Yangon is surrounded on three sides by water. To the west and south lies the Yangon River, while to the west is Pazundaung Creek, which flows into the Yangon River. Stretching north, the limits of Yangon City stop – generally speaking – somewhere around the airport in Mingalardon.

Downtown Yangon is much smaller but was built in a grid system by the British, making it a relatively easy city to navigate within the downtown area. Going from west to east, the streets are numerical from the 1st. Upwards of the centre-point is the impressive Sule Pagoda, which is a lively hub of activity for both locals and foreign businesses; hosting popular tea shops, parks and international hotels (including Sule Shangri-La, which is often used as an unofficial centre-point for business people arriving in the city).

The Strand Road, lying alongside the Yangon River, is a lively street and hosts (unsurprisingly) The Strand Hotel as well as a number of other hotels and restaurants.
Heading out of the city, the two main roads are Pyay Road (to the west) and Kabar Aye Pagoda Road (to the east); two parallel roads that act as Yangon’s main veins from its suburbs.
The whole country is divided into townships (as of 2007, there were 325 nationwide) and there are 44 in Yangon. Useful ones to know for visitors include Dagon (home to Shwedagon Pagoda, a lively expat scene and just north of downtown); Bahan (popular for expats living in the city); Botahtaung for Botahtaung Pagoda; Kamayut for the lively Hledan area; Latha for Chinatown; and Kyauktada the main centrepoint of downtown Yangon.

GETTING AROUND

WALKING
Walking around is one of the best options to really get to know a city and also save money. But pathways are uneven, so mind your step. Remember to check which side traffic is coming from… we don’t want you to get run over.

TAXI
Taking a taxi is the most convenient way to travel around Yangon. You should ask and confirm the fare before boarding. Fares start at around 1,500Ks for a short trip, but expect to pay more after dark or to switch on the airconditioning. As understanding of English is limited amongst many taxi drivers, it is useful to know what the major landmarks close to your destination are.

S03 getting around.1
TRISHAW OR SIDE-CAR
These are the easiest and most convenient mode of transportation outside downtown, where they are restricted. They’re great for getting around small streets and fares start from 500Ks.

CITY BUSES
Uncomfortable and usually very crowded, buses are the best way to drop your budget for transportation. Starts from 200Ks, but everything is written in Burmese.

CAR RENTAL WITH DRIVER
If budget is no issue for you, you will find that renting a car with a driver is a convenient way of traveling around. Note that visitors without an international license are not allowed to drive in Myanmar.

BIKE
Hopping on a bicycle is an alternative way to experience Yangon and its surrounding countryside. Several tours are available if you are seeking an unforgettable adventure in a green environment.

CIRCULAR TRAIN LINE
One of the cheaper options for those visiting Yangon on a budget, the Circle Railway – a three to four hour loop around Yangon and the northern suburbs – offers genuine insight into the lives of the city’s residents. One recent addition is some air-conditioned and first class carriages, but the majority of carriages continue to be the claptrap, swaying trains and it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or morning and to observe the day to day life of the people.

With hand-written train schedules and passenger lists, as well as the hardwood seats, train travel in Myanmar often feels like you are stepping back in time.

The scenery itself isn’t particularly unique, but it’s the local way of life you witness as the train trundles along that is the real draw of this trip. Chicken carcasses line the floor, monks sit idly staring out the win
dow and locals will always offer a pleasant smile.

The Yangon Central Railway Station is also an impressive piece of architecture
Tickets $1 (US Dollars only accepted on Myanmar trains). Yangon Central Railway Station, next to Bogyoke Aung San Stadium, a few hundred yards north of Sule Shangri-la Hotel.

A FAIR FARE

Getting around Yangon by taxi can be a hassle if you don’t like to bargain. Taxi drivers are out to make a buck (can you blame them?) and they will capitalize on customers that don’t know exactly where and how far away their destinations might be.

Here are a few tips for striking a fair deal with a driver:

Negotiate in increments of 500. Almost all fares are going to be 1,500, 2000, 2,500 or 3,000KS unless you’re going unusually far (like to the airport or bus station).
Ask for air-con. Some more ‘enterprising’ drivers will try to charge an extra 500-1,000Ks to turn on the air-conditioner; you could decline on principle, but in the heat of Yangon traffic it just might be worth splurging on some chill time.

Don’t be afraid to get some help. Even if you don’t like bargaining, it’s undeniably entertaining to watch an expert haggler at work. Many locals would love to help you get where you’re going, or at least tell you what the fair price is.

MAPPING OUT THE MAIN AREAS OF TOWN

EAST DOWNTOWN
The lively eastern downtown area offers great street food, unique architecture and lively street-life. The wide, boulevard-like Pansodan Street is the highlight of this part of town with its Colonial-era buildings, as are the book sellers that line the street (look closely and you may pick up some great bargains). Architectural highlights include the High Court and the Secretariat Building.

WEST DOWNTOWN
Stretching west from Sule Pagoda, visitors will first pass through Little India, with its excellent restaurants and vibrant streetlife. Further west there are some intricately-designed Hindu temples and the Chinatown area. 19th Street is the go-to area after-dark no matter what night of the week it is.

YAW MIN GYI QUARTER
Quickly emerging as one of Yangon’s trendier areas, the Yaw Min Gyi district has probably the most number of restaurants-per-square-mile in the city. Head here for Japanese food, Western-style burgers and excellent street food.
LOCAL TIP: The street vendor on the corner of Yaw Min Gyi and Bo Yar Nyunt Road sells what is often labelled the best Shan Noodles (Shan Kow Sway) in town.

BAHAN
Popular amongst the city’s expat community, Bahan offers a number of good restaurants. Dhamazeddi Road is lined with excellent restaurants, most notably Onyx Steak House.

INYA LAKE
Built as a reservoir during the days of British rule, Inya Lake is now a popular spot for Yangon’s young lovers. The west side of the lake sees couples walking up and down, arm-in-arm all day long, while the east side is usually a bit quieter and even has a Golf Driving Range.

AHLONE
Yangon’s lively riverside area is a good place to visit during the day. Here you’ll see industrial Yangon at its liveliest. Nestled down some of the quieter streets here remain many of the British-built colonial homes, although many are off-limits to visitors.

HLEDAN
Hledan is one of Yangon’s most exciting areas, particularly by night. There’s a lively market where the streets are filled with the aromas of chicken carcasses, spices and flowers all mixed in. There are also a few bar/restaurants emerging in the area.

BE AWARE

It’s more a case of ‘Be Aware’ in Yangon rather than ‘Beware!’ Relatively speaking, Yangon is one of the safest cities in all of Southeast Asia, crime levels are still very low and the people are generally very respectful; that doesn’t mean that incidents of crime don’t occur.
With Myanmar being an incredibly conservative country, visitors – particularly women – are encouraged to dress in a conservative manner. There is also very much a culture against “losing face” in Myanmar. Myanmar people do not enjoy confrontation and there have been instances of anger and bad blood when a foreigner argues with a local. If you feel that you are being ripped off, do not become aggressive. Smile and deal with any issues in a polite and respectful way.
Another thing to look out for, particularly at night, is packs of dogs. Again, instances have occurred where packs of dogs attack people walking alone at night, so it is advisable to always travel at least in groups of two at night.

Photo Credit
Christopher Ian Smith

This article was first published in the first edition of MYANMORE’s survival guide KnowIt, November 2014

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