JOLENE TAN'S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Head to Yangon for culture and noodles

Colonial-style architecture coupled with stunning stupas and tasty local fare make Yangon an interesting destination

Who: Jolene Tan, 32, regional account director of Exceed Sports & Entertainment and organiser of The Music Run, which takes place on Sentosa on Saturday from 3.30 to 9pm.

Favourite destination: Yangon, Myanmar

Why: Myanmar has a rich and unique history. Yangon is developing and modernising fast, yet the pace of the city remains calm and exudes a colonial-era charm that I love. There is something new and interesting to experience every time I visit.

Favourite hotel

Hotels in Yangon tend to be overpriced due to the high demand, though prices are falling slightly.

My favourite place to stay is the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel (www.kandawgyipalace-hotel.com), which is centrally located in Kan Yeik Tha Road and situated next to the beautiful Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake.

The architecture of the hotel incorporates local teak and gold details, exuding the luxurious, old- world charm of a traditional Burmese palace. Rooms are spacious and essential amenities are provided.

The hotel's service staff are always ready to help and ATM machines for international tourists are on-site.

The hotel's breakfast buffet serves a good spread of local and international cuisine. The Wi-Fi connection is also stable, a rare find in Myanmar.

Prices are reasonable, starting at US$130 (S$174) a room a night.

The hotel recently opened a lounge, The Clubhouse (www.facebook.com/clubhouseygn), where guests can party and mingle with international DJs.

Favourite restaurant

In Yangon, you can have an incredible meal for less than 2,000 kyats (S$2.29), but I have heard horror stories about food hygiene, so I always check reviews of the places I intend to eat at or ask my local friends for advice.

My favourite restaurant is Rangoon Tea House (77-79 Pansodan Street, 2nd Floor; tel: +95- 9979-078681; www.facebook.com/RangoonTeaHouse/timeline) a trendy joint with locally inspired cocktails, Wi-Fi, charging outlets at the tables and old black-and-white Burmese films projected on the wall for a nostalgic feel of the city.

It serves classic Burmese food with a twist, so you can find teahouse snacks such as samosas, pratas and bao, but in bigger portions and they are less oily and probably a lot more sanitary than what you would get at streetside stalls.

My favourite dish is Mango Pickled Pork Curry with rice, fried roselle leaves, egg and salad served on a traditional steel tray for about 9,500 kyats. The organic Mont Hin Gar fish noodle soup (5,000 kyat) is also good.

The price of the food might be slightly steep, three to four times more than the local standard, but it is well worth it for the hygiene, ambience and quality of ingredients.

Favourite tourist site

The gorgeous Shwedagon Pagoda (located in downtown Yangon at Singuttara Hill; www.shwedagonpagoda.com), a gilded stupa which is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country. Besides stupas, the temple complex contains many other beautiful and interesting structures and statues that reflect more than 2,500 years of history.

You can see the pagoda, the most famous landmark in Yangon, from most vantage points in the city. It is especially breathtaking in the evening, when the golden roof illuminates the sky and city.

Favourite hangout

There is a bistro called Zephyr @ Seinn Lann So Pyay Garden (Inya Road, Kamayut; tel: +95-1502-720; www.facebook.com/SeinnLannSoPyayGarden/info/?tab=page_info) next to Inya Lake.

It is a favourite with the locals for its cheap and delicious local food, beer and beautiful scenery. Across the lake, you can see the house in which Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi stayed when she was under house arrest.

Best breakfast

Visit the local teashops for Mont Hin Gar, also called Mote Hin Gar or Mohingha, a traditional rice noodle and fish soup which is a breakfast staple and considered by some to be a Burmese national dish. You can get it almost anywhere and it costs 200 to 500 kyats a bowl.

Must try

Shan Noodles are my favourite comfort food in Yangon.

There are different versions, but my favourite is Mon Hin Chin - dry, clear and sticky chewy noodles topped with minced chicken, tomatoes, peanuts and sour mustard greens.

Shan Noodles are available in many local eateries. For an authentic flavour, try 999 Shan Noodle House (No. 130 B 34th Street, Kyauktada; tel: +95-1389-363; bit.ly/1Sbe9bm) where you can get a bowl of noodles for about 1,200 kyat.

Destinations nearby

Besides Bagan, another amazing and less-travelled destination for the adventurous is Putao, a remote and picturesque town in Northern Kachin State, at the tip of Myanmar near the India-China border. Fewer tourists come here. I had never heard of it till I was invited by my Burmese friends to join them on a weekend trip there.

Due to its unique location, the town is home to myriad different cultures and religions, and the view from the town is amazing.

From there, you can see the Himalayas and other snow-capped mountains, including the beautiful Hkakabo Razi mountain which, at 5,881m tall, is the highest mountain in South-east Asia.

While in Putao, relax in a luxurious resort such as the Malikha Lodge (www.malikhalodge.net) or arrange a stay in one of the local guest houses through a tour agency.

I recommend signing up for a Putao Valley tour, where you can gain insight into indigenous life in the area. You can also go trekking in the mountains or white-water rafting in the Maykha and Malikha rivers.

Event to bookmark

Thingyan, the Burmese New Year Water Festival, takes place over four days in early April. It is a more intense version of Thailand's Songkran Festival, where people celebrate by throwing water on one another.

Ideal length of stay

Three days should suffice in Yangon and one week is ideal if you plan to spend a few days in other cities such as Bagan and Putao.

Recommended guides

Printed travel guides are struggling to keep up with the changes in Yangon, so it is best to do your research online. The Lonely Planet website is quite useful and the information up to date. Another helpful site is www.Myanmore.com.

Tips for travellers

Power outages are common, so I always travel with a torchlight.

Also make sure your US dollar notes are crisp and clean, as the money changers and Visa-on-Arrival officers are very particular about the condition of the notes they receive and have been known to reject bills in "poor" condition.

Different bills receive different exchange rates, with US$100 bills getting the best rate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'Vibrant with old-world charm'. Print Edition | Subscribe