Sights, snacks, sailing in ever-evolving Yangon, Myanmar

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The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is popular for photos at sunset but is less crowded in the late morning or early afternoon.
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is popular for photos at sunset but is less crowded in the late morning or early afternoon. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger

It's a surreal feeling as you step onto the tarmac at Yangon Airport. There are so few places left in the world like Myanmar, and what you see today will not be the same tomorrow. Knowing this as you arrive in Yangon is almost worth the exhausting trip it takes to get there.

Yangon is the point of entry into Myanmar, and from there visitors continue to places like Inle Lake, Bagan or Mandalay. Many travelers gloss over Yangon, using it merely as a point of connection. But the city is fascinating and the spot in Myanmar that is most susceptible to the changing times.

Upon arrival in the morning, immediately head to the Sule Shangri-La Yangon. Find the official taxi queue at the airport, where the rates are fixed and agreed upon. A ride to the hotel should cost approximately $6. The hotel is within walking distance to popular sites like Bogyoke Market, the Sule Pagoda and Chinatown.

After checking in and a quick refresh, head to a tea shop for a bowl of traditional mohinga, a popular breakfast noodle soup. The Lucky 7 tea shop on 49th Street is a good place to stop. After feeling sated, hop into a taxi and visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. Most travelers will save the pagoda for sunset, when it's a popular photo op spot, but the swarm of tourists at that time makes it difficult to get great photos. Instead, it's best to go in the late morning/early afternoon to avoid the crowds.

For lunch, head back downtown and elbow your way through the crowded thoroughfare of Anawrahta Road. Near 30th Street is the popular Indian Food Center. Food stalls flank Anawrahta Road and its side streets where you can snack on delicious and traditional street food.

Now you are in a prime destination to explore the colonial history of downtown.

Visit the Independence Monument, where you have a perfect view of the Sule Pagoda. (You also have a great view of Sule Pagoda from the Horizon Club Lounge at the Shangri-La, so head there around 5 p.m. for happy hour.) Other sites to see are the Immanuel Baptist Church, the High Court building and the Bogyoke Market.

If you're still feeling energized and can forgo the evening nap, hop in a taxi and head to the Botataung jetty for a sunset cruise on the Yangon River. There are different cruise companies for different budgets, the most upscale being Dora.Some itineraries include dinner, but that won't be worth your time because you will have other plans for dinner. Still, the cruise is a great way to enjoy a cocktail and a view of Yangon as the sun sets.

Following the cruise head over to Chinatown on 19th Street where you can snack on local street treats and wash it all down with a frosty draft beer.

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