Colonial hotels, Buddhist monuments and bustling markets - and how to see it all, in the land where cash is king

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am

Getting there: There are no direct flights from Hong Kong to Yangon, but visitors can go via Bangkok or Singapore on Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines, which operate daily connecting flights.

Where to stay: Going to Yangon and not visiting The Strand (pictured) would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. This imposing colonial building was built in 1901 and restored to glory in the early 1990s. With colonnaded entry, marble and teak floors, rattan furniture, potted palms and ceiling fans, it has a quiet elegance that contrasts with the hustle and bustle outside. Its 32 suites are spacious, and butlers are available for every room.

Even if you decide not to stay there, it's worth a visit for afternoon tea, or dinner at the imposing Strand Grill. Previous guests at the bar include Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Eric Blair - whose experiences as a policeman in the old Burma helped transform him into 'George Orwell'. Friday has 'Stranded' happy hours (5pm-11pm): drinks are half price. A three-night stay in a deluxe suite for two adults costs HK$1,877 per night. For details visit

Other top hotels in the city include the five-star Chatrium, next to Kandawgyi Lake and a 15-minute walk from the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, which can be seen from some rooms and looks magnificent lit up at night. Here a deluxe room sets you back HK$1,707 a night. Visit

Or there's the Traders Hotel in downtown Yangon, now part of Shangri-La, where they serve a mean Burmese pork curry with pickled mango. Rooms start from HK$621. Visit for details.

Beware: all rates are subject to a 10 per cent service charge and a 10 per cent government tax. And check the state of play with regards to credit cards, which, due to an American embargo, are not widely accepted. Cash is king.

What to do: The Shwe Dagon Pagoda is the highlight of a visit to Yangon. Go just before dusk to get the full effect of what Rudyard Kipling called 'a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire'.

Bogyoke Aung San Market (also known as Scott's Market, from colonial days) has every handicraft in the 70-year-old complex. Haggle.

Spend an evening strolling in the riotous, colourful market in Yangon's Chinatown, which has every food, from freshly cut watermelon to stinking durian. Along Anawrahta Road every night from 6-10pm.

Visit the enormous reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi on Shwegondaing Road, to the northeast of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Walk the streets. Visit the People's Park. With the Shwe Dagon Pagoda as landmark, and simple grid pattern streets, it's difficult to get lost.

If you can, take time to visit the monastery and the even bigger reclining Buddha at Bago, 80 kilometres north of Yangon and easily done in a day. It's a great opportunity to see the countryside. A hint, though: buy something from the girls selling souvenirs at the attractions or they will haunt you all day.

For more general details on Myanmar, tells the dos and don'ts of travel there.