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Yangon’s top travel attractions! Sule pagoda, Circular Railway, Kalaywa Buddhist monastery lunch, Le Planteur.

top tourism attractions yangon

Ready for more decadent adventures with Yukiro?

I’ve been saving this final dispatch from Myanmar, since it was the most eye-opening destination we’ve visited together. We’ll give you a run-down of the best attractions in Yangon. The city has lots of fascinating sights, including the golden Karaweik Palace

kalaywa monastery monks begging

… and the lunch procession of Buddhist nuns and monks at Kalaywa Tawyakyaung Monastery. 

circular railway yangon

We’ll also take you to Yangon Circular Rail. It goes all around the city in a loop, which lets you glimpse slices of life in Burma.

Karaweik Hall duck dragon statue

But first, the epic news… Yukiro and I are going to India and Malaysia!

This dream trip has been brewing for some time, and it’s finally happening. We’ll be visiting Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and North India — including New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi (Indian Golden Triangle, and holy city where the Ganges river flows).

Can’t wait to reunite with this queen again. Be sure to follow @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see snippets from our Indian epic. And if you have travel tips, we are all ears.

burma temple dress code, wrap skirts

To get you in the mood, let’s flash back to Burma. Yukiro and I were endlessly inspired by the local culture we encountered.

We fully embraced the Southeast Asian elegant fashion and languorous poses. We drew inspiration from the “longyi” skirts and “thanaka” yellow sun-protection paste, worn by both local men and women. (All photos by Sniper Chau.)

Kalaywa Monastery yangon myanmar

Many travelers know little about Burma / Myanmar (you may call it either, according to leader Aung San Suu Kyi) — other than that it’s the most Buddhist country on the planet. We wanted to learn more about the Theravada traditions, so our ParkRoyal hotel driver took us to Kalaywa Monastery, located about 20 minutes from downtown.

(Address: Naga Hlainggu Hillock, Yangon / Rangoon)

burma monks begging bowl lunch

Aim to arrive around 10:30-11:30am, so that you can witness the Buddhist lunch procession. About a thousand monks and nuns line up, and walk through this food station run by volunteers. They gracefully receive hot food, vegetarian dishes and fresh fruit in their metal alms bowls.

yangon monastery vegetarian food

For most of the Burmese population, Buddhism is an important part of their daily practice. These volunteers work together to prepare and serve the food, in the true spirit of loving-kindness.

buddhist nuns procession burma

In Burma, there are approximately 500,000 male monks, and 75,000 nuns. Lay-people often become “temporary” monks as well, such as by dedicating a month or so to living the monastic lifestyle.

kalaywa buddhism Convent monastery

Once they received their alms, the young practitioners walked over to the separate dining halls, where they sat and waited until everyone had been served.

They spend their lives in the kyaung (temple-monastery), where they devote every day to study and practice.

pink robes buddhist women burma

The Theravada Buddhist line of bhikkhuni (nuns) died out in Burma, so the women created a new type of lineage. These “thilashin” take vows, shave their heads and wear the pink robes — sometimes from a very young age.

(Many smiled gently at me, perhaps because of my matching pink hair and fashion!)

Kalaywa Tawya Monastery

Over 1000 Buddhists live at Kalaywa Monastery. The community gladly supports their education and basic needs.

burmese buddhist monks red robes

All over Myanmar, you’ll often see red-robed monks making their rounds for alms in the mornings. Even the poorest community members will prepare a dish of food, and dole out a serving into the bowl of each Buddhist that passes by.

Almsgiving is not a form of begging, but the local tradition that lets laypeople give respect to Buddhist monks and nuns, and support their spiritual journey.

buddhist children monastery rangoon

When everyone was seated in the long benches, the monks clasped their hands together and chanted. Finally, it was time to break open the fruit and eat from the alms bowls, using their fingers.

monks lunch monastery myanmar

We noticed a few cats walking around the tables! True to Buddhist spirit of compassion, these young men made sure the kitties had something to eat.

flower garden rangoon

We encourage you to visit Kalaywa Monastery to learn more about the Burmese Buddhist tradition. If you walk around the grounds, you’ll see some beautiful flowers and gardens as well.

Karaweik Restaurant, Kandawgyi Lake

Visiting Karaweik Palace is another way to experience Burma’s culture. Located on Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, this golden floating restaurant is based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge.

karaweik palace restaurant interior

Only customers are allowed inside, so we stopped for tea and pandan leaf-flavored ice cream. (It’s also possible to order Burmese food, and there is an international buffet as well).

We enjoyed cooling off in Karaweik Palace’s golden hall, and watching an energetic puppet show on the stage.

burmese makeup

The restaurant hosts a Royal Culture Show every evening, with all types of Burmese performances. Yukiro could easily be mistaken for one of the dancers!

burmese culture show concert rangoon

We listened to traditional songs performed by this singer and instrumentalist, who is strumming the Saung-gauk (Burmese arched harp).

thanaka demonstration makeup

Near the entrance of Karaweik restaurant, this stylish woman did a thanaka demonstration. She showed us how to grind bark to make the yellow-white cosmetic paste, which is worn to soften the skin and protect it from sun damage.

Dragon Boat, Karaweik myanmar

Karaweik Hall is a bit touristy, but it’s a fun spot to take photos and learn about Burmese culture.

cobweb undercut hair shave

My ponytail reveals my cobweb undercut, or shaved and dyed hair tattoo! My hairstyle and color are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio in Vancouver, as always.

Karaweik Palace, Royal Culture Show

As Seinfeld might say: What’s the deal with these “quacky” gold-headed ducks? Are they dragon boats, or rubber duckies?

In fact, they represent a mythical bird in Burmese folklore with a melodious cry, called the karaweik.

Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon, Burma

The golden barge gave us perfect views of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi lake (with a tall fountain) and park. 

I’m wearing an off-shoulder top by Black Milk Clothing, and a skirt from Park Royal hotel.

Yangon Circular Railway station

Another top attraction is — surprisingly enough — riding the rails. Yangon Circular Railway is similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo: a local commuter rail that forms a loop around the city.

Operated by Myanmar Railways, the line stretches 29 miles and has 39 stops. We went to Yangon Central Railway Station to check it out. (Address: Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar)

Riding the Yangon Circle Line Train in Myanmar

Yangon’s Circle Rail is extremely popular among the locals. There are about 200 coaches, which carry 100,000 to 150,000 commuters daily.

yangon train station

Yukiro and I enjoy seeing daily life, wherever we travel. Yangon’s central station had a Complaint Center… but there was nobody there to complain to! (Now that’s something to complain about.)

rangoon burma public transit

Many tourists ride the circular loop, which takes about three hours to complete. It’s a way to glimpse different parts of Yangon, and see what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here.

Myanmar Railways train station

We decided the train journey would be a bit too hot and time-consuming… so we ended up simply visiting the Circular Train station.

yangon trains, circle rail

As you can see, there’s no AC. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early if you want to nab one.

 Yangon Circle Train

Such cute and classic trains rolling through, with a choo-choo.

myanmar circular railway

Yangon Circular Railway was first built during colonial times by the British. Today, the tracks have been modernized and expanded, and there are even ads on the front of the cars.

yangon burmese train tickets

Each train ticket costs the equivalent of 15 cents! Ticket prices are kept low because of ministry subsidies, so this public transportation system is accessible to everyone.

rainway train yangon

Hello, boys of Burma…

(If you want to hop on this train with them, here’s info about getting tickets, timetables and more.)

burmese child face painted

Only in Myanmar, you’ll see people wearing thanaka (sometimes in intricate designs) on their faces.

yangon central railway

The future of the railway is optimistic. Japan is currently working with Yangon city development to improve and expand public transport.

myanmar train lines

Yangon is a very safe city, and we rarely ran into touts or beggars. At the station, everyone we encountered was respectful.

burma baby

Baby on board. (Images by Sniper Chau.)

myanmar top best tourist attractions

Even if you don’t end up taking the three-hour ride, Yangon’s Circular Railway is worth checking out!

Maha Bandula Park fountain yangon

Another must-see is Maha Bandula Park, which features a fountain pond and sits next to Sule Pagoda.  The park dates back to the late 19th century, and is currently named after General Maha Bandula who fought the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War.

During colonial times, the centerpiece of the park was a statue of Queen Victoria. After 1948, the queen was replaced by Independence Monument, an obelisk that commemorates Burmese independence from the British. (You can see it behind us.)

yangon golden dome sule stupa

It’s impossible to miss Sule Pagoda, a glimmering golden dome in the center of Yangon’s downtown.

This spiritual site supposedly enshrines a hair of the Buddha. (It’s located at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula Road.)

sule pagoda, downtown yangon

Sule Pagoda was the focal point of many political demonstrations over the years. Protesters gathered here during the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution, both of which faced violent pushback from the military government that was then in power.

rangoon gold temple sule

Today, it’s a peaceful Buddhist temple where city-dwellers can meditate.

Sule Pagoda is about the size of a small block — much smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited too. You’ll see Buddha statues and golden architecture in both places, but if you only have time to visit one, go to the magnificent Shwe Dagon.

buddhism boat gold ship

Buddhists can place offerings in a miniature golden ship, which has the mythical karaweik bird at the front. With a system of pulleys, the boat sails up to the stupa.

praying burmese girl child

This Burmese child seemed as earnest as her mother in her reflections.

crazy driving roads southeast asia

Finally, you can’t leave Yangon without a fine meal. We headed towards Inya Lake, a popular recreational and romantic area. On the way, look out for Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, where she spent years under house arrest. (We spotted the outside gate, which has a portrait of her father on the top.)

