Yangon’s Glittering Shwedagon Pagoda

High up on top of a hill, the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be beckoning us to take a closer look. From below we couldn’t have imagined the spectacular golden plaza we would see on top of the hill.

Two lion-like creatures, called leogryphs, guard each of the four entrance gates located at the base of the hill. We knew we were going to see something special when we entered though the Western Gate. In front of us was a long walkway bordered by golden pillars and a marble floor. The walkway leads to a golden staircase that takes you up to the main plaza on the top of the hill.

We were lucky to see a Burmese couple getting their wedding pictures taken on the staircase. They were dressed in colourful traditional attire and let us take their picture.

As we entered the plaza at the top of the stairs we were speachless. In front of us was a glittering collection of pagodas and shrines. The large main golden Shwedagon Pagoda was surrounded by dozens of smaller golden zetis. These in turn were encircled by dozens of shrines and golden Buddha statues. Everything glittered in the morning sun.

The Shwedagon Pagoda Complex is very important to Buddhists. The main pagoda is believed to hold 8 hairs from Buddha and one of the shrines has an imprint of Buddha’s footprint. The second picture below allows you to see the size of the pagoda.

The pagoda is in the middle of a large plaza that is filled with many more temples, zedis and shrines all glittering with gold, mirrors and coloured glass. It’s a little overwhelming to see so much opulence in one space.

We had to remove our shoes at the entrance gate. By mid morning the tile floors in the plaza were very hot to walk on with bare feet. We found our selves hurrying from one shady spot to the next as we explored the plaza.

Shwedagon Pagoda is impressive during the day but is even more stunning at night. The entire complex is illuminated and can be seen from many parts of the city, shining on the top of the hill. Inside, worshipers lit candles and butter lamps in front of many of the shrines and temples adding to the glow.

Another favourite spot to take pictures of the pagoda is from Kandawagi Lake at sunset. There are a few small coffee shops and restaurants around the lake allowing you to sit and enjoy the view while waiting for the perfect sunset shot.

We saw many monks and nuns in Myanmar, more than in neighbouring Buddhist countries. We learned that every boy between the ages of 10 and 20 is expected to spend one year in monk training . Girls are not expected to serve, but many do. These novice monks and nuns collect alms on the sidewalks in the morning and worshsip at the temples during the day.

Downtown Yangon still has many colonial building from the time the British ruled. Unfortunately, they are in very poor condition. It’s quite a stark contrast to the spectacular golden pagoda.

Fifty kilometers north of Yangon is the former capital city of Bago. It was the capital during the 13th century and you can find many old pagodas and shrines from that time. The difference with the sites in Bago compared to other sites such as Ayuttaya in Thailand, is that the pagodas in Bago have been restored many times over the centuries. Today they don’t look much different from the modern technicolour ones.

Kanbawzathadi Palace was the king’s palace in the 16th century. When we visited, the palace was being restored so we were only allowed to visit a few rooms. The main rooms that have been completed are the Great Audience Hall and the Throne Hall. These elaborately decorated rooms were embellished with gold.

Not far from the palace we spotted a group of men in traditional longys. As we got closer we saw they were preparing food in a large wok over an open flame. A longy 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 settings. Instead, we saw almost all men in Myanmar wearing longys.

The men saw us watching and called us over. They offered us a sample of the food, served on a banana leaf. We’re not sure what the dish would be called but it wasn’t very flavourful. It was nice to be able to interact with these men.

Traveling in Myanmar

Traffic is difficult in Myanmar. Cars drive on the right side of the road, but the problem is that most of the cars have their steering wheels on the right! Apparently, in the 1970s the government changed from left to right side driving overnight. Supposedly it was mayhem! Cars today are either still from the 70s or are cheaper right-side drive imports. It was scary to be in one of these cars on the single lane highways. When the driver wants to pass they have to move all the way over to check for oncoming traffic.

Visiting Shwedagon Pagoda Complex

The complex is open to visitors 7 days a week from 4 am until 10 pm. It gets very hot in the mid day sun so try to plan an early or late visit. Conservative dress is required. This means that knees and shoulders must be covered for both men and women. Shoes must be removed at the entrance gate and are stored at the gate for a fee. Note that socks are not allowed, you must go in bare feet.

The entry fee $8 USD and is good for one full day. We visited early in the morning and returned the same evening on the same tickets.

Coming next – Thailand’s Floating Markets and a Hill Top Palace

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.

To read our stories from around the world go to Destinations.

