Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, is in the middle of a transformation. After Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from a 15-year house arrest, her National League for Democracy party won a landmark election in fall 2015 against the ruling military regime. Foreign investment is quickly picking up, and tourism is growing, which will undoubtedly change this city on the rise, with its remarkable colonial architecture and gold-gilded pagodas.
What We Love
Dala: This village is located on the opposite banks of the Yangon River and is a huge contrast to the modernizing city of Yangon. Step off the ferry into a stopped-in-time place with no paved roads or cars, where people still live simply in traditional bamboo houses. Hire a trishaw driver for a tour.
Burmese Hospitality: Most visitors come away with a sense of awe at how people with so little can be so generous. On guided tours, it’s not uncommon to be invited into the homes of the guide’s friends and family, where hosts are eager to share food. You'll also come to respect the people's incredible resilience, too.
Best Known For
Shwedagon Pagoda: The gleaming hilltop pagoda is not only a must-see on every visitor's list, but also one of the main pilgrimage centers for Theravada Buddhism. Sightseers and spiritual seekers share the space, with its halls of Buddhas, glimmering glass mosaics, and massive central stupa, which is decorated with 40 tons of gold and a Christie’s auction’s worth of precious gemstones.
The Chaukhtatgyi Reclining Buddha: The reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok may be much better known, but Chaukhtatgyi's is much bigger. It’s 216 feet long, to be exact, and housed in what feels like an airplane hangar.
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Who It's Best For
Temple-philes: Shwedegon is just one of Myanmar's many beautiful, golden pagoda complexes (with both temples, which can be entered, and stupas, which are more like shrines). You can go solo and simply admire the stunning beauty, but it’s worth finding a guide who can explain the distinctive Burmese mixture of Buddhism and astrology.
Photographers: Between the glimmering corridors of the temples and the monks clad in maroon robes, you can pretty much point your phone camera at random and get a good shot.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Dress is Conservative, Especially at Religious Sites: Keep your shoulders and knees covered out of respect for local mores. Travelers who aren’t appropriately clad will be denied entry at many sites or asked to wear loaned garments. Men: This may mean donning a “longyi,” the Burmese version of a sarong, over shorts. Your own pants are probably a better idea.
Expect to Go Barefoot Often: During a half-day city tour, you’ll likely be removing your shoes (and socks) at least ten times, at places such as temples, convents, monasteries, and private homes. Make it easy and wear slip-ons.
Ann Abel is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Departures.