If you are planning to visit Myanmar, Yangon will likely be your first stop.
Yangon is the former cosmopolitan capital of Myanmar, but even though the official capital has moved, the city remains the largest and Myanmar’s main economic hub. Since the country opened up Yangon has attracted a flux of new businesses and tourists eager to explore this unspoiled country. While the skyline might be filling up with under-construction skyscrapers and shopping malls, there are still endless opportunities to explore the ancient history of this city. The best places to visit are the millennia-old pagodas, colonial-era buildings, relaxing parks are and thriving communities.
After you have adjusted yourself to the weather, colors and endless smiles of Yangon, consider visiting the Shwedagon pagoda. Around Myanmar, and all of Asia it’s common to hear that “There is no temple as amazing as Shwedagon anywhere else in the world”. You might agree after you have visited the Shwedagon pagoda.
Before you go, dress modestly – be sure your clothes fully cover your shoulders and knees, otherwise, they will not let you in. When you arrive at Shwedagon you will be greeted by the giant 110 meter-tall temple covered with gold, diamonds, and rubies. The Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,500 years ago and holds the relics of ancient Buddhism. Inside the temple, you can find a lock of Buddha’s Hair, and the staff, water flask, and robe of his companions. The entrance fee is around $8 and be sure to take your shoes off before you go into the temple. Once inside you can follow one of the four giant stairways at each of the entrances. If needed there are elevators and an escalator.
Prepare to be wowed by the size of the complex: the giant, golden pagoda stands in the center, encircled by 64 smaller pagodas and other shrines. Wander around and explore these colorful temples, stupas, and statues as well as all the exhibits, depicting Myanmar history, art, and architecture. Don’t worry about running out of money, this temple comes complete with money exchangers and ATMs.
I love arriving at Shwedagon in the early morning, just before sunrise when the sun casts it’s pale orange and gold light over the complex and shimmers off all of the gold, diamonds and rubies. Best of all, in the morning, the floor tiles are cool on your bare feet. During the day, Yangon gets hot, and when it does those floor tiles become hotplates. If you are not an early riser and you still want to see the temple at its most grandeur, then visit before sunset. At this time the tiles have cooled down and you can catch views and get snapshots of the complex as soft shadows cover their glowing exteriors. As soon as the sun has set, the entire pagoda lights up, and Buddhist monks, Yangon locals, and visitors from around Myanmar flow into worship. If you are really lucky you might even come across one of the many Buddhist traditional ceremonies. The last time I was there I stumbled onto “Shin Pyu” ceremony, where monks to dress up in the style and fashions of South Asia’s ancient prince.
When you are finished having a great time at Shwedagon, it’s time to vast the Sule Pagoda and colonial-era buildings.