The hustle and bustle of Yangon is very similar to many other South East Asian countries. I was very excited to be visiting a new and relatively undiscovered country. Myanmar is changing rapidly with all the western influence creeping in since its opened up in 1992 and now no longer under military rule. Surprisingly there are a number of great places and things to do in Yangon with kids and I have listed what we got up to during our 3 day stay.
We flew into Yangon from Kuala Lumpur and stayed at the Sedona Hotel opposite Inya Lake. The Sedona Hotel is a little out of downtown Yangon however is only a few dollars (AUD) in a Grab cab. I published a post on useful tips for people visiting Myanmar which outlines Grab cabs and a few other things you should know before travelling. We stayed 3 nights in Yangon, then headed off to Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, before heading back to Yangon for a night.
Click here to read our Bagan Temples with kids post.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is by far the most popular attraction in Yangon, also known at the Golden Pagoda. It stands 326-foot-tall and is situated on Singuttara Hill, to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, and dominates the Yangon skyline. We had an amazing view of the Shwedagon Pagoda from our suite at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel on our last evening in Yangon.
We visited the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset on our first evening in Yangon. We were approached by a man on arrival offering tour guide services, his english was good and he instantly had a good rapport with the kids so we went with him for 20,000 khat (approximately AU$20). He turned out to be fantastic, very knowledgable and explained a lot of things we wouldn’t have known without him. It took us about an hour and a half to complete our tour which was a good amount of time.
The Shwedagon Pagoda contains 4 tonnes of pure gold, this is the one thing that Caelan took away from this tour. We purchased some gold leaf and added it to a Buddha statue at the foot of the Pagoda. History states that the Shwedagon Pagoda contains 8 strands of hair from the Buddha. The day that you are born is very significant in the Buddhist religion, I knew what day of the week the kids were born but I was unsure about myself so our guide looked it up for me on his smart phone.
There are Day stations located at each corner (all 8 of them!) of the Pagoda. On our birth day stations our guide took us up and we poured 5 cups of water over the Buddha and 3 over the Spirit animal allocated to your birth day (mine is a tiger for Monday, Caelan’s is a dragon for Saturday). After this you swipe the lucky bells 3 times. After all that you go to the large bell and hit it 3 times for good luck in your life.
Entry to the Shwedagon Pagoda is US$5 per person.
One of the best ways to experience Yangon is on the Yangon circle train, a 39 station loop that commenced operation in 1954. It costs about 20 cents to ride and is the cheapest way to fill in an afternoon in Yangon while seeing a lot and mingling with the locals. Our hotel was pretty central to the loop so we got a Grab cab from our hotel to the nearest train station. The kids were a bit taken aback seeing there was no platform and people were just walking straight across the train tracks!
The trains come about every 40mins and we could tell it wasn’t far off when people started to gather at the station. We purchased our tickets and there was even a map on the wall written in english. I took a photo of it so we knew where to get off. The train doesn’t move very quickly so we saw the train coming from quite a distance. The train pulled up and after people got off we climbed up the steps and found a seat. It had been raining and due to the heat all the windows were open, in fact I think the windows are pretty much always open!
Windows that open are also a novelty for my kids so we had a bit of fun sticking our heads out for photos. Take care when doing this as some of the bridges can be a bit tight. I would wait until I could see a station coming up and let them do it then. Life is busy on the train, we had people getting on selling all sorts of fruits, nuts and other things I didn’t recognise. We also had 4 chickens ride with us for a couple of stops which the kids thought was pretty entertaining. We did half the loop which took 90 mins and got off on the other side from our hotel and caught a Grab cab back.
A round trip fare costs about US20c
Believed to be over 2600 years old, Sule Pagoda is located right in the middle of downtown Yangon. Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda, it also served as a rally point for the 1988 uprising against the Military Government. The protests started as a student movement and were largely organised by university students. The military are believed to have killed approx. 350 people during the uprising, during which Aung San Suu Kyi become a national icon and later was put under house arrest until 2010.
