Myanmar Travel Tips: Amazing Yangon, Hpa-An & Golden Rock
Yangon Travel Tips
Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and is famous for its stunning Buddhist Pagodas and its colonial buildings. In Downtown Yangon, the Sule Pagoda and the Botataung Pagoda are both worth visiting but Yangon’s jewel is the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara Hill. Yangon is one of the most common entry points to Myanmar via its international airport and you’ll find a good selection of hotels, restaurants and amenities. You can expect very hot and humid weather all year round in Yangon.
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DON’T MISS Mynamar’s most sacred Temple, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Approximately 2,500 years old and located to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a prominent landmark in Yangon and dominates the skyline. If you visit in the early morning you’ll be dazzled by the bright sunlight reflected off the golden stupas. In the evening the Pagoda lights up with candles and the stupas are bathed in a glowing golden light. It’s very atmospheric! Monks chant the Buddhist scriptures continuously here as they have done for the past two thousand years
Dress modestly to visit Shwedagon Pagoda as the temple guardians are VERY fussy about dress and will not let you enter unless you have your knees and shoulders covered. If your dress is deemed inappropriate, you may be given a longyi, or a traditional wrap skirt, to wear while you are at the Pagoda and will be asked to pay a deposit.
DON’T MISS the impressive reclining Buddha at the Chauk-Htat-Gyi Pagoda Another stunning, intricately carved giant Buddha resides peacefully just across the road at the Nga-Htat-Gyi Temple.
For a taste of life in Yangon, head to the Botataung Pagoda on the riverfront. Watch the sunset over the Yangon river, feed the birds at the dock and eat some street food before visiting the Pagoda. On a Sunday evening, you can catch the busy market outside the Botataung Pagoda.
How to get to Yangon
From Yangon International Airport it’s about half an hour to downtown Yangon, depending on the traffic.
If you fly to Yangon, a taxi tout will find you as soon as you emerge from customs and will take you to your taxi. I found this a bit unnerving as a woman travelling alone. The taxi tout stuck to me like glue and would not be put off.
There are lots of accommodation options in Yangon. I chose to stay close to Shwedagon Pagoda at The Merchant Art Boutique Hotel Hotel and was awestruck when I first saw the view from the restaurant and bar on the rooftop. I sat with a gin and tonic enjoying the beautiful view over Shwedagon Pagoda bathed in light and glowing against the dark sky. It was an amazing first impression of Yangon.
For more luxurious accommodation try the Pan Pacific Hotel Located in downtown Yangon, this hotel has an excellent central location and gets great reviews for staff and service.
Find more amazing things to do in Yangon
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Golden Rock Travel Tips
I highly recommend a visit to the Golden Rock Pagoda in Mon State. It’s a popular pilgrimage site and a cultural experience like no other that I have experienced in Myanmar or South-East Asia.
I stayed at the Kyaik Hto Hotel at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo and was very glad I did. There’s a stunning view from the hotel and it’s located right at the entrance to the Golden Rock Pagoda. For me, it was worth the extra expense so I could be there at sunrise & sunset to enjoy the stunning views and experience the atmosphere amongst the pilgrims at night.
If you are travelling on a tight budget there are cheaper hotels in Kinpun Village at the base of the mountain but you will have to leave Golden Rock before sunset unless you have booked accommodation on the mountain.
The pickup trucks stop running at sunset around 6 PM and start again at sunrise around 6 AM so make sure you don’t get stranded.
You can take a pickup truck to the Golden Rock and back in a few hours. Bear in mind it’s extremely hot in the sun during the day. I was travelling in January which is the Myanmar winter and I would recommend starting as early as possible to beat the heat. Late afternoon is also a good time to visit the Golden Rock Pagoda.
There was a luggage storage area at the back of the pickup truck for my large backpack. Many travellers recommend taking only a small day pack as the passengers are squeezed into the trucks and you will have very little room but the trucks do accommodate larger luggage.
There is a cable car that starts halfway up the mountain. You can take a pickup truck to the cable car. If you’re feeling energetic it’s possible to walk up the mountain.
To get to Golden Rock I travelled by train from Yangon to Kyaikto (approximately 5 hours) At Kyaikto station I took a pickup truck to Kinpun Village at the base of Mount Kyaiktiyo and changed to another supercharged pickup for the rollercoaster ride up the mountain to Golden Rock.
Read more about my Pilgrimage to Golden Rock
Buses run from Kinpun to Hpa-An, Mawlamyine, Yangon and other destinations.
If you’re short of time you could hire a taxi in Yangon to take you to Golden Rock. Some people do this as a day trip from Yangon but I would suggest staying a night or two and stopping in Bago and Hpa-An while you’re in the area if you can.
Hpa-An Travel Tips
Hpa-An has some stunning scenery with lovely river and mountain views.
The Cave Temples near Hpa-An are phenomenal and there are some great hikes in the area.
DON’T MISS visiting Sadan Cave and Kawgun Cave
The climb to the top of Mount Zwegabbin delivers stunning views over the countryside and from the lookout at the monastery at the summit. It’s a very steep and strenuous hike but definitely worth the effort.
Where to stay in Hpa-An
Accommodation options are limited in Hpa-An so book ahead if you’re travelling in high season.
I enjoyed the beautiful view from the top floor of the Hotel Gabana and can recommend this hotel.
If you’re looking for a more upmarket stay consider booking a cottage at Keinnara Hpa-An further out of town. The reviews are exceptional and the location is serene and stunning.
A popular budget accommodation option in the centre of Hpa-An is the Galaxy Motel. They run a great day trip to the Cave Temples in the area that’s good value. You can book the Hpa-An day tour at the Galaxy Hotel Reception if you’re staying somewhere else.
How to Get to Hpa-An
You can easily travel to Hpa-An from Yangon or from Thailand. Hpa-An is just a couple of hours from the Thai border at Myawaddy / Maesot. You can take a shared taxi for around 10,000 kyats from Hpa-An to Myawaddy. Hpa-An is an amazing place to stop off on the way to Yangon
If you’re heading for the Thai border I recommend travelling from Hpa-An rather than from Mawlamyine. While it’s possible to take a shared taxi from Mawlamyine, it’s a VERY rough trip and it takes about three hours. I did it and I don’t recommend it. The roads are in extremely poor condition. Leave from Hpa-An instead and travel in a shared taxi on the new highway.
Travel by river to Mawlamyine for a relaxing, scenic trip.
I took the local bus from Hpa An to Mawlamyine and it was extremely crowded and very uncomfortable. There was a man carrying a chicken in a sling, like a handbag over his shoulder. At one point, just before we reached a checkpoint near a bridge, the bus stopped and all the standing passengers got off. They climbed onto a pickup truck that stopped next to the bus and after we had crossed the bridge and cleared the checkpoint on the other side of the river, the passengers all got back on the bus to continue the trip to Mawlamyine.
Overland travel in Myanmar can be slow so allow plenty of time for travel between destinations.
A Travel Guide for Myanmar. I rarely travel without a trusted Lonely Planet Guide.
For peace of mind make sure you buy travel insurance before you go, especially if you are travelling solo. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.
More on Myanmar
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20 Amazing Temples in Myanmar: A Myanmar Temple Guide
The Beautiful Temples of Bagan in Myanmar
Golden Rock in Myanmar: My Solo Travel Adventure
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