The bedazzling golden Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred site in all of Myanmar and a must-see for any visitor planning a trip to this emerging Southeast Asian destination. Located right in the heart of the country’s capital, Yangon, its towering golden spires are visible from right across the city, making it hard to miss! Many Irrawaddy River Cruises offer an excursion at the Shwedagon Pagoda, however, it is also quite easy to visit on your own. Learn more in our Shwedagon Pagoda Guide below.
What is the Shwedagon Pagoda?
Also known as Shwe Dagon Pagoda or Shwedagon Paya, this monumental Buddhist shrine is one of the most ancient and high-profile pagodas in the world. Dating back 2,500 years, it’s steeped in history and spiritual significance, attracting hordes of Burmese pilgrims and international visitors every year. It is believed to contain the remnants of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa, along with plenty more significant holy relics, but you by no means have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the pagoda’s marvels.
The site is most renowned for the sheer opulence of its extravagant exterior. The pagoda is covered in hundreds of gold plates, boasting 27 metric tons of gold leaf in total, as well as thousands of encrusted gleaming jewels. The stupa’s crown is particularly stunning, containing more than 5,000 diamonds (the largest of which is a 72 carat), along with over 2,000 rubies, sapphires and other gems. These dazzling qualities are best appreciated in full sunlight, although the effect can sometimes feel a little blinding. Alongside the main structure are hundreds more beautiful temples, stupas, and statues to explore.
In stark contrast to the outside, the pagoda’s interior is relatively calm and minimalistic, providing a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of Yangon’s streets. Be sure not leave before visiting the golden-walled enclave that contains an enshrined piece of Buddha’s hair. The site also contains a visitor centre (open 8am – 9pm), along with flower and book stalls, tea shops and places to purchase souvenirs, making it easy to spend at least a couple of hours touring the complex.
The Shwedagon Pagoda dominates Yangon’s skyline and is conveniently situated right in its heart, making it a busy point of intersection for much of city life. The structure stands 167ft above sea level on a 114 acre site on Singuttara Hill, just to the west of Kanawgyi Lake. The exact address is No.1 Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Dagon Township, Yangon, but virtually everyone will be able to take you there or point you in the right direction. You can easily organize a taxi journey to the pagoda from anywhere in the city for around $3. Alternatively, a bus service (no. 24) stops just outside.
When to visit: Travellers are often recommended to visit at sunset and sunrise. This means avoiding the bright glare of the midday sun, as well as offering the chance to witness the massive reflective emerald that sits at the centre of the stupa beautifully catch the changing light of the setting sun. Visiting at night-time is also a memorable experience, when the entire site is lit up so brightly the golden glow is visible from right across the city. You may also want to time your visit to coincide with festival celebrations, the most significant of which is the Tabaung Festival held on the Full Moon Day in February-March.
Opening hours: The Shwedagon can be visited every day of the year and maintains long opening hours, from 4am to 10pm, with the last admission at 9:45pm. Whilst the pagoda opens early in the morning, tickets do not go on sale to foreign visitors until 6am. A couple of days a year, the site remains open 24 hours to mark certain religious celebrations.
Fees: Entrance tickets are $8. A guide will cost an additional $5.
Dress code: As with any pagoda in Myanmar, visitors are required to remove their shoes, socks or sandals before entering, as well as ensuring that legs and upper arms are covered. In general, it’s best to err on the side of caution and dress modestly.
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