Yangon is great for souvenir shopping and is the most popular place for tourists visiting Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Bog Yoke Aung San Market is the largest street bazaar with 2,000 shops and stalls, selling everything from food and clothing to jewelry. Several stalls are selling traditional handicrafts too. You may well still hear it being called by its old British name- ‘Scott Market’. Because Yangon is a magnet for tourists, take your time shopping in the markets so that you can establish whether you are truly getting a bargain. Compare prices between stalls and be prepared to haggle enthusiastically! There are many other smaller markets including the delightful coconut and banana market and the night street food market which has lots of delicious local specialties for you to try.
Hla Day means ‘beautiful one’ and is one of several social enterprise shops stocking both traditional and contemporary handicrafts, whilst Pomelo has contemporary handicrafts – many of them made from papier mâché. Pomelo raises money for disadvantaged families and groups. Karaweik Arts & Crafts is another lovely handicraft shop filled with all types of interesting gift ideas.
In complete contrast, Myanmar Plaza is a huge shopping mall on five floors and features all the top international brands and for hungry shoppers has some great eating options. Parkson Mall is an attractive Malaysian- owned department store spread over four floors and with a particularly good supermarket in its basement. Now, let us have a look at the top 10 souvenirs to buy in Yangon.
1. Choose a piece of attractive lacquerware
There are some gorgeous pieces of lacquerware to choose from. This handicraft has its roots in China, but has developed with two distinctively Burmese styles – one features relief molded designs (Thayoe Pan Yun) and the other has incised designs known as Ka Nyit Yun. Some of the pieces portray scenes from local life. Lacquerware is usually black with colored decoration and this includes the use of gold leaf (Shwe Zawa Yun) to accentuate the design. It is said that the best quality lacquerware is available in Yangon.
2. Wear a comfortable longyi
The traditional dress in Myanmar is the longyi which is a loosely fitting unisex sarong wrap traditionally made in silk, but today it is more likely to be in woven cotton. The markets have so many to choose from in every color imaginable as well as a myriad of different designs and they are cheap to buy costing as little as 1,000 kyats (a couple of dollars). Traditionally, men wear darker, muted shades, whilst women wear brightly colored longyi.
3. Treat yourself to some beautiful fabric
There are some really beautiful locally made fabrics to choose from including silks and cotton that have been hand-dyed. A length of the material makes a very special gift, but why not take the advantage of having some material made into a lovely garment by one of the dressmakers or tailors in the city? Globe Tailoring is one of the best-known companies in the city and makes shirts, blouses, and suites to fit perfectly – a gentleman’s suit costs around $120.
4. Taste some Tamarind flakes – they are unique to Yangon!
You cannot get a more authentic souvenir than these delicious sweets which can only be found in the city. The Tamarind flakes are made into thin discs which are sprinkled with flour to prevent stickiness. They are then individually wrapped in paper and sold in bags of various sizes. Their taste is unique as it is both sweet and sour, but one thing is for certain – you’ll like it!
5. Buy a gemstone to cherish
Myanmar is well known for its beautiful rubies and sapphires and many visitors plan to buy one or several stones during their time in Yangon. Sadly many traders are selling poor quality stones – even colored glass to unsuspecting visitors, so it is best to visit a certified jeweler to buy. You can buy a truly beautiful stone, or you may wish to have the stone made into a ring or necklace and this is possible in just a few short days. All quality stones are sold with certification and it is essential to get the paperwork as you may be required to produce if at Customs when you leave Myanmar.
You will also find beautiful pieces of semi-precious jade to buy in Yangon. There are some attractive pieces of jewelry including bracelets, necklaces and rings and also trinket boxes and small ornaments.
6. Relax with some Myanmar cigars
Cigars are a popular buy in Yangon as they make a perfect souvenir. The cigars have a lovely warm and mellow flavor with a pleasing aroma. There are several specialist shops in the city where they can be seen being made. The cigars are carefully hand-rolled, combining tobacco, wood chips, and aromatic spices. The cigars can be bought singly or in various sizes of presentation boxes.
7. Admire the gemstone paintings
This could certainly be a more challenging souvenir to get home, but luckily these distinctive paintings are available in a variety of sizes. The image is painted first and then painstakingly in-filled using different colored gemstone powder that has been made by crushing the gemstone to a fine powder. This powder is then mixed with tiny amounts of paint and the result is a very special piece of art for your wall.
8. Seek out some astrological sand paintings
The sand paintings are another popular handicraft in the city and are colorful portrayals of everyday life in the area, people and Buddhism.
Several stalls in the markets sell sand paintings that are studies of the Burmese astrological animals as there is an animal for each day of the week and those born on this day are said to share the characteristics of that animal. The Burmese calendar has eight days – Monday – tiger, Tuesday – lion, Wednesday morning (00.01- 12.00) – a male elephant with tusks, Wednesday afternoon (12.01- 00.00) – female elephant, Thursday – mouse, Friday- guinea pig, Saturday- dragon and Sunday – Garuda, the mythical bird-like creature.
9. Buy a traditional parasol
Traditional Pathein umbrellas are available in a great variety of sizes and colors and have long been used as colorful decorations in homes around the globe. These traditionally styled umbrellas have a bamboo frame with a paper cover. The paper comes in all the colors of the rainbow and often has hand-painted decorations in black or colorful floral decorations on a softly colored background.
10. Ring some bells!
Small bells, large bells, and even gongs are frequently used in Yangon both in religious ceremonies and in family homes where they successfully summon everyone for a meal!
You will find stalls in the temples and pagodas piled high with every shape and size of bell imaginable and each is decorated with a variety of good luck symbols. Several smaller ones are hung together to make lovely wind chimes for your home and it is said that they bring good luck too as they keep bad spirits away.