This photo illustrates the fun of driving in Myanmar. You’ll see “boys in the back” of trucks, lounging about. And when the vehicle needs to change lanes, everyone participates in the turn signal! 

Le Planteur, Yangon mansion

Yukiro and I were having dinner at the highly-rated Le Planteur. As soon as we saw this glorious French colonial manor, lit by lanterns, we knew we were in for a special meal.

Address: 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

romantic outdoor restaurant yangon

Le Planteur is all about beautiful service and thoughtful touches — such as this table by the water, covered in fresh rose petals.

Le Planteur Restaurant & Bar

We explored the grounds, blooming with lush foliage and secret lounge areas. Many come here for cocktails and light bites.

5 star fine dining yangon burma

How beautiful is the waterfront of Inya Lake? In the distance, there’s a rowboat illuminated in lights.

wine bar yangon

Inside, we were excited to see a high-tech wine dispenser wall! With a touch of a card, you could fill your glass with varietals from around the world.

le planteur restaurant lounge

Le Planteur pays tribute to the French colonial days. The manor is filled with glamorous private lounges, perfect for large gatherings.

feathers chandelier ceiling light

The decor ranges from 19th century style red couches to a chandelier made from white feathers, framed by peek-a-boo vintage photography.

best myanmar restaurants le planteur

Founder Boris Granges was born in Switzerland, and brought his fine dining expertise to Myanmar. You may order a-la-carte, but I recommend Le Planteur’s degustation menu, which lets you taste the chef’s selection of the day. (It can also be customized if you are vegetarian.)

We started with delightful amuse-bouches of tuna, and ordered a second round of the freshly-baked brown bread rolls.

french food yangon

The French cuisine is five stars perfection. Le Planteur uses the freshest ingredients, with a focus on subtle vegetable flavors. Every dish is beautifully executed and presented. On the right, this is my favorite dessert of the year so far: a black chocolate dome with passion fruit heart and tonka bean biscuit.

tiger painting burma

Le Planteur is the place to be for an exquisite meal in Myanmar. (Be sure to browse the artisan shop at the entrance too.)

(For other restaurant suggestions, including homestyle Thai and Burmese food, check out this post.)

rangoon tourism landmarks

Did you enjoy our Yangon city guide? Here are all my Myanmar posts in one place — we hope to be back soon, to hang out with our new punk and Goth friends. But now, a new journey to South Asia awaits…

We’ll be exploring India and Malaysia! Add @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat for the first peek.

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Volunteering with Punk Rock bands in Yangon, Myanmar! The Rebel Riot, Human Rights concert, Rangoon restaurants.

kyaw kyaw rebel riot punk singer

Believe it or not — there’s a 1970s-style punk rock subculture in Myanmar!

Yukiro and I loved getting to know Kyaw Kyaw, the leader of Burmese punk band Rebel Riot, and his studded, tattooed, Mohawk-ed friends.

As you’ll see in this post, Yangon’s punks play hard. But they also give back to their community in a huge way: Kyaw Kyaw runs two charities that directly aid the homeless, and children in need.

burmese punk rockers, punks burma

Yukiro and I called the theme of our Burma trip “Monks and Punks.” The two groups have more in common than you’d think: they’re all about inclusivity, compassion, and taking action to support others.

(You might remember from our Shwedagon Pagoda photos that this is the world’s most Buddhist nation.)

rebel riot band concert punk

Before we arrived in Yangon, I reached out to The Rebel Riot band on Facebook (as they are one of the most prominent punk groups in the scene). We were keen to volunteer for their charities, and get to know Burma’s alternative, underground side.

Singer and songwriter Kyaw Kyaw welcomed us warmly. He invited us to Human Rights Day, where The Rebel Riot was performing an acoustic set.

yangon human rights day, people's park

The free event took place outdoors, in People’s Park (not far from the famous golden temple).

As I mentioned in my first post about Myanmar, the country was formerly under a military dictatorship, which put up strict barriers for freedom of expression. Now, Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratic leader. The state of human rights is still a work in progress here (as it is everywhere — I’m not going to get into the specific politics). Still, it’s significant to have event like this one, run by young Burmese who believe in this mission.

lgbt gay rights myanmar burma

We were thrilled to meet locals at the event. I was impressed by their passion: they were here to stand up and speak out, for human equality and freedoms. 

A lot of friendly faces came up to us, and asked to take photos together. Yukiro’s makeup and fashion were quite the sensation!

gay rights pride yangon festival

In recent years, the LGBT community has become more open and accepted in Myanmar. Still, same sex activity remains technically illegal, and the gay night at J-One Music Bar is sometimes shut down.

