- Accommodation: Motherland 2 Guesthouse ($35/night for a triple with A/C) – Motherland 2 is a very popular guesthouse for foreign backpackers, so it’s imperative that you book ahead as it’s full almost every night. They have private rooms and dorms depending on your preference. We sent them an email a couple weeks in advance to reserve a room and they responded promptly. You don’t have to pay anything until you arrive, but they do ask you to pay in crisp US dollars, so be prepared! The rates had just increased when we were there in May 2012. Apparently there had been a huge influx of foreign travelers and there just aren’t enough places to stay in Yangon, so they knew they could increase their prices without affecting business. They pick you up for free from the airport (if you’re on an international flight), and half of our Air Asia flight was also staying there, so they had a big van to pick everybody up. Breakfast is included with the rate (very average eggs and coffee). There are computers in the lobby, which was great because there aren’t many places with wifi in Myanmar. The computers were pretty slow and it was difficult to get a free one at times, but it was still nice to be able to check email etc. The guesthouse is about a 20-30 minute walk to the center of town, but taxis are cheap and plentiful if you don’t feel like walking.
- Feel Myanmar – Excellent Burmese food in a buffet like setting, except you pick out what you want and then they serve it to you. We ordered a lot of food plus beers and our total was 8,900 kyat, so it’s pretty inexpensive. It’s a good place to go after you see the Shwedagon Pagoda since it’s relatively close by. On a side note, Feel Myanmar also operates a restaurant at the big rest area en route to Inle or Bagan from Yangon.
- 50th Street Pub – This restaurant is so out of place! It felt like we were in a brewery at home, we couldn’t figure out who was going here in Yangon. They have really good pizzas and they have free wifi that works pretty well. And the power only went off once when we were there!
We only spent a couple of days in Yangon, but I felt that was enough time given our schedule. There’s not that much to do in the city besides walk around, and it was really hot when we were there so we could only stay out for so long. However, the Schwedagon Pagoda is undoubtedly one of the most important monuments in Myanmar, and it is a must see. Try to go a little before sunset as it’s a truly amazing sight to watch the sun reflect upon the golden stupa. Not only is it a remarkable structure, but it was so interesting to watch all of the Burmese people visiting the temple as well. Buddhism is an extremely important part of Burmese culture, in fact almost every Buddhist male in the country studies to be a monk at some point in his life. A guide approached us to ask if we wanted a tour of the pagoda. Initially we didn’t want a tour and we weren’t sure she was a genuine guide either, but she was standing where the tickets were sold, talking to the staff, so we figured she must be real. It turned out to be very informative and we learned a lot of things about the pagoda and Burmese culture that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The entrance ticket to the pagoda was 4,500 kyat/each and the guide was 3,000 kyat/each.
When you’re in Yangon you should also exchange some of your dollars to kyats. We decided to go to a branch of KMZ bank located near the Sole Paya, close to the central square. We got a rate of 810 kyat/1 USD, which wasn’t the best rate, but they took some of our bills that were slightly crumpled. Plus, we had the peace of mind knowing that we weren’t getting ripped off. There are a lot of sketchy money-changers, and while you may be able to get a better rate, you could also be scammed.
We bought our bus tickets to Kalaw directly from Motherland the morning that we arrived as we weren’t sure if they sell out frequently. Our tickets were 11,000 kyet/each for the 11 hour drive from Yangon to Kalaw. The bus left at 3pm and arrived at 2am – really convenient times!