At the heart of Yangon, bustling ex-capitol of Myanmar, lies the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most significant temple in the city and the city’s biggest tourist attraction by far. When I was travelling in Myanmar I heard a variety of opinions about Yangon, and most weren’t so positive. People were choosing to skip Yangon all together and others said it was hot and busy and there wasn’t much to see or do anyway.
For me, it still wasn’t as warm as Thailand and I thought the place was pretty interesting and worth a few days. There were a couple of places I didn’t get to I would have liked to as well, but I did get the ‘Shwedagon’ experience.
So let me tell you about it. It’s a huge stupa on top of a hill that you can see from many places in Yangon, such as up in some of the tall buildings such as the Sakura Tower where I had lunch at the Sky Bistro looking out across the city. So, it’s big. To the spike at the top, 112 metres, and it is an incredibly popular site to visit.
Lonely Planet recommend in the early morning or evening to visit, the rest of the day is too busy and too hot. So yes, I ended up visiting in the middle of the day. And yes, the Lonely Planet was right! As they often said at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ‘Grrrr Argh!’.
The taxi driver took us to I think the south entrance. Whichever, it’s the main tourist entrance. As with so many Buddhist temples in the world, Shwedagon is on the top of a big ol’ hill. So I was happy to find at the entrance we didn’t need to climb. There was a bloody lift! In fact, the other entrances also have escalators or lifts too I think.
Make sure your knees are covered, they don’t much like short shorts (mine were below the knee thankfully!) or short skirts. In fact they like women to be dressed conservatively at every temple in Myanmar. If you need something to cover your knees, a sarong is available to buy or hire. 5000 kyat (5 bucks) but if you return it you get 4000 back.
Up in the lift, across a small bridge and there I was. The sun was incredibly bright, the sky was blue and the pagoda oh so golden. The age of the pagoda is a matter of conjecture I’ve discovered, with some believing it to be 2600 years old, but 1000-1400 years seems more likely according to historians.
The floor is paved, and as you have to take your shoes off before even getting in the lift, it’s hot by the middle of the day. White stone is the coolest, although stone in the shade is preferable at most points. The stupa sits centrally and there are many pavilions and smaller temples surrounding it, and they are pretty packed. Mostly with people taking a rest I should say, although many praying as well.
It seemed to be a bit of a social occasion really, and yes a lot of people were taking selfies. The different pavilions are rather interesting, and to get a good look at everything you need really two or more hours I’d say – I had slightly less than one and it was very rushed.
Some pavilions have many Buddha statues, there’s one with a single Jade Buddha, and others have Buddha with fairy lights like a halo around his head. What can I say? It’s honestly a little tacky. Then there’s a museum, no photography allowed (yes I got told off!). To see Shwedagon in the middle of the day is an experience. I got to see it at near maximum capacity full of like. But honestly, I think seeing it at a quieter time would be preferable.
Nevertheless, it’s a very holy site for Buddhists, especially Burmese Buddhists, and is up there with the great religious places of worship in the world, and a must-see for those in Yangon and Myanmar. Middle of the day – hot and overwhelming with the crowds, but a real experience none-the-less.
All for today!
May the Journey Never End!