The King n Queens Organisation is doing wonderful work to advocate for equality in Burma. As their motto says, “Human rights are LGBT rights.”

burmese lgbt gay groups

In addition to fighting the discriminatory laws, these LGBT groups are working to increase awareness and education. One giant placard contained a “glossary” with definitions in both English and Burmese. The terms include queer, pansexual and transgender (which are not instinctively known in this population).

yangon abandoned amusement park rides

Next to People’s Park, we noticed a creepy abandoned theme park! This is the old “Happy World,” which looks like a derelict, haunted version Disney’s Fantasia. (It should be re-named “Unhappy World,” don’t you think?”

Anyone can access the run-down rides — so naturally, we posed inside the creepy roller-coaster cars. (More images at the end of this article; all photos by Sniper Chau.)

yangon calling, underground punk scene

To celebrate Human Rights Day, various Burmese bands took the stage and performed. The Rebel Riot band did an acoustic set with their friends. Between songs, Kyaw Kyaw spoke from the heart about the importance of this cause.

rebel riot punks myanmar band

As he put it — he’s an advocate for human rights because as a human being, how could he not be? The fundamental rights to equality, free expression, and protection against unjust persecution should be extended to everyone in society.

human rights day yangon concert

The Rebel Riot’s songs conveyed these messages with power.

burma punk rockers, rebel riot

As Kyaw Kyaw’s nonprofits gain more recognition, many are coming to Myanmar to volunteer directly alongside him. My friends and I brought a suitcase full of school supplies for Books Not Bombs, which provides children with educational support (especially in conflict and rural regions of the country).

burma music festival concert live

Every Monday night, his group Food Not Bombs purchases food and distributes it to the homeless and needy in Yangon. At first, locals weren’t sure what to make of these tattooed and pierced punk volunteers! However, their dedication spoke for itself, and the rockers are now welcomed each week with hugs.

myanmar punks, band

The logo at left (two people giving a high five) summed up the positive spirit of Human Rights Day, Yangon.

myanmar tattoos, piercings

In the audience, we saw others with large gauge earrings, alternative dyed and shaved hair, and DIY studded and painted clothing.

It’s interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that punk ideologies have taken hold in Myanmar — as the country has recently broken free of military rule, yet continues to struggle with regional clashes and authoritarianism.

young burmese millennials

We have full confidence in the young Burmese volunteers we met. They’re progressive and full of energy, and will shape their homeland in a positive, inclusive direction.

punk hair tattoos earrings

We wanted to get to know The Rebel Riot and friends better, so we made arrangements to hang out the following evening.

rangoon tea house yangon

It turned out to be a grand gathering of Goths and Punks, at Rangoon Tea House! (Address: Ground Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Rd (Lower Middle Block), Yangon, Myanmar).

burmese tattoos, punk rock tattoo arm

We sat down at a long table, and the boys laid out their tattooed arms. I see A for anarchy, hell on the knuckles, a skull, and two gasmasks on these sleeves.

yangon punk boys rockers

In true punk spirit, many of these tattoos are DIY. I spot 666…

myanmar goths, gothic

A lot of young locals and travelers come to dine at Rangoon Tea House, which is one of the highest rated restaurants in the city. The restored two-level space is reminiscent of the British colonial era, with classic molded ceilings and lanterns.

rangoon tea house bar cocktails

Rangoon Tea House is well known for its drink menu. The world-class cocktails are inspired by Asian flavors, such as a jasmine gin and tonic, and “Smoking Cheroot” with smoky cinnamon, bourbon and Hennessy, served on a thanaka tray.

At the entrance, we saw the staff preparing tea from the finest grade pindica leaves, aerated with a long pour from above.

punk in myanmar, burma punks

Goths in the back, and punks in the front! I’m standing next to Esther, a Gothic makeup artist, and Ze Ze, vocalist and composer of the band Maze of Mara. We quickly became fast friends — amazing how you can find like-minded spirits in the most unexpected of places.

burma tattoos

“System Error” — so good. Tattooing isn’t taboo here, as it is in Asian countries like Korea and Japan. There’s also a history of tattoos among ethnic groups in Burma, up until the 20th century.

drag queen myanmar

As you can see from our smiles, we loved the food at Rangoon Tea House. The mohinga (Burmese fish noodle soup) was so delicious that we ordered two bowls! This national favorite dish is made from fresh Rakhine daggertooth fish, and perfectly balances sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

rangoon tea house food menu

The menu is a homage to Rangoon’s past — when traders from different countries mingled with colonial settlers and locals. We ate up every bite of the Indian-inspired curries, biryanis, samosas, rotis. Other highlights included British Pimm’s, and traditional Burmese “ohn note kauk” chicken and noodles in coconut broth.

southeast asia punk scene

As you can see, the boys were fans of the Burmese beers.

myanmar punk boys

A meal to remember, followed by a night of more laughs, drinks and shenanigans!

green gallery thai food yangon

On a different evening, we dined at the amazing Yangon Green Gallery — a Thai restaurant that is the favorite hangout of expats and young artistic types. We were sold on the chalkboard sign: “Let us tickle your tastebuds and fill your stomachs.”

Green Gallery Address: Mahabandoola No 58, 52 Street Lower Block, Between Mahabandoola and Merchant, Yangon 1116, Burma.

best hippest restaurants yangon

The friendly owner, Bo, welcomed us with gusto, and insisted that we make ourselves at home. Once again, we found a kindred spirit — we bonded over the 1980s songs that she broadcast all night, from Europe to Eurythmics! 

thai restaurant green gallery expats

Bo used to live in Thailand, and brought these traditional flavors to her cooking. At the same time, Green Gallery is as modern as it gets: she brought us gin and tonics with colorful straws, and we admired the industrial, bohemian design of the restaurant.

yangon hipster restaurants

The Lady, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, looks over the space. It’s wonderful to see women like Bo put their hearts into their independent businesses, and succeed.

green gallery myanmar food curries

My mouth is watering as I reminisce about our meal at Green Gallery! The menu is simple, with a focus on fresh and healthy — yet comforting — Thailand dishes. The items change with the seasons; we started with spicy salad Larb Mhoo, and adored the panang and green curries with rice. Leave room for the coconut sticky rice and mango dessert, which is full of love.

rangoon green gallery

As you can see, the tables fill up quickly, especially with groups of expats. The restaurant also hosts a monthly Green Party that draws in lots of friendly, young faces.

yangon cool cafes restaurants

We could have stayed all night, grooving to the 80s songs and joking with Bo about thumb sizes. There’s no better place in Yangon to get a heart-warming meal than Green GalleryPlease say hi to her for us!

root kitchen bar yangon

We chatted with someone at the next table, and he suggested that we visit Root Kitchen and Bar for a “Wa-Tang” cocktail. His recommendation was on point: the drinks are perfectly concocted with ingredients like tea, lemongrass, ginger, and a special Wa-region liquor made from rice and barley grains.

yangon myanmar cocktail bars

Root is a new restaurant and bar, which pays homage to the Wa people who live in Shan State. This region of Myanmar is often dismissed as a drug and conflict-ridden borderland, so these owners wanted to showcase Wa culture, art, and food in a comfortable space.

50th street bar yangon bands

Later, we met Bo and other new friends at the nearby 50th Street Bar (there are lots of bars and hip restaurants in this district). This venue is known for its live concerts — that evening, we watched several alternative bands perform.

More here!

A royal stay at ParkRoyal Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar! Mohinga buffet, Bogyoke Aung San Market longyi.

burmese musical instruments xylophone patala

Long time no see… Yukiro and La Carmina are back!

At the end of 2016, we journeyed to Yangon, Myanmar — and it turned out to be one of our most meaningful trips to date.

There’s so much to share from this beautiful Buddhist country. We met creative locals, volunteered, and immersed ourselves in Burmese culture. (Above: Yukiro sits in front of a patala, or traditional xylophone, and I’m wearing the traditional longyi skirt and thanaka face paste).

monks Myanmar tourism

Until a year or two ago, Myanmar was difficult for tourists to access. Now, the country  has changed its government (with Aung San Suu Kyi in power) and opened its doors. Visitors can easily get an E-Visa: we filled out the government application online, paid $50 US, and were approved in a day.

More airlines have also launched routes to the newly-built Yangon Airport. We flew on my long-time favorites, HK Express: they have a direct, fast and inexpensive flight from Hong Kong to Yangon. In just over three hours, we were in the land of Buddhist monks.

parkroyal hotel myanmar rooms, suite

We were treated like queens at ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, our home base for this trip. The hotel sent a BMW to pick us up from the airport, and later take us around the city. The staff greeted us at the door, and showed us to our rooms on the exclusive Orchid Club level. 

Yukiro and I loved the old-world charm of this luxury hotel. As you can see above, ParkRoyal gracefully incorporates Burmese art into the design. The location is also ideal: right by cultural attractions including the golden Shwedagon Pagoda.

parkroyal hotel bakery, desserts

As part of the Orchid Club privileges, we were spoiled with freshly-baked treats every day. Such a joy to come back from sightseeing, and find little sandwiches and sweets awaiting us.

parkroyal hotel resorts yangon room

It’s a relief to visit a country without any tourist trappings (such as fast food chains and tour buses). However, this also means Myanmar can be a challenging place for some travelers to navigate (for example, streets and numbers are not easy to find). We were glad we had the ParkRoyal staff to assist us, and these comfortable rooms to return to.

● You can book a room at ParkRoyal Yangon here, at a discounted rate.

● Here’s where you can get a black off-the-shoulder top like the one I’m wearing.

myanmar travel guide book

In our rooms, we found these cute primers on the local etiquette. The illustrations explain regional quirks that everyone should respect, such as not pointing to objects with one’s feet, or taking photos of pregnant women without permission. (I thought the above cartoon was common knowledge… until I saw someone grab a monk to “pose” him for a photo!)

burmese sculptures, burma art

Local art and music fills the hallways of ParkRoyal Yangon. We watched a lady play the saung (national string instrument) in the lobby, and admired these traditional Burmese carved wood panels.

The hotel staff even provided us with longyi, or long single cloth skirts that are tied at the waist, and worn by both men and women in Myanmar.

parkroyal hotels orchid club concierge

As Orchid Club guests, we were privy to additional benefits including a concierge desk right on our floor. Every day, the kind staff helped us coordinate our itinerary and car/driver. They were wonderful at answering our questions about local culture, and giving us off-the-beaten-path travel tips.

parkroyal club lounge buffet drinks

We also had access to the lounge, which is always stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks. During cocktail hour, we tried Red Mountain, a Myanmar wine that comes from the hills of the southern Shan State. Yukiro took a few bottles back as gifts for friends and family (very few people have tried Burmese wine!)

parkroyal yangon spa massage

On our first day, we relaxed at the hotel spa. I lay down on this inviting bed, and got a traditional Myanmar Thanaka massage that worked out all my knots.

swimming pool myanmar luxury hotel

It’s hot year-round in Yangon, and the ParkRoyal swimming pool beckoned us to dive in… but it was time to explore the city.

(Hotel photos by Sniper Chau, city photos by La Carmina. My black top is similar to this.)

rangoon burma market vendors

Our concierge suggested that we walk to the nearby Bogyoke Aung San Market. A staff member took us there by foot, and pointed out a few neighborhood attractions on the way.

overhead bridge to bogyoke market

There’s an overhead bridge leads to the market, with vendors selling fruits and dried seafood on the wooden planks.

Safety note: While some outskirt regions of Myanmar are in conflict, Yangon (the biggest city and former capital) is considered one of the safest cities in all of Asia, with very little crime. All the locals we met were friendly, and no touts approached us. It’s important to stay cautious wherever you travel, but let me assure you that Yangon is not a dangerous destination.

yangon railroad tracks walking

The bridge to Boygoke spans these railroad tracks. Locals walk right on them, balancing objects on their heads.

superman car decal customization

Yangon’s infrastructure and development were better than I expected. There are a lot of Japanese and Korean electronics here, including cars and smartphones.

It’s easy to spend an hour or more exploring what was originally known as Scott Market, established in 1926 during the British rule. Upon Burmese independence in 1948, the market was renamed after Bogyoke (General) Aung San.

yangon flower vendor

After the coup d’état of 1962, the country became a military dictatorship, ushering in years of violent suppression. In 2011, the junta was dissolved; in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority in both houses, and she is the democratic leader today.

(In 1989, the military government changed many official names — Rangoon became Yangon, and Burma became Myanmar. There’s some contention over the official name, but Aung San Suu Kyi stated in 2016 that foreigners could use either. J. Peterman from Seinfeld put it best: “You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”)

burmese street food market

You can find all sorts of local food at Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, be careful about eating street food, if you aren’t accustomed to it.

bogyoke aung san market

So many sights and smells to behold. Isn’t the Burmese alphabet beautiful? The written language dates back to the 11th century. (Myanmar is bordered by China, Laos, Thailand and India — hence some of these influences).

myanmar bazaar night markets

“Langorous” was our word of the day. In Myanmar, do as the locals do: slow down, hang out, enjoy the moment.

traditional burma hairstyle ponytail

The market has hundreds of vendors, lined up on cobblestone paths. You can find all types of antiques, jewelry, clothing, Burmese art, handicrafts, you name it.

Long, silky hair is a trademark of Burmese beauty. Yukiro and I loved this futuristic-looking hairstyle worn by “Aunty Mary.”

longyi skirts bogyoke market

Bogyoke market is the best place in Yangon to pick up a longyi, or Burmese long skirt. You can choose from the various embroidered silky fabrics, and get the garment custom-tailored to fit you like a glove. The ladies can also help you match it with a sleeveless top and sheer scarf.

yangon longyi market fashion

The shops are a rainbow of intricate, elegant fabrics. Longyis are worn by both men and women, and are a perfect mix of style and function. (The airy fabric keeps you from overheating, and protects you from mosquitoes).

burmese traditional skirts shop

As I mentioned, Burmese vendors aren’t aggressive — they don’t run up to you or try to rip you off. Shopping at this market was easygoing and enjoyable.

bogyoke market jewelry shops

We went indoors to look at the gems and jewels. This cyber disco Buddha greeted us at the entrance

burmese carved buddha statues

Myanmar is known as the world’s most Buddhist country. Close to 90% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, which certainly contributes to the peaceful, welcoming, compassionate nature of the locals we encountered.

annabelle creepy doll antique

In a country that was formerly isolated, you’re bound to find some oddities. I did a double-take at this store window. Is that… Annabelle? (The haunted doll and horror movie star must have escaped from her locked case at the Warren’s Occult Museum!)

burmese comics, cartoons

These funky faces reminded me of Japanese daruma. Underneath, notice the Burmese comic strips, with speech balloons in the local script. 

