“Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire.”
— Rudyard Kipling
Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the biggest and the grandest Pagoda in Myanmar. You will see many pictures of this famous landmark that has religious, historical and cultural significance. However, no picture can ever do justice to the real beauty of this golden stupa. It’s incredible that something like this exists on earth.
To help you make the most of your visit to this beautiful temple, we have divided this post into four parts:
- Interesting Facts and Fables
- Practical Information and Tips
- Area Around Shwedagon
Interesting Facts and Fables about Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda is built on a hill
Shwedagon Pagoda is called the pride of Myanmar and totally deserves that title. As you arrive in Yangon, you can’t help but notice the magnificence of this pagoda as it glimmers in the backdrop in the heart of the city. It is built on an elevated hill so you will notice it from a distance as you move around within Yangon.
The legend and a little bit of history
Legend has it that it was built more than 2600 years back and is the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. The Pagoda stores significant holy relics of four previous Buddhas. The relics contain a few strands of hair of Gautama Buddha, water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and the staff of Kakusandha.
As per the fable, two brothers from ancient city Balkh (present day Afghanistan) got the opportunity to meet Lord Gautama Buddha when he was alive and received eight of the Buddha’s hairs. The brothers traveled to Myanmar (then known as Burma) and found Singuttara Hill with the help of the King Okkalapa of Burma. This is where the relics of other Buddhas previous to Gautama Buddha had been preserved.
Destruction, Damages and Restoration
Several kings and queens of Burma had a role to play in raising the height of the stupa. The pagoda survived many earthquakes but the biggest damage was caused by an earthquake in 1768 that brought down the top of the pagoda. King Hsinbyushin later raised it to its current height of 99 m (325 ft).
About All that glitters – Shwedagon Pagoda’s Gold and gems
This 325ft (99 meters) stupa that’s plated with 8688 sheets of gold, shimmers in the day light and sparkles when it’s dark – is indeed a sight to behold! Oh and by the way, it is studded with more than 7000 diamonds and precious gems like rubies, sapphires, topaz along with a massive piece of emerald. It is said that the emerald bounces of the last rays of the sun as it sets. The crown is topped by a diamond bud called ‘sein bu’ which carries a 74-carat diamond.
Practical Information and Tips for visiting Shwedagon Pagoda
How to reach
The best way to reach is by a local bus. Stand on one of the bus terminals and ask the bus driver. Even if they don’t know English, they will be able to understand the words “Shwedagon Pagoda” and will nod so that you can enter. The bus ticket was only MMK 100.
You can also hire a taxi from anywhere in the city.
What to wear
It is an unwritten rule about not wearing shorts while visiting a temple in South East Asia, but to my surprise, I saw a few tourists who appeared to be unaware. Well, no problem! At the entry area, if they notice that a visitor is wearing shorts, they don’t let them enter till they buy the traditional Burmese sarong like dress – longyi. You can wear pants or a modest maxi dress.
San was wearing long shorts that covered his knees but even he had to buy a longyi. It was funny that it happened right after we exchanged meaningful looks when some other tourists got stopped by the guards for wearing really short shorts.
Opening Hours and Best Time to Visit
The opening hours are 6 am to 10 pm. If you’re an early riser, then do visit when it’s still dark so that you can see a magnificent sunrise. However, for lazy people like me, the best time to visit this is 4 pm so that you can enjoy it in daylight, watch the sunset and see how it glitters when the darkness descends.
The entry charge for this pagoda is MMK 8000 for a day for per international visitor.
Wear shoes that are “pagoda ready”, i.e., easy to remove. Do what the locals do and bring a carry bag with you for your shoes.
There are no toilets in the main temple area. We asked a few guards and they told us to climb down the stair case till mid-way. We saw a few arrows that led us to the toilet area. However, we were not allowed to wear our flip flops inside the toilets, but to my surprise, the floor was sparkling clean.
Shwedagon Pagoda’s Key Features
There are four entrances with stairs that lead to Singuttara Hill where the temple is built. Two giant mythical lion like creatures (leogryphs) guard each entrance. These stair cases are full of vendors that sell Buddha idols, tiny paper unbrellas, flowers, good luck charms and many other souvenirs.
Planetary Posts and Day Shrines
This octagonal base of this Pagoda has a post on each corner depicting the day of the week. Wednesday is divided into two shrines for am and pm. Most of the visitors pray at the shrine that represents the day of their birth.
There are 1485 bells inside this pagoda – ranging from different sizes and weights. It’s beautiful when so many of them chime together in the evening as the sun begins to set. Shwedagon once had the Great Bell of Dhammazedi – the largest bell to have existed in the recorded history. However, it was stolen by a Portuguese warlord. However, his ship sank due to the weight of the bell.
There is a 150 year old Bodhi tree which is said to be a descendant from a seedling from the original Bodhi tree under which Gauram Buddha gained enlightenment. The original one was in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India.
The pagoda looks beautiful from every angle. However, we spent the maximum time at the back area where it was pretty much empty and it proved to be an excellent corner for photos. We also noticed a massive gong here.
The Base of the Pagoda
The base is made with bricks and we saw a monk walking on it. Do you see that little dot in the picture? Yup that’s a monk. It kind of tells you about the size of this pagoda in comparison.
Candles at night
As the darkness descends, many devotees light up thousands of lamps and candles all around this pagoda. It is a sight to behold.
The Area Around Shwedagon
The streets around Shwedagon are full of color with many roadside eating places, tea shops, temples, flower shops, fruit shops, carpenters and Dagon Beer stations.
Where to go before Shwedagon
If you arrive early, we suggest you explore the small streets around Shwedagon and spend time eating, drinking tea and clicking some memorable pictures. Moreover, there are many parks around this temple where you can relax in the shade of trees to escape from Yangon’s heat. You can also visit Kyay Thone Pagoda on Gyar Tawya Street and check out the artifacts on display inside.
Where to go after Shwedagon
Kandawgyi Lake is walking distance from Shwedagon Pagoda and it offers stunning views of this glittering stupa at night. Alternatively, you can take a taxi and head to Inya lake. You will find many lakeside restaurants in both these places where you can go for dinner and drinks. I found the restaurants in the Kandawgyi Lake complex to be a little pricier as compared to the ones on Inya Lake banks.
You might also like:
Myanmar Travel Tips – 15 Things you need to know
Ngwe Saung Beach – white sand beach destination near Yangon with pagodas on the beach
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Have you visited Shwedagon Pagoda and have some of your own tips to add? Let us know in the comments section!