The glittering Shwedagon Pagoda is situated at the top of Singuttara Hill in a prime position overlooking the city of Yangon. Having seen this beauty amongst the crowds at noon, I wanted to watch the day unfold with a magical sunrise at Shwedagon Pagoda and it did not disappoint.
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ANCIENT WONDER OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
Legend of Shwedagon
Shwedagon Pagoda is a 2,600-year-old golden stupa. It is considered the most sacred Buddhist stupa in Myanmar and is said to contain relics of four previous Buddhas.
The legend started with two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Ballika, who met the Buddha in India and were gifted eight of his hairs to take back to Myanmar. King Okkalapa, the ruler of Myanmar, enshrined the hairs together with relics of three former Buddhas. This shrine is the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the few structures created during the life of Buddha.
This pagoda has the bling factor
The formal name of the Shwedagon Pagoda is Shwedagon Zedi Daw, which translates as The Great Golden Mountain Stupa. Nothing could be nearer to the truth, the stupa is plated with nearly 22,000 solid gold bars, it’s set with over 5500 diamonds, the main spire boasts 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, and 4000 golden bells… not forgetting the largest of which is a whopping 72-carat diamond. Now that is what I call bling!
There are vendors selling gold leaf to be offered at the site and will be applied to the stupa. The gold is re-gilded every five years when it is looking a little weathered and the people of Myanmar are eager to donate to be able to see their gold on this beautiful stupa.
Intricate architecture of Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda stands at 105 metres high and has the temple complex has grown over the years by adding secondary structures, shrines and other monuments. It seems crazy that it has suffered fires, earthquakes, invasions, foreign occupation and yet it is one of the most glorious sights I’ve seen. Different styles of architecture can been seen in surrounding 64 smaller stupas.
You will see eight small shrines, located on each of the corners of the main stupa. A different image of Buddha is seen on each one, representing the seven days of the week. There are 2 for Wednesday, one for the morning and one for the evening. Find out what day you were born before you head there, you can make an offering and pour water over the right Buddha.
HOW WAS SUNRISE AT SHWEDAGON PAGODA
I woke up a little bleary-eyed at 5am and headed straight down to get a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda. I was dropped at East side where I walked up the 118 steps to the entrance. It was still dark at 5.30am but the central lights bounced off the stairway of gold pillars, look up to see the ornate carvings on the ceiling.
Pay your 10,000 K to the man in the ticket box, take your shoes off and start your journey around Shwedagon Pagoda. The sense of calm and serenity is mind-blowing with the faint hum of monks praying and young novice female monks learning the ropes chanting mantras from their books. Apart from this and the dong of the bells from monks tapping with a piece of wood, whispers from visitors were upheld.
Candles flickered and the lights shone against the exquisite gold stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise, a perfect contrast in the midst of the blue hour. You really feel like you are at a religious site rather than a tourist attraction, you can just see the devotion to Buddhism from the locals as well as the monks.
As the sun rose the golden colours on the pagoda become richer, the juxtaposing shades from the sun glittered against the stupa. Every minute the hues evolved, it was simply mesmerising. Remember to take a moment away from the camera to appreciate the moment, it’s a powerful one.
Visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in the daytime
Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most impressive religious landmarks in Asia no matter what time of day you visit. However, I did see the stupa in the daytime, and, whilst you can still marvel at the jaw-dropping majestic complex, it was much more crowded with more people talking. It just didn’t have the same meditative qualities as it did when i visited Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise. You will be stopped by many groups of school children who are super keen to practice their english on a real Westerner, very polite and friendly.
SHWEDAGON PAGODA: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Always good to check the latest updates on the Shwedagon Pagoda website but here’s a quick overview of what you need to know.
- Opening times: The Shwedagon Pagoda is open from 4am-10pm 7 days a week and the last admission is 9.45pm. It will be open 24 hours on the Waxing Day of Tabaung and the Waxing Day of Wakhaung.
- Visitor’s Centre: Open from 8am – 9pm every day.
- Entrance fee: Foreigners pay 10,000 K (8 USD) which includes the camera fee. Locals will naturally enter for free.
- Accessibility: At the Southern entrance, you will find elevators and wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis from the Information Centre.
Respect the rules and culture
- What to wear at Shwedagon Pagoda – It is a sacred place of worship and visitors should dress appropriately and modestly. Both men and women are expected to wear clothes that cover the knees and the shoulders. Best to avoid slim-fit clothes or any offensive slogans on your t-shirt too. If you’re not sure, think on the conservative side. Any issues on entering, you will be given a longyi to wear for the duration of your visit.
- Barefoot only in the pagoda – Shoes, socks and stockings must be removed at the counter. You are given a ticket to collect them on the way out along with a wet wipe for your feet. We had an issue with a compression sock so if you really can’t remove it for medical reasons, this may affect you going in.
- Monks can’t have bodily contact with women – A woman should not touch a monk in any way, even by shaking hands as a greeting. If a woman is making a donation to a monk, she should place it somewhere the monk can retrieve it, rather than hand it over directly.
Best time to visit Shwedagon Pagoda
Weather in Yangon
The average temperature in Yangon is about 28°C (82°F). The hottest month is April, while the coolest months are July and August.
- The dry season (November to February) is the best time to visit for the weather.
- The hot season (March to May) should probably be avoided, it reaches 40°C (104°F) and is super humid.
- The rainy season (June to October) would not make the visit the most comfortable.
Festivals in Myanmar
- Shwedagon Pagoda Festival is celebrated on the full moon day of Tabaung (March) every year.
- Thingyan Festival (Water Festival) denotes Myanmar’s New Year. It normally falls in the middle of April.
- Thadingyut Festival (Lighting Festival of Myanmar) is held on the full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month of Thadingyut. It usually falls in around September or October.
How to get to Shwedagon Pagoda
Everyone in the city knows where Shwedagon Pagoda is so you will have no problem in a taxi. If you need to be at the Southern entrance for accessibility reasons, ensure to tell the driver otherwise he will take you to the nearest.
LITTLE TIP: I used the app called Grab, it’s a bit like Uber, so at least you know you are paying the right fare. No need to use the app when you leave Shwedagon Pagoda, there will be taxis waiting at all exits.
Guided tours of Shwedagon Pagoda
We had a guide on my visit in the day and I was fascinated to discover all about the history and traditions of Shwedagon Pagoda. My second visit was solo at sunrise with a completely different vibe!
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