The Sule Pagoda is situated in the middle of a round-about in the heart of downtown Yangon. When we entered we were approached by another man that assumed his role as a tour guide. He didn’t declare that expected payment at the end of the tour and being an experienced traveller I put it on him straight away. He advised that we may or may not provide some money at the end of the tour and that the amount would be up to us. This instantly made me uneasy. We continued on with him and walked around the Pagoda, he provided very similar information to what we received at the Shwedagon Pagoda. At the end of the tour we gave him 5000 khat (AU$5), he didn’t appear thrilled with it however he didn’t argue. We were only in the Pagoda for half an hour and I think this was a reasonable amount to pay considering we weren’t given the opportunity to decline and there was no prior agreement regarding payment. Be careful of these types of scams.
Entry costs between $5-$10USD depending on your bartering skills.
Bogyoke Aung San Market a.k.a Scotts Market during the British era, is a large market in downtown Yangon. Bogyoke Market is a major bazaar known for its colonial architecture and inner cobblestone streets, the market is a major tourist destination, dominated by antiques, Burmese handicraft and jewellery shops, art galleries and clothing stores. Built in 1926 it is also listed on the Yangon City Heritage List.
I was keen to purchase rubies while we were in Yangon, so the friendly staff at the Sule Shangri La Hotel sent us to shop 49 in the main hall. After much consideration I purchased a set of sapphire earrings and a matching pendant in white gold. I have a few rubies already and thought a change would be nice. I’m really happy with my purchase however I’m no expert when it comes to quality of the stones. I decided that if I was happy with the product and happy with the price, I’ve done well. There are so many different places to choose from and a lot of different products, I could easily have spent a few hours in the there if I didn’t have kids nagging at me.
Housed inside a large tin shed is a 213ft long reclining buddha, this Pagoda was built in 1907. During renovations in 1966 about 5 meters were added to the length of the image. The renovation was paid for entirely with donations from Buddhists and foreign tourists. Its nice to know the entrance fees go to good use and maintain the upkeep of the pagodas. The soles of the feet contain 108 segments in red and gold colors that show images representing the 108 lakshanas or auspicious characteristics of the Buddha.
When we visited the Reclining Buddha was covered head to toe in bamboo scaffolding. There were a number of workers painting the buddha and making repairs. We were still able to see striking impression of the Buddha with the white painted face and red lips. It doesn’t take long to walk around the buddha and there’s a little market stall out the front where you can purchase a few souvenirs. The ladies in the store put thanakha on the kids faces. Thanakha is made from the roots of sandalwood like tree, the Burmese ground it into a paste and rub it on their skin. It is believed to moisturise the skin and aids against sunburn.
Entry costs US$5 per person.
I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet Guide books and generally have one with me on the country I’m travelling to. Myanmar was no different and we found a self guided tour through the old British colonial area of downtown Yangon. The tour in the Lonely Planet was much longer than the part we did, we chose the bits we hadn’t seen and set out alone with our Lonely Planet book. The self guided tour is on page 57 of the current Myanmar guide book, see link above for purchasing your own guide book.
We started at the Mahabandoola Garden located behind the Sule Pagoda, it was Sunday and the gardens was full of Burmese people enjoying the sun. As we walked into the garden nearly every face in the park looked straight at us. The Burmese are very friendly and many approached us and asked for photos. These gardens are also home to the Independence Monument, a 165ft white obelisk surrounded by chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon diety). The park was designed by the British in 1868 and has had many different names since. Following Independence the park was renamed in honour of General Thado Mahabandoola, a Burmese hero.
We then followed the map past the Yangon Stock Exchange built in 1937, Customs House built in 1915, Yangon Divisional Court dating back to around 1900, Myanmar Port Authority, Central Post Office built in 1908 and the Strand Hotel. The Strand Hotel opened in 1901 and was run by the Sarkies brothers, they also owned Raffles Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang.
