be discreet when using your camera.

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