Rangoon’s magnificent and iconic Shwedagon Pagoda is Yangon City’s best-known tourist destination and indeed Burma’s single most prestigious religious site. If you only see one temple in the country then you’d better make it this one!
The sprawling Shwedagon Pagoda complex is considered to date originally from the Mon period some 1,500 years ago but has been updated, repaired and added to over the centuries and the imposing stupa is said to contain hairs from the head of Buddha himself. Shwedagon lies on a low hill just north of the city centre – a short taxi ride or 30-minute walk from Rangoon/Yangon Central Station and consists of the famous gold-leaf coated stupa, or chedi, surrounded by myriad lesser shrines, statues and stupas and reached by 4 ornate covered flights of steps.
The structure itself is spectacular and provides a wealth of photo opportunities but for us what makes the site so fascinating is the site’s atmosphere and the non-stop spectacle of pilgrims, devotees and worshippers. This is a highly sacred spot and Burmese come from all over the country to pray, meditate and make offerings so be discreet and respectful but it is the people that make it.
As with any popular site in Burma, it is also a great place to meet people and many of the monks, in particular, are keen to chat and take advantage of the opportunity to practice their English so, not only a chance to interact with the locals but also to learn first hand about Buddhism, the myths and beliefs and indeed the everyday life of the monks themselves.
Early and late in the day are obviously your best times but because you have to visit barefoot the marble floor tiling is often too hot to walk on during the middle part of the day anyway. It is, as we mentioned, a large site so allow plenty of time for your visit as well and if you have enough time then why not try dawn and dusk visits – it is spectacular?