Myanmar: Yangon Downtown, Sule, and Shwedagon Pagoda

by - June 30, 2019

The beauty of Shwedagon pagoda

I'm excited to share with you the final stretch of my Southeast Asia bucket list!!! If you're reading my blog way back 2016, you would know that I am trying to visit all Southeast Asian countries and guess what?! I've finally visited it all!! (Except Brunei and East Timor) Visiting it all (okay maybe not all but I'd like to think it was all, lol) wasn't really my plan when I got hooked up on traveling. I just wanted to experience the culture and explore new cities until I realized that if I wanted to connect the history piece by piece of these countries, I really need to visit it all. My goal was to finish it all before I turn 30 but I was able to visit it all a week before my 25th birthday (Bali, Indonesia is the last location and Myanmar being 2nd to the last).

2018 was a year of traveling for me. I got to visit 4 new countries and this is the year I've completed my SEA bucket list. And to be honest, I didn't expect to visit Myanmar last 2018. For one, it doesn't have a direct flight from Manila, another reason is that it is not a popular destination among Filipinos. I got lucky because my father has Burmese friends from when he worked in Mae Sot last 2013. Mae Sot, by the way, is the Thai border of Thailand and the other side is Myawaddy which is the Myanmar border. 

I was lucky enough to visit Mae Sot when we backpacked Thailand last 2015 (Check out our experience here) but we didn't cross the border to Myawaddy as my father said there was nothing to see on the other side. So yup, I waited to this day we will visit Myanmar. HAHA! Just by thinking about it makes me miss backpacking, I'm so glad I did it at such an early age. Good old days. Not all are lucky enough to travel with their fathers, let alone do backpacking in a foreign country. ;)

I got our tickets from as usual *drum rolls* ~*Air Asia seat sale*~. Even though it is a seat sale, it is by far the most expensive plane ticket I've bought. I'm already expecting it as tickets to Myanmar aren't really cheap knowing there is no direct flight. We had a 12hr layover in Kuala Lumpur on our way to Myanmar and an 11hr layover in KL as well en route to Manila. How did we survive that long layover? That's for another post! It's quite interesting though because even with that long layover, never did once I got bored.

Sign of Welcome to Yangon

This is a 7-day backpacking journey and boy it was not easy. You could say that this is the hardest of them all but I am glad I survived and finally ticked it off on my list. We visited the 4 major places in Myanmar. Our route is Yangon -> Bagan -> Mandalay -> Inle Lake -> then back to Yangon. This means more overnight buses and public toilets (my worst enemy, que horror) but all is worth it because Myanmar is one beautiful country.

Myanmar, previously known as Burma, was also once a colonized country. It was under Britain and Japan before it finally got its independence. Very much like us, they also have many ethnic groups such as Burman and Karen. And although I've been wanting to visit this country for the longest time now, I really don't have any idea what to expect in this country. I don't know how advanced they are but a friend of mine once described it as "Manila in the 70s, 80s". I would say he is right.

houses and buildings in Yangon downtown
Old buildings in Yangon downtown 

more old houses and buildings

Sule shangri-la entrance
Sule Shangri-la

We arrived early in the morning at Yangon International Airport. Remember my father used to volunteer/work in Mae Sot before? He was a teacher for Burmese kids back then and one of his students wanted to meet up with us and tour us around Yangon when we arrived. We first bought sim cards and changed money. One thing to note is that banks/money changers in Myanmar don't change Philippine Peso so if you plan to visit Myanmar, it is better to bring US dollars. We took the bus going to the city and alight near Shwedagon Pagoda, in front of Sule Shangri-La. This is where I, my father, and his former student, Lin Ko, met.

inside their airport buses
Inside at one of their airport buses

He first accompanied us inside Shangri-la to exchange money (the exchange rate at the airport is bad so we just exchanged money for sim card and transportation going to the city). I am an awkward kid so I just took photos of the city while they catch up with each other. Haha. Lin Ko also accompanied us to a legit Burmese restaurant with legit Burmese food. Okay, food. Let's talk about food.

entrance to one of yangon's restaurant

food chosen by Lin ko to sample by us
Some of the Burmese food Lin Ko sampled for us 

Legit Burmese food

more Burmese food

Burmese curry

This isn't my first time eating Burmese food because as I've said, we went to Mae Sot and there's a restaurant there that sells Burmese food given that it is a border of Thailand and Myanmar. My favorite Burmese food -- Lahpet-thoke, called Tea Leaf Salad in English has a hint of salty taste because of the peanuts but is very satisfying because of the fermented tea leaves. If there's one thing I could eat every day in Myanmar, it is Lahpet-thoke. Burmese cuisine is mainly influenced by its neighboring countries Thailand, India, and China so it's no surprise that most of their food has curry for its base. 

