While Yangon holds a variety of well-established cultural highlights, most visitors don’t think to linger and explore the greater city area, home to a diverse array of day-long adventures.
From delta beaches and river-island bike rides, to ancient cities packed with reclining Buddhas and towering stupas, there’s plenty to see within the environs of the former capital. Here are some of the best day trips from Myanmar’s foremost city.
Take a bike ride around Seikgyi Island
Pretty little Seikgyi provides some much-needed rustic respite from the grind of downtown Yangon. The classic cycle route is a big loop: starting from the dock, follow the road left alongside the river, eventually circling round to the right. You’ll then pass through a number of rural villages – high-fiving an endless stream of local kids as you do so – until you end up back at the dock via the town center.
How to get to Seikgyi Island: Catch a water taxi at Wardan Jetty (expect to pay between K3ooo and K5000) and as you leave the dock at Seikgyi you’ll see a bike rental shop on your left-hand side.
Taste country life in Dala and seek out snakes and ceramics near Twantay
You don’t have to travel far from Yangon to experience Burmese country life – just cross the river to Dala and you’re immediately dropped right in the middle of the sticks. Fun though it is exploring Dala’s exotic life-in-motion back-streets – best toured via trishaw – those looking for a more action-packed afternoon will need to head 30 minutes further south to Myaway Paya (also known as Baung Daw Gyoke), a pretty temple set in the middle of a small lake. Inside, more than 80 Burmese pythons – considered auspicious by local Buddhists – are cared for by the resident monks. They slither across statues and every inch of floor space, so if you're not keen on snakes, entering the temple is probably not for you.
A few miles further south still, you’ll come to Twantay, where ceramic lovers can take a tour of the workshops and furnaces of the Oh-Bo pottery sheds, while Pagoda junkies can get their fix with a visit to the ancient, 250ft-tall Shwesandaw Paya – purported to house two relics of the Buddha's hair.
How to get to Dala and Twantay: Head to Pansodan terminal for a ferry across the river. Once you disembark at Dala you’ll be accosted by a number of locals trying to sell you a range of different transport options. For a return trip to Myaway Paya you can expect to pay around K20,000–25,000 and K30,000–40,000 for Twantay. Unlike the rest of the country, Dala has an unfortunate – but accurate – reputation for ripping off unsuspecting tourists. If you’re unsure of the agreed final price, write it down to avoid any "misunderstandings" later on.
Learn about Myanmar's history and visit Yele river pagoda near Thanlyin
For a day trip that packs in a bit of everything, head southbound to Thanlyin, a leafy green suburb on the outskirts of Yangon.
The National Races Village is one of the top sights here. Half park, half interactive museum, you can wander in and out of model houses filled with displays from Myanmar’s disparate ethnic groups. The historic ruins of a Portuguese church are also worth a visit. Built in the mid-18th century, the ruin is the oldest remaining European structure in Myanmar, and in 2018 it was taken under local control for protection and restoration. If you turn up any day other than Sunday the church’s attendant will give you a run-down of the church’s history.
After your history tour, stop off in downtown Thanlyin for some lunch at Calories restaurant (a local favourite), before continuing your journey south to the town of Kyauktan and its dazzling Yele river pagoda, which makes a very photogenic sunset spot, even if the combined boat and entry fee is quite steep (around K8000).
How to get to Thanlyin: Expect to pay around K50,000–60,000 to rent a driver for the day. Alternatively, get in touch with Unchartered Horizons who can organize bicycle tours around Thanlyin, as well as Seikgyi and Dala.
Feast on fresh seafood at Ale-Wa beach
If you’re looking for beach bum heaven, keep looking because you won't find it here. Ale-Wa – a delta beach 90 minutes south of Dala – is a long, long way from the well-maintained coastal resorts of Ngwe Saung and Nagapli.
It’s therefore better to approach Ale-Wa as an off-grid adventure and as an opportunity to sample excellent local seafood than a place to top up your tan. The fried fish, spicy crab curry, and large succulent prawns are all fresh from the ocean and go a long way to make up for the resort’s somewhat tatty vibe, though the salty sea breeze complements the tasty food nicely.
How to get to Ale-Wa beach: Ale-Wa is 90 minutes south of Dala by cab (K50,000–60,000) or two hours by motorbike (K15,000–20,000) and is open year-round. As with journeys to Dala, be sure to confirm the agreed price in advance.
Tour the Buddhist treasures and palatial splendor of Bago
Noisy and congested, Bago appears of little interest to tourists upon first glance, but the bustling city hides a wide variety of handsome religious sites that keeps culture vultures flocking to this former capital of lower Burma.
Start with a visit to the striking, giant reclining Buddhas of Naung Daw Gyi and Shwethalyaung. The latter statue’s little finger alone extends more than 10ft; a fact which makes it even more surprising that the monument was lost for over 100 years following the destruction of Bago in 1757, and only accidentally "rediscovered" by a railway worker in 1881.
There’s also the grand reconstructed Kanbawzathadi Palace to admire, with an accompanying museum that gives an insight into the splendor and wealth of the second Burmese empire, and the towering Shwemawdaw Paya to see – the tallest stupa in Myanmar. If that doesn’t get the pulse racing, there’s also the city’s famous Burmese python, estimated to be over 130 years old, to get acquainted with.
How to get to Bago: Hiring a car and driving from Yangon is the quickest and most efficient way to visit Bago. Alternatively, you can take a train from Yangon Central station (there are four departures a day) and then rent either a trishaw or motorbike upon arrival.
Splash about in the Ayeyarwady River at Nyaung Chaung Tha
This busy and boisterous resort set upon the banks of the Ayeyarwady River isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a fun day out, but if you want an authentic Myanmar experience, where you can mix it up with locals, you won’t find much better than Nyaung Chaung Tha.
You can rent out tables and chairs (which slowly become submerged as the tide comes in), and keep yourself watered and fed by flagging down the hawkers that patrol the beach. Swimming is fine, though do be careful soaking in the same spot for too long; the fish that live in the shallows have a vicious little nip.
How to get to Nyaung Chaung Tha: The resort is open from February to May and is a two-hour drive from Yangon. Expect to pay K70,000–80,000 for a round trip.