aung san suu kyi poster painting

Many vendors put up images of The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi. During the time of military rule, she was placed under house arrest and it was forbidden to publicly display her photo. Now that she’s the leader of the country, locals can have her smiling from their walls.

hotel lobby christmas tree

Since it was humid (even around Christmas), we tended to go out for a short period, and then return to our hotel to rest before heading out again. ParkRoyal’s central location and car/driver service made all this possible.

kawaii cute gingerbread house chocolates

One time, we came back to gingerbread houses and cute chocolates in our room! The pastry chef is a maestro; we gobbled everything up, like Hansel and Gretel.

parkroyal yangon restaurants

We dined with the General Manager at Shiki-Tei, an exquisite Japanese restaurant inside the hotel. We started with sake-tinis and warm sake…

Shiki-Tei japanese restaurant myanmar

… followed by the freshest sashimi, yakimono (fish and steak grilled right at the table), and nabemono (hot pot with fish and vegetables in a subtle yet complex broth). A meal to remember.

parkroyal yangon buffet, food

Every day, we looked forward to the breakfast / brunch buffet, which is one of the best in Yangon. There’s all types of international food, but I focused on the Burmese dishes, such as spiced salads, curries…

best mohinga myanmar yangon cafe

… and one or more bowls of the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga. This is a fish and rice noodle soup — but it’s so much more than that. Mohinga is heartwarming, with every flavor and texture (salty, sour, crunchy, sweet) in perfect balance.

At first, there may be a “fishy” smell, but once you get in a few spoonfuls, you won’t be able to stop. It’s a little like laksa and pho, but uniquely Burmese. I hope you can try mohinga for yourself, as it’s a game-changer.

yangon myanmar 5 star luxury hotel

We’ll miss the friendly staff of ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, who always greeted us with a “Min Gā Lar Ba!” Without them, we wouldn’t have had such a magnificent time in Myanmar.

(Find out more about this hotel here.)

burmese writing, buddhist poster

Isn’t Myanmar a fascinating country? I hope this first post got you intrigued about Burmese history and culture.

There’s a lot more to come from this fascinating destination — including monks and punks. Let’s just say… you won’t be disappointed!

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Hipster Helsinki travel guide: steampunk bar Hell-Sinki! Kallio district, coffee shops, modern design stores.

spider goth print biker jacket

For those who love alternative subcultures… Helsinki is one “hell” of a travel destination!

In part one of my “Finlandia” journey, I took you to a mod furniture exhibit, and sauna / restaurant by the water. Now, I’ll show you around the coolest restaurants and shops in the hipster Kallio district. We’ll end up in a Steampunk bar that looks like an airship, complete with jets of steam.

(I’m wearing this Spider bomber coat. It’s one of my favorites, and currently on sale.)

best blog of year award, blogger awards

But first, some quick happy news: La Carmina is nominated for the Best Blog Award!

I was wondering if you’d be willing to take 10 seconds to vote for me? Every bit of support counts, and you can vote once a day.

Just click here to vote for La Carmina – I’m at the end of the check list. Thank you so much for believing in me, I really appreciate your kindness over the years!

gay friendly helsinki lgbt guide

Helsinki is one of the world’s most liberal and progressive cities — to the point where the pamphlets say, “We are not gay friendly. We are gay!”

My film team and I spent an afternoon in the Kallio district of Helsinki, where young artsy types tend to congregate.

hipster helsinki, kallio neighborhood

Quite a few readers recommended Good Life Coffee, in the heart of Kallio. I was sold by their motto:  “Avoid Bad Coffee.”

This coffeeshop chooses high grade beans, and takes a “no bull” approach to roasting and brewing (in their words). The result is simple, honest and delicious.

hipster cafe, coffee shop scandinavia

Good Life is a cozy spot for meeting up with friends, and flipping through design magazines. They also sell baked goods from local bakers; the restaurant / bar Sandro next door is also highly rated.

good life coffee helsinki finland

There’s a similar “Coffee Is Always a Good Idea” wood wall art available here.

I’m wearing the Joanie Mule shoe, which comes in black and marble white (like the exact ones I’m wearing).

If you’re digging my purse, you might like these Sanrio bags and platforms below:

black metal finland, heavy metal store

A city with “hell” in its name has to have a dark subculture, right? At the rock shop Hell-Sinki, we found Scandinavian death metal soundtracks that would be perfect for a Viking invasion.

steam hellsinki bar

Then, it was time for a drink at the Steampunk bar, Steam Hellsinki. 

The bar is a futuristic, fantasy vision of the Victorian era meets the Wild Wild West. Old fashioned steam technology is reimagined in creative ways, and displayed all throughout the space.

helsinki steampunk bar, club

It’s amazing to see how Steampunk has spread all over the world. (Remember when we went to a steam punk coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa?)