In 1913 the hotel was extended and once housed the Australian Embassy. Tony Wheeler reviewed the hotel in 1979 for his first Lonely Planet Myanmar guide book and recorded it as a ‘tatty and dilapidated’ colonial relic! It’s far from that now, we stopped in at Sarkies Bar for a beer and look around at what I thought was a classic awe-inspiring colonial oriental hotel. I would have loved to stay at The Strand Hotel, however this trip it wasn’t in the budget. If you would like to book The Strand Hotel search here.
Yangon Waterboom was the first ever water park to open in Myanmar, it opened in February 2016. Yangon Waterboom visitors can get their adrenaline rush on 20 world-class water attractions such as Boomerango, Tornado, Python, Octopus, Speed Slide, Free Fall and Aqualoop. Young visitors (under 4ft) with their parents can enjoy the Waterhouse, Kiddy pool, Lazy River, Wave pool or simply relaxing in the Family Bungalows.
Now I had all good intentions of taking the kids here however we never got there. The day we planned to go, it was raining and then we didn’t have another spare day before leaving for Bagan. I had planned to do it on the last day but its a 45min drive from downtown Yangon without traffic from where we were staying and we had a few last minute things to do Yangon and I just couldn’t make it happen. I was very unpopular with the kids on the last day. I do strongly recommend a visit as the kids will love it given the heat in Yangon.
Very affordable too, keep in mind that mid-week is half the price of the weekend, weekends are about US$11 for adults and kids are US$6.
Inya Lake is the largest lake in Yangon located 6km north of downtown Yangon. Inya Lake is an artificial lake that was created by the British as a water reservoir between 1882 and 1883 in order to provide a water supply to Yangon. We were lucky enough to be staying right across the road from Inya Lake at the Sedona Hotel for our first 3 nights in the country.
The area surrounding Inya Lake is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Yangon. Except for a public park on the southwestern bank by Yangon University, much of the shoreline is some of the most expensive private property in the country. Lakefront properties include residences of Aung San Suu Kyi, the late strongman Ne Win, and the United States ambassador. You will spot Aung San Suu Kri residence by the large security detail at the front gate.
We had an amazing view of Inya Lake from our suite at the Sedona Hotel, I would sit in the window for sunrise and sunset and I’m sure I had the best seat in the house. The lake front gardens are manicured and paved, its a nice walk along the lake and you will find a lot of the local Yangonites out and about enjoying this area.
We had low expectations of things to do in Yangon with kids, we thought there would be little that interests them and they would quickly get ‘templed’ out. As per usual they surprised me, they really enjoyed the Shwedagon Pagoda in particular and interacted and asked questions about buddhism at other temples. They did at times get a bit frustrated with the constant attention but mostly took that in their stride.
There are a couple of large shopping malls in Yangon, including Myanmar Plaza which was right across the road from where we were staying at the Sedona Hotel. We spent the first day exploring over at the Plaza as it was raining and we needed a few bits and pieces. The exchange rate was also the best we found at the bank in the plaza. Junction Square is another large mall located in downtown Yangon near Bogyoke Market, we stopped in there for an ice cream and a look around. The malls have all the well known brands and Myanmar Plaza had a lot of high end shops such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, L’Occitane and Esprit just to name a few.
There’s also the Yangon Zoological Gardens, situated just north of downtown Yangon, that we didn’t have time to visit. The zoo covers 28 hectares and houses nearly 200 species and 1100 animals. It also includes a museum of natural history, an aquarium and an amusement park.
The kids were very disappointed that we didn’t make it to Yangon Waterboom, I was to as most people I have spoken to didn’t even know it was there. I had planned the visit as a reward for being so great with all the temples, sunrises and sunsets I had planned for the trip. They do tend to do a lot of adult focused things when we travel and it would have been nice for them to let their hair down and be kids for a bit.
Overall, the kids and us really enjoyed Yangon and we would happily return for another visit. There are definitely places that we didn’t get to and I could easily find other things to do in such a great city. We did enjoy Yangon a lot more the Mandalay, it is more cosmopolitan than Mandalay and definitely much prettier.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids