Myanmar – Yangon’s Glimmering Shwedagon Pagoda

Myanmar’s tourism industry isn’t as well developed as other countries in South East Asia. Tourists are a curiosity to many Burmese as we’ve experienced already in our first few days. Many people stare and then shy away when we smile or say hello. A few have asked to take a selfie with us and others try to sneak a picture of us on their phones. The lack of tourism makes communication and navigation difficult. All signs are in Burmese text, with very little English. Navigating the streets, sites, menus and shops is challenging. We were lucky to have English on this sign below to tell us which cave we were visiting.

If it wasn't for the English, we'd never know what site this is.
If it wasn’t for the English, we’d never know what site this is.

Traffic is difficult, even as pedestrians. We had just gotten used to left side driving, but in Myanmar the driving is back on the right. The problem is that most of the cars have their steering wheel on the right! Apparently, in the 70s the government changed to driving on the right overnight. Supposedly it was mayhem! Cars today are either still from the 70s or are cheaper Japanese right side drive imports. A city with as much traffic as Yangon doesn’t need this confusion. Traffic is so bad it takes 1 hour to go 20 km. Most men in Myanmar wear a longy. It is a sheet of cloth wrapped around the waist, similar to a skirt. We had heard of these but thought it would only be worn in traditional dress. Instead, we see almost all men wearing longys.

There are many monks in Myanmar. Boys are expected to spend a year in monk training between the ages of 10 -and 20. We saw many of these novice monks especially collecting food donations in the morning and at temples during the day.

Novice monks collecting food donations
Novice monks collecting food donations

Shwedagon Pagoda is a glittering gold collection of zetis and shrines set on a hill in the center of Yangon. There are four entrance gates with long, colourful walkways and stairways leading up to the main plaza on the top of the hill. Entering the main plaza, you are awestruck by the incredible display. The large main golden Shwedagon Pagoda is surrounded by dozens of smaller golden zetis, which in turn are encircled by dozens of golden Buddhas and other deity statues.

Shewdagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Shewdagon Pagoda, Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Novice monk at Shewdagon Pagoda
Novice monk at Shwedagon Pagoda

Throughout the large plaza are many more temples, zedis and shrines all glittering with gold, mirrors and coloured glass. The Shwedagon Pagoda holds 8 hairs from Buddha. Another shrine on the plaza has Buddha’s footprint so this entire complex is very important to the Burmese.

Plaza at Shewdagon Pagoda
Plaza at Shwedagon Pagoda
Shewdagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Novice monks pouring holy water over Buddha's head
Novice monks pouring holy water over Buddha’s head
Shewdagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

It’s impressive during the day and even more so at night when the candles are lit, and the entire complex is illuminated. It can be seen from many parts of the city, shining on the top of the hill.

Shwedagon Pagoda at night
Shwedagon Pagoda and the Western Entrance at night
Shewdagon Pagoda at night
Shwedagon Pagoda at night

We were lucky to see this beautiful Burmese couple getting their wedding pictures taken on the steps of the Western Entrance.

Burmese couple getting wedding photos at Shwedagon Pagoda entrance
Burmese couple getting wedding photos at Shwedagon Pagoda Western Entrance

Downtown Yangon still has many colonial building from the time the British were here. Unfortunately, they are in really poor condition.

Rundown colonial building in Yangon
Rundown colonial building in Yangon

Bago – 50 km north of Yangon is Bago which was the capital during the 13th century. There are many old pagodas and shrines from that time. The difference with the sites in Bago compared to Ayuttaya, in Thailand, is that the pagodas in Bago have been restored many times over the centuries. Today they don’t look that different from the modern technicolour ones.

14th century Kyik Pun in Bago has been renovated in technicolour
14th century Kyik Pun in Bago has been renovated in technicolour

The remains of the Kanbawzathadi Palace in Bago are being restored. The main rooms that have been completed are the Great Audience Hall and the Throne Hall.

Audience Hall in Kanbawzathadi Palace, Bago
Audience Hall in Kanbawzathadi Palace, Bago
Old Burmese woman in Bago
Old Burmese woman in Bago
Shrine at Maw Daw, Bago
Shrine at Maw Daw, Bago
One of hundreds of pagodas in Bago
One of hundreds of pagodas in Bago

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Myanmar. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca Click on a picture to view it as a slide show.

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