Budget Travel

Markets, galleries and late-night spectacles: the best samples by mail to do in Yangon

Myanmar's largest city and former capital, Yangon is tantalizingly distinct – a rich tonic of teahouses, golden-hued stupas and artist studios to enliven and entertain the fussiest of travelers, and the most frugal too.

A quantity of the city's best activities could be enjoyed completely free , from lakeside rambling to touring a disused glass factory. Here are seven superb things you can do in Yangon that will not cost a single kyat to enjoy.

Stroll with locals at Inya & Kandawgyi Lake

To see Yangon's residents at their most relaxed, head south to the city's dual lakes: Kandawgyi and Inya. Inya – the bigger of these two – has a long garden area and path along the western bank, with some tea shops and beer stations in the southern end.

Kandawgyi Lake is the more romantic option, with families omitting the lake's lovely wooden boardwalks and loved-up couples giggling within the shadow of the rather striking Karaweik Palace – a gold-flecked concrete replica of a Burmese royal barge, housing a restaurant. Both parks are wonderful places to wander and start a conversation with locals (who'll likely be mid-selfie).

Enjoy the buzz of Bogyoke Aung San Market

Named for that father of independent Burma, Bogyoke is the country's foremost handicrafts and souvenir market. You'll find everything from woodcuts and tailors – if you prefer a custom-made longyi (sarong-style garment), this is actually the place – to jewelry and native artwork, including gorgeous acrylic paintings for just K15,000 (US$8.50).

But it's not necessary to be considered a souvenir-aholic to appreciate this buzzing bazaar; see the colorful stalls, or indulge in an area of individuals watching from one of the coffee stalls. And don't be worried about being hassled; Burmese traders are typically one of the least pushy in Southeast Asia.

Tour Nagar Glass Factory

Don't let the internet fool you; while technically closed since the double whammy of the 2007 fuel hike and also the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Nagar Glass Factory is, actually, open – though not within the typical feeling of the word. At its peak, the factory was a domestic powerhouse, supplying glassware to restaurants and hotels round the country. Post-Nargis, it operates approximately a melancholy novelty attraction along with a pick-your-own knickknack farm.

The factory was completely flattened through the cyclone, but the glassware (a lot of it in pretty good condition, a lot of it not) lays strewn among the ruins. If you are lucky, former owner Thein Zaw will show you around the grounds, retelling Nagar's riches-to-rags story. If an item catches your eye, they'll clean, polish, then sell it to you at a reasonable price. You'll be put under no pressure to purchase anything, however the tragic tale of the factory might persuade you to part with several thousand kyat for any half-buried ashtray or vase.

Browse Yangon's free galleries

For travelers by having an affinity for art, there's no better way of spending an afternoon in Yangon than touring the city's free galleries. Start with the Pansodan Gallery – not only an exhibition space, it's instrumental in fostering Burmese artists and it has organized events in cities around the country. (Its operating hours are presently irregular, so call ahead to confirm or make a scheduled appointment.)

If you feel like temporarily suspending your no-spending itinerary, 5 minutes in the Pansodan you'll find its sister cafe, Pansodan Scene. An arty, chill-out enclave, it's the perfect spot for a coffee break.

Take a moment to mirror at Taukkyan War Cemetery

It's a journey from central Yangon – around an hour from downtown by taxi – however this beautifully maintained cemetery, containing the graves of thousands of Allied soldiers who died during WWII, is worth the effort to achieve. It features a tranquillity that's rare in Yangon, and its grand stone archways and spotless symmetrical pillars turn it into a photographer's dream.

But the website isn't just notable because of its looks – it's genuinely moving. Each plaque within the cemetery is engraved with a personal message, usually from the bereaved parents of the fallen soldier. Expect if you discover your vision moistening while you wander through the grounds, contemplating one of the world's darkest chapters and the lives it claimed.

See the late-night spectacle at San Pya Fish Market

Not all after-dark activities in Yangon center around hostel bars and nightclubs (though, if this is your bag, late-night Level 2 is a great bet). For many offbeat nocturnal fun, vacation to the San Pya Fish Market, and around 2am you will see a really special spectacle unfolding: sea creatures of all shapes and sizes, tossed from boats and splayed out on tables where locals gather to barter, the environment thick with the odor of fish and ringing with the bark of the traders. It's total bedlam, not for that prissy – and anything you do, don't wear your good shoes.

Catch the sunset at Botataung Jetty

The striking golden Botataung pagoda may be the chief reason most travelers head towards the harbor. It's worth a visit (especially as possible walk-through it – a unique prospect), but if you don't wish to pay out the money to have an entrance fee, the encompassing jetty is free of charge to visit. It's a nice destination to watch riverside life pass, and when the elements plays nice, you're in for an equally fantastic sunset.

There exist several barbecue and street food stalls that line the harbor front, along with the kitsch Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel and its sister property, the riverside V Hangout, which – if you're able to scrape together enough kyat – all make a genial destination to sunset beer. Continue, you deserve it.

You may also like