I couldn’t find that one word to describe it all without making it sound like just another adjective.
“Stunning”, “magnificent”, “monumental”, “shimmering”, “intense,…”? Nope, nope, nope, nope.
Stun – mag – mon – shim – int is more like it.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is Yangon city’s most brilliant treasure to date and its grandeur should be “experienced”. Not written.
Over 2,600 years old, the pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist monument defining Myanmar culture. It’s said to house artifacts of the Buddha. But the truth is, I didn’t know this history when I arrived. I just showed up to see what the hub-bub was all about. Some people like to know the history of things before they visit them. I usually read about it after. It’s as if I like to gather my purest impressions of a place first, before history tells me how to look at it. And well…
The Stun – mag – mon – shim – int happened.
And then something else– my eyes began to tear. Then it watered, …until my eyes began to feel like they were weeping. Between the towering gold and the white marble floors, my eyes literally could not handle the brightness it reflected. Where were my sunglasses?
It occurred to me I’ve never had an experience like that before. Ever. And that’s now my history with the Shwedagon Pagoda.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a huge complex of temples surrounding a giant, golden pagoda. Each temple houses a Buddha (or several) in pose or enactments. A relaxing stroll around the pagoda is a meditation in itself, as prayer chants fuel through the loudspeaker and you’re bedazzled by the grandeur of open-aired temple pavillions housing ornate artwork inside. Burmese devotees and monks add to the cultural curiosity as they unpack lunches and relax in the shade after their worship.
Quick Tips for Travelling to the Shwedagon Pagoda:
- Wear flip-flops. Inside the temple, you’ll need to be barefoot. For a small fee, you can store your footwear at the holding area near the admission booth. Leave your shoes at the shoe storage area or buy a plastic bag to carry it with you.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses: The sun reflects brightly off of the pagoda and it’s white marble architecture. I had to squint most of my way through. It actually gave me a headache (so aspirin might be an extra you want to pack if you’re light sensitive).
- Best time to visit: morning. It’s not so much the heat you’ll want to avoid, but the brightness can get to you.
- Admission: $5.00 USD for foreigners. Hours: 4:00 am – 11:00 pm. Shwedagon Pagoda Official Website
- English-speaking guides roam the complex. You can hire them to show you around the temple and tell you about the history. Negotiate a price. Some of them come from towns outside of Yangon and they make the trek for this work.
- Get lost and take time to explore the surrounding neighborhood markets near the main entrance offers interesting insight into some of the culture.
Getting to the Shwedagon Pagoda
Of course you can take a taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda. But travelling to the Shwedagon Pagoda by bus (watch my video tip; I am actually taking the bus to the Shwedagon!) is a fun adventure (albeit a tad stressful).Many tourists find taking local buses intimidating, especially when they see the smaller trucks with people dangling out of them. The bus you’ll be taking is the Yangon city bus (pictured above) and it will give you a good passing view of Yangon city and the local stops along the way. I’d list it as a bucketlist thing to do if you don’t mind occasionally getting lost or missing a stop or two. If you feel stressed by the notion of getting lost, keep in mind, a taxi is just a hand flagging away.
Go on, I dare ya to have a bit of bus fun!
Quick Tips: How to take the bus in Myanmar
Not all stops have visible bus stop signs.
Take note of where you’re dropped off. The return bus is probably on the opposite side of the road.
Numbers are written in Burmese
While you’ll find English signs in Yangon and the bus numbers are all in Burmese. If your guesthouse gives you directions and tells you to “take Bus #4”, but you’re standing at the bus stop wondering why the buses whizzing by don’t have numbers on them, it’s because the numbers are written in Burmese. I learned that by missing a few buses.
Have your hotel write the name of your destination in Burmese.
If you’re going to your hotel, don’t forget to take a hotel business card with you. English is used but not always widely known to locals. Burmese is the language. You’ll have to learn to navigate by it.
Fare is collected by a fare collector after you board.
He’ll come to you but normally, he’s standing by the open side door. Show your address (written in Burmese) to the fare collector and try to sit near him, so he can call your attention when you need to get off.