1. Shwedagon Pagoda
Definitely the #1 attraction in Yangon and is so for a reason. It's a beautiful, powerful site and has a different aura to it than the rest of the city. It was awe-inspiring to see the reverence of the Burmese people visiting the sight.
We visited twice in a single day – once in the morning, and once at sunset, and I would highly encourage you to visit at both times. A monk talked to us (well, me and vicariously-through-me to Anaïs) during the evening session and seeing the surrounds light up as the sky cools from daylight to deep blue is incredible. For visiting details, visit http://theshwedagonpagoda.com/.
Step 1: Head to the Pansodan Ferry terminal and purchases ferry tickets to Dawa.
Step 2: Enjoy a brief, no-holds-barred ferry-turned-market boat ride to Dawa
Step 3: Find a minibus heading to Twante and wait around for it to fill up.
Step 4: After 45 minute ride to Twante, bargain a lower price for a trishaw ride around town
Step 5: Check out a pot-making facility, a few pagodas, some local sights
Step 6: Return to Yangon, reversing steps 1-3
In hindsight, was this an awesome day? Not really, to be honest – nothing about it was awe-inspiring. However, it was, fun to see a lot of locals going about their daily lives and seeing some sights few others will make the trek for. If you're in Yangon during high season and fancy a trip with a few less tourists around, this is it for you.
3. Free walking tour
Free Yangon Walks offers a great tour that gives you a solid foundation about the history of the city via its architecture and explores current-day life through local food suggestions and day-trip ideas. Gino does a great job keeping everything interesting, weaving in his signature humor while making sure you learn a lot during the 2 hour tour. We both enjoyed the stop at Pansodan Scene Cafe and Gallery, seeing the revival of the historically-active art scene in Yangon.
Gino has great recommendations on what to do and a lot of like-minded people will be on the tour with you. We ended up spending the evening with some tour-mates, eating dinner and watching the World Cup at a local bar drinking Burmese beer. The next day, we teamed up for this:
4. Circle Train Ride
Although it seems to have become more of a tourist attraction of late, this is a fantastic way to see the outskirts of Yangon and see local life up close. It takes about 3 hours to go all the way around nonstop, but the market half-way through at the Danyingon stop it is fun to stop and look through. It's in a neighborhood tourists rarely venture to unless they arrive via this train and is a great experience. It's mostly locals, hawking and buying everything under the sun (not literally – it's mostly covered). There was even a lady giving haircuts right near the food market.
Yep, after some poking and prodding from friends, I got my haircut there. It was perhaps not the best crop of my life, but easily the most memorable. The lady spoke no English, she had to turn on a generator to get the clippers going, kids were watching from the windows/doorway – it was priceless. She then refused to take any money, so I had to leave it on the counter. One of my favorite moments in Myanmar.
The train leaves from the Central Railway station. Tickets were only a few hundred kyat at the time we went in June, 2014.
5. Kandawgyi Lake
A large lake in the middle of the city, there is a walking path that will take you around the edge and makes for a pleasant stroll. We visited in the early afternoon after visiting Shwedagon in the morning and found many people enjoying one of the few green spaces within the inner city. At the southeast corner of the lake you will find Off The Beaten Track Cafe, run mainly by former tour guide who decided to set up shop and give out free advice about traveling around his country. The food and drinks aren't exactly cheap, but the advice you'll receive is well worth the up-charge. We visited at the end of our visit, but had a good time reminiscing with one of the owners. Definitely stop by if you're starting your visit in Yangon.
We stayed at Hninn Si Guesthouse for $23 in June, 2014. Not very central, but good enough for the 3 nights we were there (we aren't averse to walking!). The breakfast was fine, if not a bit odd to eat in the lobby of a tailor's. There was nothing special about it – rather sterile, few decorations, not much of a traveler's environment. Go for a place to sleep, but little else.
Bonus points: one of the coolest mail delivery systems we saw on our travels: