Chaos and Colour: Exploring Yangon’s Night Markets with Urban Adventures
Yangon’s lively street markets are a must-do on your visit to Myanmar’s largest city. Here’s a review of our Yangon night market walking tour with Urban Adventures, plus a mini Yangon market travel guide!
As night falls over Yangon, the pace of the city intensifies.
Along the bustling streets, stalls spring to life; BBQs are fired up, veggies chopped lightning-fast on colourful plastic.
The scent of food wafts down alleyways, and workers spill out onto the streets after a long day’s work.
There are errands to run, meals to be shared between family and friends, and jovial conversations to be had across colourful plastic tables stacked with napkins and exotic-looking condiments.
When we’d first arrived in Myanmar’s largest city, home to 5.21 million inhabitants, a few days prior, we knew we definitely wanted to get amongst some of this vibrant nightlife, but weren’t sure where to go for a truly authentic local Yangon night market experience.
We’d also been put off by some… ‘unpleasant’ ramifications of eating street food during our SE Asia travels till now, and were keen to know where we could enjoy some tasty local fare without paying the price later.
With promises of meandering local alleyways, zen-stops at temples, and the chance to really eat like a local, it seems the perfect introduction to the vibrant city.
EXPLORING THE YANGON NIGHT MARKETS WITH URBAN ADVENTURES
We meet our group at the Independence Monument in downtown Yangon before wandering together down Shwe Bontha Street.
It’s a colourful, slightly bewildering chaos as we weave around locals and vendors selling everything from second-hand goods to electronics and shoes.
At the edge of Chinatown, vendors hustle produce while potential customers jostle each other out of the way, keen to get the good stuff before someone else does.
Thura explains that for city workers, it’s generally far cheaper and more convenient to eat here each night. Plus, he says, the Burmese enjoy sharing mealtimes, so these places are thriving social spots.
Stalls open at sunset, and are soon bursting with communal tables spilling onto the street - full of happy, laughing locals sharing curries, rice, noodles and seasonal broth.
We duck down a laneway and into a tiny square bookstore; the shelves crammed with books about Aung San Suu Kyi, and a stack of Democracy Today papers piled neatly on a basket by the door.
The owner studied political science at Yangon University in the late 50’s, when Yangon was still a thriving Southeast Asian hub and the University considered among the best in the region.
He smiles with pride as he points out the books and papers, “times have changed now. Not so long ago, it’s dangerous to display these. Now we can talk about the lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] again freely”.
Myanmar is definitely a country on the move.
all aboard: riding the yangon circle line train
Anawrahta Road is Yangon’s busiest and most central market, where the lighting is dim but the produce is fresh.
The market spills out from the pavements and onto the main road behind; traffic whizzes by as throngs of people wander up and down the stalls.
Weaving our way along, we’re given a fascinating insight into the diversity of the city’s inhabitants, its produce and traditions.
A tangy papaya salad stall here, a crisp samosa stand there, fried rice and tandoori chicken, sugar cane presses. With cultural influences from neighbouring Thailand, China, and India, the food is as diverse as the people we pass; a melting pot of cultures living peacefully alongside each other.
Then, there are the smells.
Some so sweet and delicious that we almost stray from the group trying to find the source, others so potent (fermented shrimp paste, we’re looking at you!) that it’s all we can do to hold our breath and hope we make it out alive.
Thura proves his mettle as a focussed and observant guide, successfully leading us all past the rows of delicious fried foods, bright wares, and exotic sweets that beckon us away from the group.
As we walk, he shows us how to look for fresh, safe food, and what to avoid if we don’t want to risk Burma Belly.
He pauses long enough to satisfy our curiosity; to observe a technique or sample a small mouthful of coconut jelly, before we’re off again and on our way to the next mouthwatering stall.
DINNER TIME, YEAH!
Around the next corner and down bustling 19th street, we find ourselves at a long plastic table, barbeque sizzling nearby.
“Dinner time, YEAH!” calls Thura, pulling out chairs for us all to sit.
While we eagerly await the arrival of our (delicious!) barbequed meal, he tasks himself with ensuring we’re adequately stocked with beer.
Myanmar Draught, of course.
A Buddhist, he doesn’t drink himself but under his watchful eye and genuine hospitality our cups continue to runneth over.
Between mouthfuls of barbecued fish and crispy potatoes, we lean over and ask him what he likes best about his country. “Probably the people - we take pride in our warmth. See, Buddhism teaches you to have generosity, respect, be good to your family.
“Every Burmese person communicates in this local language of friendliness first”.
He suddenly jumps up excitedly, a pack of cards appears from his pocket and he entertains us for the next half hour with some of the most impressive card tricks we’ve ever seen, drawing some spectators in from the street too.
Sitting down to a round of applause, he slides the pack across the table to us and whispers, “I heard you talking earlier about how you like playing cards but don’t have a pack.
“Here’s a little gift to you, so you can always remember your time in Yangon with your new friends here”.
YANGON NIGHT MARKETS | ESSENTIAL GUIDE
BOOKING YOUR YANGON NIGHT MARKET TOUR
We explored the Yangon night markets on a 2.5 hour walking tour with Urban Adventures, and would highly recommend the tour to anyone looking to get a taste of the best that the markets have to offer.
It’s also a great orientation walk, so worthwhile taking on your first evening in the city.
BOOK | Yangon by night walking tour
ABOUT YANGON’S STREET MARKETS
Yangon’s street markets are a centrepoint of daily local life in the city, and are also the kinds of markets that captivate a curious traveller’s imagination.
Thriving and colourful, they’re a somewhat chaotic jumble of vendors hawking everything from second-hand electronics to veggies picked fresh that morning, multi-coloured umbrellas, and locals wandering or attempting to cycle through.
These are where the myriad of Yangon’s cultural influences and ethnicities come together in an intoxicating and charming way, and were a definite highlight of our time in the city. We recommend:
Shwe Bontha Market
Bogyoke Aung San Market
Anawrahta Road Market (including 26th Street Market!)
Chinatown and surrounds night market
The new(ish) street food night market around Strand Road
YANGON TRAVEL ESSENTIALS | YANGON TRAVEL GUIDE
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR MYANMAR
Whatever you do, don’t travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance; the unexpected can, and often does, go wrong. Be it sickness, lost baggage, theft, or an accident, travel insurance is your best way of mitigating the issues and saving yourselve thousands of dollars down the track.
READ | Our ultimate guide to travel insurance
WHERE TO STAY IN YANGON
15th Street @ Downtown Yangon | Comfortable rooms, breakfast included, centrally located and super friendly staff. Rooms start from £19
HOOD Hostel | Located in the heart of Yangon, HOOD Hostel is refurbished from an old colonial building. It’s also a social enterprise offering vocational training for local youth; your stay directly funds their education.
BOOK | HOOD Hostel
TOURS OF MYANMAR
If you’re keen to explore Myanmar but would prefer to have someone else do all the organising for you, we recommend the following G Adventures tours (our fave small-group travel brand!) to see the very best of this incredible country:
14-Day Yangon to Yangon small group tour with G Adventures takes in the major sights of Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw.
MYANMAR: HILLTRIBES AND SUNSETS
This 14-day tour from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is perfect for those looking for some offbeat places to visit in Myanmar, along with some of the more famous highlights It includes hikes to hill tribe communities in the Kengtung area, plus visits to Inle Lake, Mandalay, Yangon and Bagan.
MYANMAR ISLANDS: SNORKELLING & VILLAGE HIKES
This 11-day tour takes in the best beaches and epic hiking opportunities in Myanmar, including island hopping (and kayaking) around the Mergui Archipelago, visits to a community based ecotourism project in Dawei, and lush jungle-clad limestone karsts of the Tanintharyi Mountains.
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That, and you're officially a legend.