Food and Drink in Yangon (Rangoon)
Because most ships call on Yangon for one to two nights, there's an opportunity to eat dinner, as well as lunch, ashore. While street food is abundant, questionable hygiene makes it a risky choice. You can get a taste of local cuisine at a number of restaurants, though.
Mohinga is a classic Burmese dish. It's a hearty soup of rice vermicelli, fish stock, onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and other ingredients, usually served with boiled eggs. Ngapi, a fermented fish paste used extensively in Burmese cooking, gives it a fair amount of funk. For many, it's an acquired taste.
Another popular dish is lahpet thohk, pickled tea leaf salad, which delivers a wonderful variety of textures, including the crunch of deep-fried peas, peanuts and garlic. Fresh slivers of tomatoes, ginger, dried shrimp, fish sauce and lime also are added.
Meat dishes include chicken, seafood, beef and pork. Long-simmered curries, with seasoning that's much milder than other Southeast Asian cuisines, are typical. Just beware of fiery little green chilies that look quite similar to sliced green beans. (We learned the hard way!)
There's a tendency for dishes to be delivered to the table haphazardly -- main courses before appetizers or everything all at once -- unless you clearly specify when you order. At better restaurants, the waiters will ask how you'd like the dishes served.
All the restaurants listed below, except for Monsoon, will require taking a taxi from the riverfront area. Some are located in more residential areas outside the city center.
Monsoon, a convenient 10-minute walk (over some irregular sidewalks) from the city-center port, offers Burmese dishes, as well as those from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos; each country has its own section on the menu. The spare, yet stylish, restaurant is located in an old colonial house, where the high-ceilinged ground-floor room is a magnet for expats, while the second floor hosts larger groups. The third floor is home to a fair-trade crafts shop, which is well worth a visit. Monsoon serves cocktails, beer, wine and interesting fresh juice concoctions. An added bonus is free, reliable Wi-Fi. (85-87 Theinbyu Road; open daily, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; 951-295-224)
Feel is a food court-style restaurant that offers a vast choice of 50 or so authentic dishes that you order simply by pointing. Then they'll be delivered to your table, along with rice and drinks. Beloved by locals and tourists alike, it's a great way to get a taste of Burmese food at rock-bottom prices. The only downside? Feel is so popular, it's nearly always jam-packed. (124 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Street; 95973-048-783)
Padonmar Restaurant serves a menu of Burmese dishes and other Southeast Asian cuisine. On a nice night, it's lovely to sit outside in the large garden (apply insect repellent) with paper lanterns strung overhead. We particularly enjoyed the banana blossom salad and beef with pickled mango. Dishes listed as appetizers were just as huge as main dishes, so order conservatively. We noticed that Padonmar is popular with groups, but that didn't spoil the atmosphere. Alcohol is served, and it offers free, high-speed Wi-Fi (password needed). (105-107 Kha-Yae-Bin Road; open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; 951-538-895)
Le Planteur offers the perfect splurge restaurant for those seeking a European-style fine-dining experience. Run by a Swiss couple, it offers "French Indochine" cuisine in an old, colonial manor. Le Planteur features a five-course, fixed-price menu and an extensive wine cellar. (Liquor is also served.) Small rooms and a magical, candlelit garden make for a highly romantic meal. They also offer complimentary transportation via vintage car within Yangon and have free, high-speed Wi-Fi. (22 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road; open daily, noon to 11 p.m.; 951-541-997)
Mandalay Restaurant at the Governor's Residence might be the ultimate colonial-style dining experience. The main restaurant at this Orient-Express-owned hotel offers a garden, fish ponds and verandahs, making it a pleasant (though pricey) oasis from the city's bustle. Though some might complain that the menu of Western and Asian food is less than authentic, others praise the near-perfect atmosphere. (35 Taw Win Road; 951-229-860)
Karaweik Palace (or Hall) Buffet Restaurant, located inside the lavish replica of a royal barge, offers a Myanmar lunch buffet, plus a pan-Asian dinner buffet with a cultural show. This restaurant is government-owned, so some may choose to not patronize it for that reason. (Kan Pat Street, on Kandawgyi Lake; Myanmar lunch buffet 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner buffet with performance from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; 951-290-546)
Afternoon Tea at the Strand Hotel is a pleasant respite if you've seen enough pagodas. The colonial landmark offers tea with either British-style or Burmese-style accompaniments in the Strand Cafe. (92 Strand Road; tea served 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; 951-243-377)
Best Cocktail in Yangon (Rangoon)
Sip one of the signature cocktails, like a Strand Sour (Mandalay rum, lime juice, sugar syrup and Angostura bitters), amid restored colonial splendor at the Strand Hotel bar. If you're lucky enough to be in port on a Friday night, drinks are half price.
