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shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

The heart of Myanmar’s faith

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Approaching the Shwedagon Pagoda, up one of four long wide and covered staircases, is like trying to reach Nirvana itself. It takes time (ok, only about five minutes), patience (there are a lot of stairs that seem to be neverending) and good karma (by trying to politely decline all the offers to sell you a souvenir).

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon       shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

But, like entry to the holy eternity, it is worth it. Because here in the middle of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, is the breathtaking centre of the country’s Buddhist belief.

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda is at least a thousand years old – although legend says it has actually been around for much longer. Over the centuries it has gradually been extended and repaired and it’s now 99 metres tall. The (actual) gold plates on the exterior catch the sun’s rays and the whole complex glows around you. At the very tip of the stupa is a 76 carat diamond.

The stupa is the focus and each of the compass points is an altar where people stop to pray. But circling the base are dozens more small statues of Buddha and shrines where people gather to light incense and wash the figurine.

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

Shwedagon dominates the skyline around much of Yangon and all you can see is the tall golden spire. But up the top here now, I appreciate that there’s much more. It’s like a large religious complex with maybe forty or fifty other small buildings around the outskirts.

Myanmar-2013-57_web

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

Some of the pavilions have more statues of Buddha in various poses, others have monks sitting in quiet contemplation, or sometimes families are just relaxing in the shade and having something to eat. The sounds of a choir lure me to one shrine where I stop for a while and enjoy their melodies.

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Foreigners pay five dollars for entry but the pagoda is, naturally, free for locals. For them, it seems to be about more than just simple religion. It is also a bit of a sanctuary from the chaos of the Yangon streets below.

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

Special tip!

If you’re planning to visit yourself, I’ve got a little inside tip for you. Most people will go and see the pagoda and then go on their merry way. But at the base of the southern staircase is another pagoda that nobody seems to know about it. It’s called the Maha Wizaya Pagoda and it’s quite unique because the stupa is hollow. But it’s not just hollow – it has the most incredible design inside to make it look like a forest and a ceiling which shows the constellations of the sky.

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

shwedagon pagoda, yangon, myanamar, largest buddhist paya in myanmar, burma, things to do in yangon

I was the only foreigner there when I wandered up to have a look. When I tried to inconspicuously take a photo inside, a man saw me and stood up from his mat. I thought he was going to come and berate me but he actually when to turn on the lights in the ceiling so I could get a better shot.

Are you interested in finding out more about Myanmar? Then you can check out my free Myanmar Travel Guide!

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20 Comments
  • Muza-chan | Jan 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Very beautiful statue :)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Dancing Dolls – Touch -A.S.A.P.-My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:55 am

      Yeah, it’s one of the more impressive sights I’ve seen in SE Asia.

  • Illumi Arzia | Jan 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I like the architecture.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:59 am

      It’s stunning, isn’t it?

  • Jennifer | Jan 31, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    What a beautiful pagoda! And that forest scene is amazing. I was just reading yesterday that Myanmar is THE destination to visit in 2013.
    Jennifer recently posted..Passignano Sul Trasimeno: Medieval Town on Lake TrasimenoMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 2:03 am

      The forest scene was incredible – in a large part because it was so unexpected. I wasn’t even sure if I should bother popping in but clearly it was worth exploring a bit further afield!

  • D.J. - The World of Deej | Jan 31, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Beautiful… I love the forest decor inside.
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Things You Only Hear on a Cruise ShipMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 2:08 am

      I think it’s even more impressive when you’re there in person. The forest scene is a bit hard to capture because it’s all around you when you’re standing there.

  • Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com | Feb 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Aw thats so sweet that they helped you with your lighting as well! haha… looks like an amazing place… and thanks for the insider tip. Myanmar is high up on my list for next years travels
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      I know – it was so nice. I got the feeling they were really proud of their place, so they wanted to make sure I got the best experience I could there.

  • Nicholle Olores | Feb 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    The beautiful Pagoda shows how they love and value their faith.
    The place is truly wonderful.
    Nicholle Olores recently posted..What is a Prestige Joinery?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Faith is definitely a really important thing in the lives of the Myanmar people. They take a lot of their pagodas and temples and they always look so beautiful and well-cared for!

  • Vinay | Feb 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Beautiful Pagodas and even more beautiful statues of Buddha housed in them. These really represent the best that Myanmar has to offer.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      You can’t go anywhere in Myanmar without coming across the Buddha statues – but they are all stunning!

  • Shamanth | Feb 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Looks beautiful from the pics – love the glow of the dome – is the entire dome made of gold? I’ve also read that the Sule pagoda in Yangon is quite grand – which of Sule and Shwedagon did you find better?

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Sule isn’t really that spectacular, in my opinion. While it’s pretty, it’s basically used s a huge roundabout to manage traffic in Yangon. That takes away from the serenity or spirituality of it, I think.

  • Andrea | Feb 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Beautiful pictures. So glad I found your site – headed to Myanmar in March!

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Oh, you’re going to love it here! I’ve got lots more stories to share over the coming weeks, so hopefully you’ll get some ideas of what to see… especially some of the places off the typical tourist trail.

  • Bama | Feb 3, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I remember my sheer amazement when I saw Shwedagon closely. It is truly one of the most remarkable single monuments in Southeast Asia. Btw thanks for the info on Maha Wizaya Pagoda! I definitely missed it when I went to Shwedagon, and now it’s another reason for me to go back!
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    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      It is quite spectacular, isn’t it? Just the scale of the place, coupled with all the little details around it. You can spend so long exploring it or just sitting there and admiring it. And as the light of the day changes, so does Shwedagon. So beautiful!

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