ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) of Yangon, Myanmar

Day 55,  Asia, January – March, 2015
Day 2, Yangon, Myanmar (aka Burma)

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) 7
ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)

After our first night rest in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar (aka Burma) at Pickled Tea Hostel, we’re both charged up and ready to visit our first main attraction in Yangon. As mentioned in my other post, Myanmar (aka Burma) just recently open to tourism (2-3 years during our visit in 2015) after the trade embargo with the West got lifted. Therefore, the lack of infrastructure or in this case the accommodation in Myanmar (aka Burma) one of the most expensive in Asia. For what we paid, we believed the cost far surpass the price of expensive neighboring Singapore yet we were not even staying in 3 stars hotel. It was just simply a clean hostel but it’s proximity to the attraction we wanted to visit made it a little easier.

Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)
Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)

Being a Buddhist country, Myanmar (aka Burma) offer many pagoda (paya in Burmese) for Buddhist followers to pilgrimage. One of the most popular one in Yangon is of course, the sacred ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) which is around 2,500 years that enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. We attempted to walk from our hostel to ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) complex the day before and couldn’t find it. Given the tropical heat during high season, it was difficult for us to survive in the heat, let walking very far and no sign in English yet we kept circling the area and couldn’t find the main entrane to enter. We ran into other European tourists that suffered the hot heat just like us. It wasn’t typical for us to give up but we gave in and walked back to hostel to shelter from the hot heat in our cool AC room. As we couldn’t find the temple, we lost almost half a day of possible touring and the sole reason we choose Pickled Tea hostel because of its proximity to the temple. The heat…..let me tell you the heat wasn’t our best friend (for us North American residents any) but we had to give up. Instead, we decided to have lunch at a local Burmese restaurant recommended by one of the staff – Shwe Ba.

The next day, we decided to take the taxi to the temple. We simply hailed a cab from the street of the market, outside of our hostel. We paid $3,000 Burmese kyat (pronounce as chat) which was around $ 3 USD at the exchange rate of $1 USD = $1,029 MKK in March 2015. If it wasn’t for the traffic, it was under 10 minutes of taxi since we were just crossing a couple of traffic lights from our hostel, lol.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) -main temple
ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) -main temple. The stupa’s roof were under renovation when we visited – hence the brow paper cover. When we were in Viet Nam, we followed the progress of the renovation on the temple website and were hoping they would finished by the time we visit. That didn’t happen.

According to some website, ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) stupa’s roof top were gilded in gold….yes, real 24K gold.

The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, the whole giddy concoction offset by a massive emerald positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) 2
Stair case with merchants on both side leading to the paya

In 2015, the temple’s entry fee was around $8 USD. See our tips at the bottom on how to prepare for your visit to the temple. We didn’t realized it at the time but returning to the temple the next day landed us on March 4, 2015 which was their holy day of Tabaugn/Dha Paung, full moon day.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) 1
Merchants selling flower leis, beautiful reproduction of Buddha images.

It was full of Burmese visitors, monks, nuns, etc…We were elbow to elbow with all the visitors there. It is very difficult to take a decent photo at the temple complex as there were too many people there, let alone without people which is an impossible task. I am one of those weird photographer that preferred to take landscaping type of photos – I don’t like people in my photos or limit to as many few as possible. It seems like an impossible task here on this holy day. If possible, try to avoid these holy days but turned out, admission was free or we attempted to pay for our entrance fee and couldn’t find anyone tending the ticket booth.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) 9
Nuns in pink Buddhist robes – only in Myanmar

Since we saved a great amount of money from the entrance fee, we turned around and made donations to the monks we see at the temple, especially the little ones – the apprentice monks, or drop in a bit of cash at the donation boxes throughout the temple complex.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) 5
The apprentice monks

We tried to enter the temple complex early in the morning but couldn’t wake up early enough or wasn’t early enough. We were trying to avoid the scorching heat of the tropic on the floor because shoes are banned from temple’s complex or actually any temple ground in Myanmar (Burma). You will have to walk bare foot. I know it is a cultural thing but I am not a fan of bare foot walking at all but when in Rome, do follow the Roman saying.

ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)
Smaller white stupa with Buddha statues inside at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)

Try to bring a plastic bag to keep your own shoes in your backpack/purse. There are counter that will accepted your shoes or cabinet for self serve. Since it is very crowded and with long lines, we just use a plastic bag to keep our own shoes with us. No need to stand in the long line and deal with the crowd either.

Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)
Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)

There are 4 different entrance to the temple. We didn’t know which one we entered because the taxi driver dropped us right in front of the main entrance. So make sure that you know which entry to returned to in case you check-in your shoes at that entrance. We kept our shoes with us so it didn’t matter which direction we exit out.

Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)
Path leading to the main temple at ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda)
Flowers offering by local visitors
Flowers offering by local visitors
Offerings and fragrance smoking incenses to the Buddhas by the local visitors
Offerings and fragrance smoking incenses to the Buddhas by the local visitors

Overall, ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) in Yangon, Myanmar is worthy of a visit for cultural insight. It’s more of a large complex, with the gold gilded temple building and many smaller stupas within the complex. Since the main stupa is very tall so if there were any precious gem I couldn’t see it during my trip – or perhaps did they removed it when they were renovating the roof?

View of ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) at night from Golden duck restaurant
View of ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) at night from Golden duck restaurant

Tips on visiting ShweDaGon Paya (Pagoda) in Yangon, Myanmar

Entrance fee

  • Entrance fee to Shwedagon is $8 USD per person.
  • A guide will cost an additional $5 USD
  • Donation boxes are also available throughout the pagoda.
  • Dress conservatively. Made sure you’re not wearing sleeveless tops, or short, or revealing clothing. Myanmar/Burma is even more conservative than neighboring countries such as Cambodia/Thailand. Women and some men, are still wearing their traditional sarong – the Longi.

*Note: Tickets can’t be purchased online.

 

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