Don't Miss in Yangon (Rangoon)
Shwedagon Pagoda is, without a doubt, Yangon's main attraction for tourists and locals alike. The 2,500-year-old shrine is the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. Shwe means "gold" in Burmese, and the 361-foot stupa (a dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine, usually containing religious relics) is covered with 11 tons of it, while the top is encrusted with 4,531 diamonds -- the largest of which totals 72 carats. The entire complex contains hundreds of temples, statues and smaller stupas, with untold numbers of Buddhas, large and small. At night, it's a popular and lively place for locals to gather, visit and worship. There are four entrances, oriented to the cardinal directions, each with an impressive staircase. The south side has an elevator, while the east stairway is considered the most interesting with its vendors and views of the main stupa as you climb the steps. (Ar Za Nir Street)
Bogyoke Aung San Market, also known by its British name, Scott Market, houses more than 2,000 stalls and shops, selling a huge selection of handicrafts, textiles, jewelry, art and even antiques. Yes, the main section is mostly devoted to the tourist trade, but venture further, and you'll find locals shopping and grabbing a snack, too. Lacquerware, carved wood and items from the country's various ethnic groups (Shan shoulder bags, for example) are great souvenirs. If you enjoy markets, allow at least two hours there. (Bogyoke Aung San Road; stalls generally open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
It's said that Yangon has the largest number of colonial buildings remaining in Southeast Asia. Most were built around the turn of the last century, and their condition varies widely, from pristine to decayed. The greatest concentration can be found in the old area next to the river. Structures along Strand Road include the Customs House, the Myanmar Port Authority, the Inland Water Transport Building and the beautifully restored Strand Hotel, which keeps up the tradition of afternoon tea. Other noteworthy buildings include City Hall, the High Court, the huge (and currently vacant) Secretariat building and two cathedrals, Saint Mary's and Holy Trinity.
The National Museum exhibits the treasures of the last king of Myanmar, including his 26-foot-high Lion Throne, ceremonial costumes and jewel-encrusted articles from his household. The museum's labeling, displays and lighting aren't the best, though, and no cameras are allowed inside. (26 Pansodan Street; daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 951-282-563 or 951-282-608;)Plenty of other Buddhist sites provide venues to contemplate, many a bit more peaceful than Shwedagon. By the river, Botataung Pagoda is smaller, but you can go inside the hollow stupa to see relics on display. Sule Pagoda (Maha Bandoola Road 95-1) is located in the center of a busy traffic circle, across from City Hall. (Avoid the disreputable money-changers in the circle of shops surrounding this pagoda.) At Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda (Shwe Gon Taing Street), the draw is a large, Indian-style seated Buddha with armor, while Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda (Shwe Gon Daing Road) features a giant statue of the reclining Buddha.
Architecturally significant places of worship for other religions include Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue (85 26th Street) and Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque (across from Sule Pagoda). Both display their own interpretations of colonial architecture.
Those who've followed the country's leading proponent of democracy might want to visit Aung San Suu Kyi's House (54 University Avenue), where the Nobel laureate was imprisoned under house arrest. You can't go beyond the gates, but since security was relaxed in 2010, you can take photos and peer inside at the grounds. However, you can go inside the house where Suu Kyi's father once lived, now the Bogyoke Aung San Museum (15 Bogyoke Aung San Lane; open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Considered to be a hero of the movement for independence from the British, he was assassinated in 1947.
To experience local life, intrepid travelers can take a ride on the Circular Railway, which serves as transport to the city's outer suburbs. You'll rub shoulders with locals as you sit on wooden seats in crowded, non-air-conditioned cars. Vendors toting baskets of produce destined for city markets hop aboard, all sorts of hawkers ply the aisles, and you'll be as much of an attraction to passengers as they are to you. The entire roundtrip takes three hours, leaving from the main train station -- though it's possible to get off along the way and return by taxi.