I noticed is that they like curry so much they have many variations. I am not sure though why, but I was very meticulous at what I eat when we were in Myanmar. I tried Mohinga on this restaurant Lin Ko recommended and it was really good! Aside from Mohinga, Lahpet-thoke, and the food we ate at President Café in Mandalay, there's no other local food that stuck with me. Maybe we just didn't go to the right places for food. The food at President Cafe is Chinese-ish so its one type of food I really liked when went there.

Lahpet-thoke at the local market
Legit Lahpet-thoke - so good I brought home a ready-made from their supermarket

After eating, we went to one of my father's friends place. It is actually a printing press. He offered his place for us to drop our bags first before roaming around Yangon as we don't have a hotel in Yangon for the day. We plan on going to Bagan via an overnight bus that day so we have no plans in getting a hotel. See, that's the thing about backpacking, you have to carefully plan your itinerary to maximize the time. The good thing is that my father has friends in this part of the world that it makes our traveling here much easier.

After dropping our bags and some chitchat, we went to Shwedagon Pagoda. Burmese people are free of charge when they enter temples in Yangon but foreigners are required to pay. We tried blending in with the locals but it seems that they can differentiate me from the locals because my father can go inside but the guards are always calling my attention. LOL.

It was raining during our visit to Shwedagon but even though it is raining, the temple is still so pretty. This is the most sacred Buddhist temple in all of Myanmar and it can be seen from all over Yangon day and night because of its golden roof that illuminates. One must remove their footwear upon entering the temple (same goes for all temples in Myanmar). Since it was raining the time we visited, the floors are kind of slippery. One interesting thing I came across here is that Burmese Buddhist takes note of the time and day they were born. Each day is split by 2, AM and PM, and there will be a certain Buddha for that where people can offer flowers while pouring in water then people can make a wish.

Shwedagon Pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

Entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda
Entrance to Shwedagon

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda
Here is Lin Ko with my father :)

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

shwedagon pagoda

We also visited Yangon National Museum that tackles the very historical Myanmar. What I liked the most is that they have an ASEAN section that shows different facts among different ASEAN countries. It's fun reading trivia about each country.

Yangon National Museum

Yangon National Museum

Yangon National Museum

Yangon National Museum

Myanmar is also the most conservative country I've been to. Men and women wear longyi so their skin is mostly covered. Even wearing shorts seems like not the norm here. Imagine how much more strict they are when it comes to their temples. One must cover knees and shoulders.

After Shwedagon, we decided to roam around the public market to look for the good stuff that can pass as souvenirs. There are good local coffee shops and small shops that sell snacks. I got myself a cup of iced coffee while we munch on Lahpet-thoke.

After the afternoon siesta at the local market, we headed to Sule Pagoda. If there are two temples you need to visit in Yangon, it is Shwedagon and Sule. It is two of the biggest and most visited. Before entering Sule, we met with my father's co-teacher and one of his students also went to see him. That's one thing I admire with my father, he always knows someone and he socializes very well. Probably one of his traits that I wasn't able to get that I wish I did get. LOL. Didn't take photos in Sule so now I'm regretting I don't have memorabilia of that temple.

Sule Pagoda
with some of my father's students

Sule Pagoda is much smaller than Shwedagon but none the less, it is still pretty on its own. It is located in Downtown Yangon and it was said to be over 2000 years old. It was still raining so we waited a bit for the rain to stop. I remember having the need to pee then since they don't allow slipper/footwear inside the temples, I have no footwear entering the comfort room. And while I still cringe remembering that moment, I can't help but be proud of myself that I survived it. LOL. One thing about the public CRs in Myanmar is that it all have bidets, at least for the once I got to use. But still, going to the CR without footwear? Oh my.

Yangon National Museum
Dolls wearing national costumes of each ASEAN country

As the afternoon approaches, we went to a nearby tea shop. Had some tea and went to the printing press to get our bags then off we go to the bus terminal going to Bagan. The funny thing was I left my umbrella in the grab taxi (yes, they do have grab but the cars are old models, to be expected though) and Lin Ko was kind enough to contact the driver so he was able to get the umbrella. I got it on our last day when we met again after we explored Inle Lake. Thing is, I don't have an umbrella when we're in Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. The weather was quite a bipolar pa naman that time that it will suddenly rain then one minute, it gets sunny.

As for dinner, we just ate at a small shop in the terminal. And that's how we explored Yangon on our first day.

You can check my IG story here during our visit to Myanmar so you could get a clearer view of what Yangon is like.

The overnight bus, on the other hand, is nice. Just like the ones in  Thailand. Comfy and it has reclining seats. By the way, it was Lin Ko who bought our overnight bus tickets to Bagan, we just paid him when we got the ticket from him. We also secured a bus ticket from Ngauw Shwe (Inle Lake) going to Yangon on our last night just so to be sure we won't have a hard time going back on time. 

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