1 - Shwedagon Pagoda
Built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, the Shwedagon Pagoda is an unmissable sight in Yangon – quite literally. Emblazoned in gold and standing atop Singuttara Hill, the pagoda is the tallest structure in Yangon at 99 metres, with strict rules prohibiting the development of buildings higher than the top of the stupa. While this sacred site can be visited throughout the day, sunset is the best time to go, so you can watch as lights slowly illuminate the golden pagoda until it is shining in the darkness. The more adventurous can also choose to get there just after 5am, another magical time where you will be able to observe locals and monks praying and performing rituals as the sun slowly rises.
Open 4am-10pm daily; entrance US$8; shwedagonpagoda.com
2 - Mingalarbar Balloon
While Shwedagon Pagoda is the highest building in Yangon, to get an actual panoramic view of the city head over to the Mingalarbar Balloon. From the pagoda’s south exit turn left on U Htaung Bo Road and a five-minute walk towards Kandawgyi Lake will bring you to the balloon. Rather than using hot air to ascend and descend, the Mingalarbar Balloon is filled with helium. Staff members simply extend the steel cable that tethers the balloon to the ground and up it goes to around 120 metres. Rides typically last about 30 minutes, however this is a highly weather-dependent activity. Even a small breeze can send the balloon swaying back and forth more than some people may be comfortable with, so be cautious if you’re spooked by heights. However, staff will waste no time in bringing the balloon down if the wind gets too strong (refunds are given for anyone queueing if the balloon is grounded).
Tours run between 10am and 6pm (sunset views are recommended); US$22 per person; mingalarbarballoon.com
3 - Bogyoke Aung San Market
Located a 15-minute taxi ride away (around 5,000 kyat/US$4-5), just off Shwedagon Pagoda Road in the centre of the city, is one of Yangon’s most popular attractions: Bogyoke Aung San Market. This sprawling covered market is immediately identifiable by the large white dome that stands atop the entrance; it’s the perfect place to find local handicrafts and goods, notably jewellery such as jade, art and textiles. More modern twists on traditional wares can also be found at Yangoods, a local company founded by French designers that sells bags, paintings and other crafts inspired by 1930s and 40s Burmese iconography. This is also a good place to taste local cuisine, with a few eateries selling local noodle dishes.
Open 10.30am-5pm; closed on Mondays and public holidays.
4 - Maha Bandula Park/Strand Road
Few cities in Asia have retained as many colonial-era buildings as Yangon, and while many are in sore need of maintenance, the city’s downtown area is an essential part of any itinerary. Start with Maha Bandula Park, a five-minute taxi ride southeast of Bogyoke Aung San Market or 15-minute stroll. Surrounding the Independence Monument in the centre of the park are some of the city’s most historic buildings, including City Hall and the former High Court building. From there, head south to Strand Road, where you’ll see numerous embassies as well as the famous Strand Hotel, founded in 1901 by the Sarkies Brothers.
5 - The Teak Bar
Circle back round in the direction of Aung San Market for a well-deserved drink. Opened in December last year, the Pan Pacific Yangon has two key selling points: its central business district location and its height. Standing only slightly shorter than Shwedagon Pagoda, the hotel offers far better city views, with the elevated Teak Bar offering an outdoor terrace from which you can get great views of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church across the road and the pagoda off in the distance. Sunset is a great time to head up to the bar and watch the blood-red sun setting in the distance, while the weather cools significantly, making this alfresco drinks spot all the more enjoyable. Try the signature cocktails, which incorporate local touches ranging from chilli to lemongrass, then head up to the Pool Bar on the W floor where the skyline becomes the backdrop for the hotel’s impressive infinity pool.