What You Need To Know
Yangon also known as Rangoon, literally: “End of Strife” is a former capital of Myanmar and the capital of Yangon Region. Yangon is the country’s largest city with a population of nearly six million, and is the most important commercial centre, although the military government officially relocated the capital to the newly built city of Naypyidaw in March 2006.
Although Yangon’s infrastructure is undeveloped compared to that of other major cities in southeast Asia, it now has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region. While many high-rise residential and commercial buildings have been constructed or renovated throughout the city centre and Greater Yangon in the past two decades, most satellite towns that ring the city continue to be deeply impoverished.
A mix of British colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas define its skyline. Its famed Shwedagon Paya, a huge, shimmering pagoda complex, draws thousands of pilgrims annually. The city’s other notable religious sites include the Botataung and Sule pagodas, both housing Buddhist relics.
Population: 5.21 million (2014)
Area: 231.2 mi²
- The monetary unit of Myanmar is the kyat (MMR): 1 kyat (which is pronounced as ‘chaat’) comprises 100 pyas. The government’s official exchange rate is typically around MMR6 to US$1. Banknotes are issued in denominations of MMK5,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Coins are available in denominations of MMK100, 50, 10, 5, 1; and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 pyas.
- Currency exchange options are limited to the exchange desk at your hotel and the riskier black market. Traveller’s cheques are not always accepted, and their acceptance tends to depend on the current political situation.
- No ATMs are available, so it’s important to be sure that you’ve brought sufficient cash for the expenses you incur during your stay.
Yangon has a tropical monsoon climate under the Köppen climate classification system. The city features a lengthy wet season from May through October where a substantial amount of rainfall is received; and a dry season from November through April, where little rainfall is seen. It is primarily due to the heavy rainfall received during the rainy season that Yangon falls under the tropical monsoon climate category. During the course of the year, average temperatures show little variance, with average highs ranging from 29 to 36 °C (84 to 97 °F) and average lows ranging from 18 to 25 °C (64 to 77 °F).
Burmese is the principal language of the city. English is by far the preferred second language of the educated class. In recent years, however, the prospect of overseas job opportunities has enticed some to study other languages: Mandarin Chinese is most popular, followed by Japanese, and French.
Due to the unique laws of the country, street crime is almost non existent. Pickpockets/Muggers receive a mandatory 5 years incarceration unless they can pay large fees to reduce the sentence and the city is policed mostly by non-uniformed police. Yangon is one of the safest big cities in the world. It is most unlikely that one can encounter a bag snatcher, pickpocket or a con artist in a crowded place.
Most people, including single female travellers, will not have any problems roaming the streets alone at night, and carrying large sums of money around rarely poses a problem. Crimes against tourists are taken very seriously by the military government and punishment is often disproportionately severe. This, in addition to the strong Buddhist culture in the population, means that Yangon’s crime rate lower than the likes of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, and violent crime is especially rare.
The most common crime in Yangon is being short-changed by a money changer, so count your Kyat carefully when you exchange money. Opt to exchange at the Bogyoke market, where the rates may be slightly worse but the jewellery shop owners won’t rip you off. Do not fall for the “bad serial number” excuse — another attempt to con you.
Yangon is the country’s main centre for trade, industry, real estate, media, entertainment and tourism. The city represents about one fifth of the national economy. According to official statistics for FY 2010–2011, the size of the economy of Yangon Region was 8.93 trillion kyats, or 23% of the national GDP.
The city is Lower Burma’s main trading hub for all kinds of merchandise – from basic food stuffs to used cars although commerce continues to be hampered by the city’s severely underdeveloped banking industry and communication infrastructure. Bayinnaung Market is the largest wholesale centre in the country for rice, beans and pulses, and other agricultural commodities. Much of the country’s legal imports and exports go through Thilawa Port, the largest and busiest port in Burma. There is also a great deal of informal trade, especially in street markets that exist alongside street platforms of Downtown Yangon’s townships. However, on 17 June 2011, the YCDC announced that street vendors, who had previously been allowed to legally open shop at 3 pm, would be prohibited from selling on the streets, and permitted to sell only in their townships of residence, presumably to clean up the city’s image. Since 1 December 2009, high-density polyethylene plastic bags have been banned by city authorities.
Yangon’s tap water is unsafe to drink. Always buy bottled water. Yangon’s warm and humid weather makes it imperative to carry water around.
Tuberculosis and AIDS (known as “A-I-D Five” among locals) afflict a disproportionately high percentage of the people. However, HIV infection is not at the epidemic level (infection rates are much less than 1%). In addition, there is a risk of dengue fever. Malaria is a risk in rural areas.
Medical care is limited, but is most expedient at private medical clinics. Government hospitals are usually unreliable and require bribes. Do not seek medical care at the General Hospital (on Bogyoke Aung San Road, sandwiched between Bo Ywe Street and Lanmadaw Street); it is unsanitary and inefficient. Most guest houses and hotels will be able to provide you with the address of a private doctor with experience in treating foreigners. Be sure to take the proper vaccinations before you leave for your trip. Carry a small first-aid kit with you containing at least painkillers, band-aid, ORS and a loperamide-like medicine. Anti-malarial pills and DEET are recommended.
The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi and Yangon is the city where Toyota cars come to live out the rest of their days. Genuine taxis have red license plates, carry a laminated green slip and a large-print taxi driver identification card on the dashboard of the car but all taxis are reliable. In recent months (as of October 2013) traffic has gotten considerably worse in the city; taxis are ubiquitous and during peak times (8-10am; 5-7pm) taxis may be more expensive because of the traffic. Taxis are always available outside the bigger hotels, on Sule Pagoda Road outside Cafe Aroma, and, during the day, outside the Southern entrance to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Away from the city centre, for example near the budget hotels in Pazundaung Township, you may have to wait a bit before a taxi shows up and it may be easier to ask your hotel to call one for you.
While Yangon’s circular train is not particularly useful for getting to tourist sights, it is a ‘sight’ by itself. Buy your ticket in a little office on platform seven in Central Railway Station or at any circular train station. Train leaves from platform 4 or 7 several times a day. You choose clockwise or anti clockwise. Probably best just to take the next train to depart. They seem to expect you to be looking for the circular train so just those words will have people pointing you in the right direction. Prepare for three hours on a hard wooden seat.
Trishaws are scarce in the city centre (and not permitted before 10AM) but more readily available in the surrounding townships.
Riding the bus is absolutely safe. The only drawback is the lack of understanding. Most of the locals can’t speak English and the signs are written in Burmese text. As you would expect, Yangon has an extensive and chaotically crowded bus system. Most are privately run and will not move until enough people are falling off the sides of the bus. Buses are cheap, but high yearly inflation is chipping that cheapness away. Most routes originate and terminate on the eastern side of the Sule Pagoda so head there if looking for a bus to the airport or to the Shwedagon Pagoda. If you don’t know how to read the Burmese numbers, announce your destination before boarding. The driver/assistants seem intrigued that foreigners are taking local busses and are willing to help.