Shwedagon – The Golden Pagoda


In Yangon people will ask if you have been to Shwedagon. It is, apparently, the thing you simply must do while in Yangon. The elegant Shwedagon Pagoda is Yangon’s most famous landmark. It is a massive 110 meter high gold-plated pagoda with a diamond studded spire that sets on top of a small hill in downtown Yangon. Shwedagon dominates the area and is visible from much of the city.

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After dark there is a mystical atmosphere with the pagoda lit up by spotlights.

This very impressive pagoda, also known as the Golden Pagoda, is Burma’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site. The main stupa enshrines sacred relics of the Gautama Buddha as well as the three previous Buddhas.

Die Shwedagon Pagode im Süden von Myanmar in der Stadt Yangon ist das wichtigste Heiligtum und religiöse Zentrum des Landes

There is a legend that tells of two merchant brothers from Okkalapa (present day Yangon) who lived about 2,500 years ago meeting the Buddha in India. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs and told them to enshrine them in the same spot on a hill in Okkalapa where relics of the previous three reincarnations of the Buddha were buried.

The brothers returned to Okkalapa and presented the Buddha relics to their King, who started searching for the spot. After years of searching in vain a Nat spirit called Sularata decided to help the King. The Nat who was millions of years old had witnessed the visits of the previous three Buddhas and remembered the spot on Singuttara hill where the relics were enshrined. It was at this spot that the Shwedagon pagoda was built.

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I love the legend of the two brothers, the Buddha, and the eight hairs. As I walked past these two men I imagined them being the two brothers!

October in Yangon is oppressively hot, humid, and rainy. Shwedagon is best visited at dawn to catch the sunrise or at dusk to catch the sunset. Going at dawn or dusk also allows you to avoid the midday heat!!! After allowing ourselves a slow, leisurely morning that soon enough became mid afternoon, we set off to explore Shwedagon.  We decided to save 3000 Kyet ($2.50) and walk the 15-20 minutes from our hotel, the Crystal Palace, to the Pagoda.  After crossing the crazy busy, and very dangerous, Shwegon Daing Road, we began to weave our way down side streets and back roads. Periodically we would look up and see the pagoda in the distance and know we were walking in the right direction. I love walking and prefer to walk whenever I can. It allows me to feel so much closer to the places and people who I visit.

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I always love seeing what people are eating!

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Typical street life.

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The concept of going to the market is so different here. This is the meat counter!

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I really like this picture. Barber, nun, food stalls, and spare auto parts!

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Fruits and vegetables across from the poultry.

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More fruit and vegetables.

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The poultry!

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One of many food carts along the way.

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Stores along the way to buy Nats for your home or business.

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Found widely in the food carts of Myanmar; Pig intestines, pig liver, pig tails, pig ears and even pig testicles are only a char grill or soup pot away from being your meal.

Our fifteen minute walk easily became an hour. So many things to see. It was sensory overload but in a good way. We stopped to talk with locals and other tourists along the way. Now really is the time to visit Yangon. Shwedagon has been flooded with Buddhists making pilgrimage for many years but western tourism is new. Locals are open to foreigners now and love the chance to practice their English. During our time in Yangon we met travelers from the UK, Australia, and Europe but not one from the USA!

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As we turned onto the street leading up to the eastern entrance we stopped to admire the view. This video captures the energy of this street as we begin our ascent of 118 steps to the pagoda. The little old lady with the pink top was selling bags for shoes for 100 Kyet (about 5 cents). I hope you enjoy this video as I still love watching it! The noise, the smells, the wild dogs, chickens, bird vendors, food carts and of course the lady in pink created an indescribable experience.

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This Myanmar family sells birds to locals and tourists as they visit the pagoda. After a pair of birds are bought for the equivalent of one US dollar, they are set free by their new owner in a ritual meant to give new life.

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Climbing the first set of steps up to the pagoda.

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Looking up towards the second of three sets of steps to the pagoda.

We finally reached the Pagoda. The sound of the worshippers, the scent of incense wafting through the air, the heat of the day, the humidity of the air, and the brilliance of the gold taken in all at once was awe inspiring. It was so worth the journey!

Our time at Shwedagon was during the rainy season so within minutes we could go from overcast conditions, to pouring rain, to glaring sun so bright that it was necessary to shield our eyes from the glare of the sun off the golden stupas. Shwedagon is not painted with gold paint. Shwedagon is covered with real gold, billions of dollars worth of real gold!!! The top of the stupa, too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is decorated with 5448 diamonds, 2317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems and 1065 golden bells.

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The top of the stupa!

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The cage that surrounds the ball at the top of the stupa is plated with 1000 pounds of pure gold!

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Truth be told, I think I look pretty good in Gold!!!

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Worshippers tend to the shrine that corresponds to the day of the week they were born.

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The heat and humidity are so oppressive that everyone seeks a place of refuge.

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Everywhere there were cleaning crews dedicated to keeping Shwedagon spotless!!!

This Bohdi tree is from a cutting taken from the original Bodhi tree that the Buddha sat under in India. Many people worship at this tree or simply find quiet time for reflection.

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I love this picture of the little girl in blue looking up at Laurie posing in front of the Bodhi Tree.

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I was pointing to some of the magnificent bells that are found all over the pagoda grounds but I think my pants really dominate this picture.

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This beautifully attired young woman, with traditional Thanaka on her cheeks, poses for a picture on what was obviously a very special day for her and her family.

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There are so many different shrines at Shwedagon and they are used in so many ways. Some shrines are filled with worshippers and some have people simply hanging out.

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The green carpet was so necessary. The tiled grounds were so hot on our bare feet from the glaring sun.

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Although I am not Buddhist I appreciate many aspects of Buddhism. There must be a thousand places to worship within Shwedagon but I have no understanding as to why some places are filled with worshippers and some are not.

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This was the last photo before I turned around to leave and started walking down the many stairs to the streets below.

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We needed to eat before climbing up to Shwedagon so by the time we descended we were famished. We grabbed a snack and enjoyed the street scene for a bit. I hope you enjoy this video. It is one of my favorites as it really captures Yangon street life!

It was getting dark and we needed a place to eat. Laurie was exhausted and we knew if we went back to our hotel we wouldn’t leave again to get food. After walking up and down the street we returned to this cart to get our food. The street was really dirty yet his place was cleaner than most. We also liked that the food was boiled!!!

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The dish I ordered for Laurie isn’t what we were served. The fact that it was red warned us that it was about to be super spicy and hot!!! It was in fact quite delicious. Her dish was on the right and although spicy it was tolerable. I love spicy hot food and my dish on the left was amazing!!!! Our food cost less than two dollars.

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Laurie periodically will look at me and say,”I hate you now, I’ll love you tomorrow but right now not so much”. This was one of those moments!!! Exhausted, sitting on a plastic stool, eating on a little plastic table, on a filthy dirty street. We had just moved our table to avoid huge rats that were in the gutter that ran along the buildings behind us.

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The rats ran along the right of the sidewalk and then ran under it where this Buddhist monk was standing! It was days like this where I so appreciate Laurie. This trip has been my dream and her support and good nature means everything to me.

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Categories: Southeast Asia, Travel BlogTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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