The Most Buddhist Pilgrimage Site of Yangon: the Shwedagon Pagoda

Traveling to Yangon would not be completed without visiting Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous landmark of the city, or maybe even the country. It has 110 meters high, covered with gold plate and encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is 72 carats. This very remarkable pagoda, also known as the Golden Pagoda, is Burma’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site because it enshrines sacred of important relics. These relics include the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama Buddha.

The area consists of hundreds of temples, stupas, and statues that cast architectural era for almost 2,500 years. Among the shining gold and diamond, visitors are still able to feel the peaceful and charming ambiance. Visitors will experience admiration of this magnificent symbol of Buddhism while also witness to the lives of Myanmar people. Shwedagon Pagoda forms the focus of Shwedagon Pagoda forms the focus of religious as well as community activities, like the bustling of devotees and monks washing the statues, offering flowers, worshiping, and meditating.

Historical evidence suggests the pagoda was built by the Mon around the 6th century. Since then the Pagoda has been enlarged and renovated many times, and numerous smaller stupas and other structures have been added. However, according to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. According to tradition, Tapussa and Bhallika — two merchant brothers from the north of Singuttara Hill, Okkalapa (what is currently Yangon), met the Lord Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and received eight of the Buddha’s hairs. The brothers returned to Burma and, with the help of the local ruler, King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined.[1]

There are four entrances to the complex, you will be welcomed with the “guards”, which are enormous Chinthes, Burmese mythological lions with a white body and golden colored head. The upper part of the walls at the entrances to the complex are decorated with beautiful Burmese style depictions of the Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha.

How to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda?

The pagoda is located at Singuttara Hill, to the west of Kandawgyi Lake. Visitors can drive by taxi to get to the place, whether stop it in the road or use online booking taxi, as Grab has already available in Yangon. It usually only cost about 6,000 – 7,500 kyats or $4 – 5 from the airport, which around 14 km of distance. The temple is open daily from 6am until 10 pm, for Burmese, the admission fee is free, but for the foreigners, it cost around 10.000 kyats or around $6,5.

It is mandatory for all visitors to dress respectfully, no short pants or skirts. In case visitors wear those, the administrative staff would suggest the visitors to borrow Longyis (long cloth worn by Burmese men and women) with deposit cost around 3,000 kyats in the ticket entrance booth. Before entering the temple area, please remove shoes and socks, they can be kept at the entrance or carried in the bag.

Best Time to Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda

The pagoda is usually busy on Buddhist holidays which based on the lunisolar calendar, before full moon festivals, but usual weekdays are often more quietly. The ideal time to take pictures is probably in the morning when the sun is light up, but it would be more comfortable before it heats the day. Summer season in Yangon is from March to April, while in June, July, and August are usually the rainiest.

To visit the pagoda in the dusk is another exciting experience, reflection of light from the sunset to the pagoda creates natural sparkling which result beautiful figure from the pagoda. In the evening, when the sun has down, the contrast between the dark sky and the shine of gold, crystal, and diamond from the temple shows another magnificent side of them.

Putting the Shwedagon Pagoda as one of bucket list of your travel destinations is never a wrong decision. It has different ambiance from other Buddhist temples in South Asia, such Borobudur in Indonesia, Wat Arun or Wat Pho in Thailand, or even Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The peacefulness you can get is worth to have for a lifetime experience. (Marta)

[1] (Official Website of the Shwedagon Pagoda, 2018)