Wednesday 30 January 2013

Schwedagon Pagoda - the jewel of Yangon

It seems that pagodas are everywhere in Myanmar. Burmese are very religious and each town and village has its own shrine, local monastery or golden stupa. No wonder that when you travel around the country you might feel a bit overdosed on temples. However, Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the one not to be missed and one of the must-see places in Myanmar. 

When I first saw the Schwedagon Pagoda from a distance I thought that it was absolutely incredible. It shimmered in the afternoon sun and was a perfect cure for my sore eyes, tired with the chaos and dust of Yangon.

The Pagoda is located a little further from the city centre, on the Singuttara Hill and is visible from almost anywhere in Yangon. It is around 30-45 minutes walk through very uneven and full of huge holes pavements. The easiest way to get there is to take a tuk-tuk or a taxi, which will cost you around 2500-3000 kyats.

The best time to visit is late afternoon, mostly because it is not as hot, but also because you can wait for the sun set and watch the colours of the surroundings changing.

Schwedagon Pagoda at night

Four entrances lead to the top of the hill, each guarded by mythical lions, which are supposed to scare the evil spirits.

Entrance to the Pagoda

At the bottom of the stairs, going up, there is a stall where you need to leave your shoes. Buddhists are very strict about leaving footwear outside the temples and home, so don't argue when asked to leave your shoes with a very nice cloak room lady. 
You will be also asked to make a donation. It's up to you how much you want to give, but it seems like a minimum is 500 kyats. We can only hope that the money will go to maintain the Pagoda.

At the top of the stairs you will be stopped again. Here you need to pay $5 entrance fee - they say that it will go to renovation of the Pagoda, but everyone knows that most of the profits will go to the goverment's officials pockets. 

There are colourful stalls along the way up to the top, selling all kinds of flowers, candles and images. 

It is belived that the pagoda is 2,600 years old, and it is the oldest in Myanmar and in the world. It is also said that the stupa is made out of more gold than it is owned by the National Bank of England. During centuries monarchs and Burmese people donated gold to maintain the pagoda. 

There are a lot of little shrines and temples around the Pagoda. There are 8 of the smallest ones, which directly surround the Stupa and they symbolise each day of the week. Do you think I made a mistake? There are 8 days in Burmese calendar: Wednesday is split in two (a.m and p.m.). The locals pay their respects to the day of the week they were born in and pour water on the image of that day. This is supposed to bring them good luck.

Burmese walk around the Pagoda clockwise, and you will see signs informing you which direction you should go. 

Take your time, walk around, walk into some of the temples, sit outside some of them, watch locals praying and performing their offerings. 

The inside of the smaller temples are full of golden Buddha images, usually decorated with blinking lights.

It is worth going at the back of the buildings. At many corners there are old trees with small altars, or homes for the nats - spririts that live there. These places are usually quiet and there are only locals present.

My advice is to stay longer, until the late evening as there are less tourists (especially those from the organised trips) and you can enjoy the surroundings even more. Very often whole families come here, with their children, to pray and to meet their friends and neighbours. Burmese are very friendly people and they won't mind you taking a couple of photos of them. 

Finally: be respectful! Don't wear anything too reveling, cover your shoulders and legs, don't stick your camera into locals and monks' faces and keep your distance. Remember that women are not allowed to come close to the Buddha images, nor touch them. Be a good tourist!


  1. I've never been to Myanmar. It's in my plans, yes, but I'm worried about what I heard there, that there's no reliable internet connection? As an online writer, I definitely need one haha

  2. Well, there are places where you can get a wi-fi, but that's not always the case. There are a few internet cafes, which are very cheap.
    I think the worse place for the internet is Bagan - it was painfully slow!