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  • Love so much you beautifully captured different moments of the day, with the changing light and skies, Love also the people portraits, the old woman with this wise expression in her eyes. Thank you for the useful information as well, Maggie ! Diana

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Diana, we loved that old woman. I still remember her today. Even though we couldn’t speak to each other, I still remember her. Maggie


  • Absolutely stunning temples and beautiful people. If only the Myanmar government could be fixed up to this state of repair. Thanks for sharing guys. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was quite overwhelming to see all of the gold and glitter in one spot. Especially with so much poverty in the city. The bride and groom were so beautiful. I’m glad they let us take their picture. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • O my goodness, just look at all that gold and glisten and Buddhas; I would be very impressed by the grandeur and abundance of these temples. I love the brides and the groom wrap around skirt/dress, too. Thanks for sharing, Maggie and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Aiva, it was shocking when we first walked in and saw all of the gold and glitter. The entire hill was opulant. The bride and groom were lovely and such a nice surprise. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • That gold in the pagoda is stunning! The couple you photographed look really beautiful in their traditional wedding clothes

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was really an unbelievable place, especially in such a poor country. We were so happy to see the couple in their beautiful traditional wedding clothes. It’s lovely to see their traditions and customs. Thanks for your comments! Maggie


      • Exactly. To me, travel is empty if you don’t go out of your way to understand the culture, but that’s a typical TCK view too

        Liked by 1 person

  • Beautifully captured portraits of people! I love the one of the novice nun against the backdrop of the glistening pagoda. She seems quite determined in her stride. It is fascinating (and sad) to see the contrast between the opulent temples on the one hand and the ruinous colonial buildings in the city center. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know that young nun was in a hurry to get somewhere! It was really shocking to see such opulance against the backdrop of such poverty. Most of Yangon was like that cololial building.It was quite depressing so we didn’t take many pictures. Out of all the asian countries we seemed to feel it the most in Myanmar. Thanks for you comments Leighton. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wonderful post, fabulous photos. So, several of Buddha’s hairs in a temple; a tooth in Kandy; bits and pieces elsewhere, his must be the most far flung remains in World history! We have such unfinished business in S E Asia, so hope we can resurrect our journey. In the meantime your posts just keep us wanting more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • His right and left testicles are in western Myanmar! That was an interesting stupa! I hope you can get back on your journey again soon. We’re not sure where we’ll go yet, or when. Just keep dreaming for now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • The pagodas and palace are stunning. How nice that you were able to snap a picture of the bride and groom. Wouldn’t you just love to have attended that wedding? What a great blog post that would be!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Shwedagon Pagoda is such a magnificent site, isn’t it? I’ve been there twice and I loved every visit. I wish I had time to go to Bago, though. From your photos it looks quite interesting — that shrine at Maw Daw looks particularly intriguing for me because of its architecture and its lush surrounding. I’ve been enjoying your Myanmar posts as they brought back memories of my trip to the country in 2012 and 2015.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bago was quite different from Yangon. Even though it was fairly large it felt quite rural with lots of trees and dirt roads. Although we later found that most of the roads in Myanmar are dirt/gravel. There were a lot of old pagodas/stupas in Bago and many seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It’s worth a day trip, but not much more.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Goodness, these pagodas are quite spectacular … so much gold and shiny things! I can understand that it must have been overwhelming.
    Lovely photo’s of the people (that old Burmese woman’s photo is stunning).

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was especially overwhelming in such a poor country. The people in Myanmar were so friendly and curious. Tourists are not as common so they were quite interested to interact as much as they could. Glad you love the old woman picture, we love it too 🙂 Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Stunning places Maggie, and the opulence is striking! All those pagodas look so well maintained in their shininess, do you think it is only for tourism? Contrasting the colonial buildings which don’t bring any benefit.. Sad to see so much discrepancy between the rich and the poor.
    Another amazing post🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Christie, it’s not at all for tourists. It’s a very important Buddhist site so is well looked after by staff and possibly volunteers. It was such a contrast to the buildings in the city where there is so much poverty. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • What massive structures! and so beautiful with all the colours and intricate details. It’s so fantastic to be able to visit these sites and learn about other cultures. I also love seeing the respect and honour still paid to the religions in some countries. Bali really moved me in this way when I visited there. As always wonderful photos shared!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it’s a spectacular place. I find their devotion inspiring too, except that so much money goes to the temples and the people have nothing. Myanmar was the biggest contrast for us with so many poor and yet opulent temples. Thanks for reading Linda 🙂 Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • The golden temples and pagodas are spectacular. So nice that you were to be able to see a new bride and the groom. 🙂 Witnessing the marriage ceremony would have been even more interesting. Enjoyed reading your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I can understand why Schwedagon Pagoda left you speechless. I felt that way in Bangkok when we visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. I’m thinking this is even more spectacular!? The gold and the ornate roof details are stunning. Nice that you got the photo of the newlyweds. Their traditional garments are works of art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In many ways it was more spectacular than Wat Phra Kaeo. Partly because it was condensed in a smaller plaza, but also because it was such a contrast to the poverty in the city. We felt so lucky to see the wedding couple. Even his outfit is gorgeous 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, this comment was in my spam folder which I always forget to check. I think that was also what stood out to us too was the severe contrast to the opulant temples in Myanmar to the poverty of the people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s annoying when WP throws real comments in spam or trash. I clear mine out every day and always find one in there…🙄
        The poverty and contrast to Buddhist temples in Myanmar is confronting for me, but the same world over…


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