The decor at Steam Hell Sinki is on point. We saw Gothic types hanging out on the retro couches, beneath vintage bicycles and lamps.

airship steampunk bar design

The piece de resistance… is a giant zeppelin airship that doubles as a bar! Colored lights dance over the blimp, giving the impression of movement. Every so often, fog spews out from the hull. 

victorian steampunk piano

Flowers, old pianos and vintage Victrolas add to the retro-fantasy Steampunk theme.

tea cocktails steam hell sinki

The resident dog is trained to put his paws up on the bar, upon command. Good boy.

Steam HellSinki has almost 100 types of gin available. The famous gin and tonics are garnished with berries and spices, and the special menu includes cocktails that come in teapots and cups.

world's weirdest coolest theme bars

We loved spending a relaxing evening under the chandeliers. Steampunk fans, don’t miss out on this “hell” of a bar.

artek furniture design store helsinki

No doubt, Finland is a world leader for interior design. I’m obsessed with Scandinavian and mid-century modern, so it was a joy to visit the Artek store. (They carry designs including the ones below).

kay bojesen monkey ape toy

I smiled when I saw this Ape by Kay Bojesen, which comes in small and medium size.

eero aarnio artek ball chair, trolley

I couldn’t resist sitting in Eero Aarnio’s iconic ball chair (available here). On the right is this Tea Trolley by Alvar Aalto, one of the founders of Artek and masters of Finnihs modern design.

If you’re as much of a design fangirl as I am, don’t miss out on the DesignMuseo (where I caught the Eero Aarnio retrospective) and nearby Design District Helsinki.

why join navy when you can be pirate cafe

Helsinki has innovative interiors everywhere, including restaurants. I had lunch at the wonderfully named cafe, Why join the navy when you can be a pirate. Good question, arr.

I love eating clean, and feasted on the fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, juices, and healthy wraps. Since we’re pirates, we ordered a round of local gin (try Fevertree or Napue), garnished with rosemary and cranberries, and mixed with local tonic.

(My Spider bomber coat is fit for the captain of a pirate ship.)

southpark theme restaurant helsinki

We had dinner with a view at Southpark Restaurant. You might be thinking “Omg they killed Kenny” — but this is not actually a theme restaurant based on the South Park cartoon. It’s a “ravintola” named because it is in the south end of Helsinki’s Sinebrychoff park.

(Find my Joanie Mule sandals in black or marble white here.)

finland modern design restaurant

Southpark has a wonderful atmosphere filled with light, and walls decorated with modern art. The hashtags say it all: #HellaGoodFood, #SoCalSoCool.

A lot of regulars come here, which give the room a neighborhood vibe. We loved how the owners personally took care of us, and came by the tables to chat with their guests.

tom of finland gay art exhibit

All the cocktails get my top marks, especially the 1919 Sour. (They’re pictured with postcards of Tom of Finland, who pushed the boundaries of gay art in the mid 20th century.)

I know Californian food well, and Southpark nails it. The tacos were magnificent (and I’m picky), and their recipes fuse this style of cuisine with local catch and produce.

helsinki modern hip restaurants

For a meal that’s fresh and full of color, and served by a friendly staff — come to Southpark, “Mmm-kay?”

nudge rulla boutique helsinki

For a hip combination of fashion and food, visit Nudge (clothing shop) and Rulla (cafe), located side by side in the centre of Helsinki.

bird print kimono bathrobe

Both share a passion for sustainability and organic production. In Nudge, you’ll find one-of-a-kind clothing made by Finnish designers, like this dreamy bird kimono.

helsinki hipster fashion, jewelry

All the designs come from independent creators: you’ll find natural cosmetics, eco-friendly accessories, and Finnish children’s items. (The bat necklace was calling out to me.)

rulla cafe, rice paper rolls

Located in the same space is Rulla, where you can feast on hand-made healthy rice rolls with a Scandinavian twist. The options include salmon and shrimp with herbs, and side of tangy sauces.

scandic paasi hotel

Time to wind down at the hippest hotel in Helsinki, Scandic Paasi. The building overlooks the water, and is located next to a lovely park.

cool scandinavian design hotels

A picture is worth a thousand words… Scandic Paasi has outstanding modern design, in the lobby and spacious rooms.

We’re big fans of Scandic Hotels, which give great service and luxury at an affordable price point. (Remember our stay in Stockholm’s Grand Central by Scandic?)

scandic hotels helsinki finland paasi

The color-blocked bar was a mod dream. I encourage you to book a room Scandic Paasi if you’re going to Helsinki.

“Kiitos” (thank you in Finnish) to BorderlessMedia.tv for all the photography.

south park restaurant cafe

Helsinki is a city full of creativity — wouldn’t you agree?

● PS thank you for taking a few seconds to vote for me in the Best Blog Awards! It’ll make a huge difference in the final round (ending Jan 20), and I really appreciate your support over the years.

Click to VOTE now for La Carmina – Thank you!