Myanmar with kids sounds like an impossible traveller’s dream but it’s absolutely not. In fact, moving around the capital city makes for one of the best ways to start your family adventure holidays in Southeast Asia because it is so new to tourism. Here you can really step into a country completely untouched by outside influences – maybe even more so that Bhutan (and far easier to get to). So be bold and brave and get ready – Burma is finally ready to be a family holiday destination. Here’s how to do Yangon with kids.
Many of the things that make Myanmar a desirable tourist destination are related to the fact that the country has been isolated from development for so long. For almost 50 years, Myanmar (Burma) was governed by a military dictatorship. During this time, the international community imposed severe economic sanctions on the country because of human rights violations. This, coupled with tourism boycotts, resulted in extremely limited tourism. In 2011 the military junta was dissolved setting the stage for democracy and reform. The improved political situation and the recent lifting of economic sanctions has resulted in a significant increase in tourism.
Stepping foot into parts of Myanmar with kids can feel like you are going back in time.
If you are looking for 5-star luxury resorts with kids’ clubs and Disney-themed activities, Myanmar may not be the place for you (yet). If you are interested in discovering history, architecture, religion and natural beauty with your kids by your side, then put Myanmar on your bucket list and prepare yourself to meet some of the friendliest and most caring people in the world.
Many parts of Myanmar are still off limits to foreigners, so most people stick to Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach. Travel between locations is typically done on domestic airlines. Most tourists arrive to Myanmar by an international flight to Yangon which makes it a good starting (or ending) point for a vacation and a convenient place to explore for just a day or two.
The biggest attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Paya, a giant golden domed stupa (pagoda or
zedi), surrounded by a vast number of smaller shrines, statues and pavilions. Shoes
must be removed when you reach the entrance. If you go wearing shorts, you will
be donned with a longyi (a
sarong-like garment worn by most men and women in the country) to cover your
knees before you can enter the sacred Buddhist site. The best time to visit is
in the evening as it gets brutally hot in the middle of the day (bare feet and
hot marble don’t mix) and the lighting at sunset is simply stunning. You can
bring a stroller into the complex, although there is a step or two at many of
the side pavilions if you want to truly explore them. Children will enjoy banging
the many gongs located throughout the complex and meeting the young Buddhist
monks often seen there.
Unless you go to the Po Kaung Hills near Monywa in Central Myanmar, one of the largest reclining Buddhas you may see in Myanmar is the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha in Yangon. Although it is housed in a metal shed, this Buddha is truly beautiful and children will be wowed by its sheer size.
Not far from Shwedagon lies Kandawgyi Lake, a fun spot for young kids as there is a small playground and a tiny free zoo near the viewpoint for Karaweik, a reproduction of a traditional royal barge. There is a walking path around the lake that can be scenic at sunset (or just hot in the middle of the day).
The Bogyoke Market (or Scott Market) is a great place to pick up small gifts for the kids. An entire section of the market is devoted to hand-carved wooden items including beautiful and ornate wooden animals. Need slippers for convenient on-and-off at the dozens of temples you will visit in Myanmar? Look no further – there are many stalls here that will have just the right pair for you.
Your guide can offer suggestions for several restaurants serving traditional Myanmar food. Local dishes often include curries (Myanmar curries are generally not spicy, but rather sweet from coconut), lentil soup, rice and fried bananas for dessert.
[For tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, read the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.]
Traders Hotel, PARKROYAL, Belmond Governor’s Residence and The Strand all offer top-notch accommodation for your time in Myanmar’s biggest city. Your kids won’t be able to complain about the food at the breakfast buffet, that’s for sure.
Although most hotels/resorts will offer baby cots, you may want to bring your own portable crib if you are at all picky about what your baby sleeps in (and if you don’t want them in bed with you!). The safety/stability/cleanliness of the baby cots provided by even the high end hotels are often unacceptable.
Myanmar is still a developing country and precautions must obviously be taken, but a kid-friendly vacation is definitely possible. So much of the beauty of Myanmar is outside of Yangon, so you really only need a very short time (even just a single day is probably fine) to see the highlights. [For more tips on travelling in developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
With kids, it’s really helpful and inexpensive to arrange transfers from the airport to your hotel in advance. Not all taxi drivers in Yangon speak English, so having a driver waiting for you may give you some peace of mind when you arrive with kids in tow (and the help with luggage is a plus too).
The best way to see the sights in Yangon is also to hire a driver and guide for a tour around the city. The traffic in Yangon is pretty horrific so try to map out your stops with your guide to minimise time in the car. In addition to providing interesting information about the sites that you will see, your guide will also entertain your children while you eat lunch, carry them on their shoulders when they tire of walking and quickly find the closest Western toilet when your newly potty-trained toddler says that she has to go!
Consider a backpack carrier instead of a stroller since the streets in Yangon are very busy and the sidewalks can be difficult to navigate.
Milk can be purchased at most of the large hotels/resorts, although it can be expensive. If your children drink a lot of milk, look to buy some at the local grocery stores. It may be harder to find in some of the more remote locations. Or pack some UHT milk in your suitcase.
Plan to bring enough diapers with you for your entire trip – they can be difficult to find.
Some areas will only have squat toilets (such as the bathrooms near the playground at Kandawgyi Lake), so try to teach your children how to use them before your trip. [For more tips on how to use a squat toilet, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Prepare your children (and yourself) for the curiosity of the local Myanmar people. It is amazing how many people want to touch foreign kids and/or take pictures of/with them. Most people will be polite and gentle, but some may be aggressive and persistent!
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Myanmar. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
To read more about things to do in Myanmar with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Bagan
By Robin Flannery