A Visit to the "Crown of Burma": Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Visit to the "Crown of Burma": Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda, or the Shwedagon Zedi Daw, is considered one of Myanmar’s top places to visit, and the magnificent golden stupa towering over the city can be seen most places in Yangon. Known as the "crown of Burma" it is considered to hold the world's oldest Buddhist stupa believed to be dating back 2600 years.

When Yuma and I arrived at our hotel we got our first Wow experience of the trip as we stepped out on the hotel’s rooftop balcony and saw the fantastic view of the pagoda. The big stupa gilded with gold foils, so you can imagine how it shines up in the night when the spotlights are on. The word “shwe” means gold, and “dagon" is the old name for Yangon, so Shwedagon literarily means something like “Gold Yangon”. In the night the golden shine of Shwedagon can be spotted from far, far away.
You can enter the pagoda area from four different entrances named after the different orientations; east, west, north and south. As our hotel was located right by the east entrance we ended up approaching the pagoda from the east.

Everyone visiting the temple has to take their shoes off before ascending up the long staircase towards the main temple area. By the entrance to the staircase there are women (during daytime) and children (in the evening) who want to sell you plastic bags to put your shoes in, but at the end of the staircase you'll also find a place where you can pay a small fee to leave your shoes as you go visiting the pagoda grounds.
We made our way up the long staircase to the temple, beautifully decorated with ornaments and pictures. The contrast was stark to the many vendors with their small stands all the way up the stairs selling all sorts of bling-bling plastic souvenirs. 
We had to go through a small security check before entering the temple area, and after the check there were only a couple of stairs left until we could reach the temple. 
At the temple we payed a 8000 Kyat entrance fee (foreigners only). They must have had a lot of experience with foreigners not bringing enough cash, because by the entrance to the holy grounds you could find a ATM machine ready at your service. After we had payed the fee and entered the pagoda we were soon approached by a local guide who asked to show us around the pagoda for a small fee. We agreed to his offer, and he took us around the great pagoda.
Buddhists in Myanmar believe that every birthday is represented by a certain animal, and our guide had a book with an overview of past and future birthday dates that he used to show us which animal represented our birthdays. You can however easily figure this out on your own if you have a smartphone with a calendar, just look up which day of the week you were born. 

Here is a short overview of the different animals representing the various birthdays:

Day of Week: Sunday
Zodiac animal:Garuda (mythical bird)
Attributes: Kind, generous, challenge seeker, energetic, motivational

Day of Week: Monday
Zodiac animal: Tiger
Attributes: Intelligent, intuitive, detail & goal oriented, strong, patient, respectful of laws and responsible.

Day of Week: Tuesday
Zodiac animal: Lion
Attributes: Natural leader, dignified, honorable, strong-willed, opinionated, decision-maker, challenge seeker

Day of Week: Wednesday Morning
Zodiac animal: Elephant (with tusks)
Attributes: Unpredictable, enthusiastic, spontaneous, passionate, independent

Day of Week: Wednesday Afternoon
Zodiac animal: Elephant (without tusks)
Attributes: Contradictory nature, doesn't like interference, excellent at promoting own works, avoids risks, is successful in business, able to accomplish achievements

Day of Week: Thursday
Zodiac anima: Rat
Attributes: Clever, witty, intelligent, good at spotting opportunities, can be introverted and quiet, but also focused and driven

Day of Week: Friday
Zodiac animal: Guinea Pig
Attributes: Artistic, creative, easily bored, loving, kind, sympathetic, sensitive to others, a wonderful friend

Day of Week: Saturday
Zodiac animal: Dragon
Attributes of the Dragon: Philosophical, understanding, confident, great sense of humour, independent 

(You can find more detailed information about the Burmese Zodiac here)

Around the pagoda there were various statues representing the different days of the week, and our guide showed us the statues representing our birthday and the order in which to pour water over the statues.

We were free to walk around inside the pagoda area as we'd like, and the guide explained to us about many of the local customs in the pagoda. It was clear that the pagoda was a big part of people's daily life here; we could for instance see not only people praying but also people enjoying a meal with their family members while sitting on the pagoda's floor. On the pagoda grounds you could find a wide range of religious rituals one could take part in in addition to the "regular" praying.
It was striking how much electricity that was being used on the holy grounds. In the picture above you can see how the Buddha statue in the middle has a flashing green and orange halo behind it, and on the left and right side on the two pillars you can see TV screens playing religious videos.
One way of praying for good luck demonstrated by our guide was to ring the bells on the pagoda grounds. Our guide told us to ring the bell 3 times, and we got to try it ourself after he had demonstrated.
The picture above shows how local women are praying by kneeling on a round stone in front of some religious statues. They would then proceed to lift the stone and put it back down, a process they repeated a couple of times while praying.
We took part in a couple of rituals at the pagoda grounds under the instructions of our guide. He told us that the local people were very happy when they saw tourists taking part in their tradition and showing that they wanted to learn the "local way". It was nice to see how open the people here were to foreigners even though we all come from different backgrounds with diverging faiths.
There is so much to see when you walk around inside the pagoda grounds that you could probably spend the whole day there if you are up for it. We left the place after our guide had showed us around the pagoda once, but the entrance ticket is valid for a whole day so we decided to revisit Shwedagon in the evening to literarily see the pagoda in a different light.

The visit to Shwedagon was one of the many highlights of our trip to Myanmar, and definitely a must-see for travellers coming to the country. If we could have done things differently we might have wanted to see the Shwedagon towards the end of our trip, as the "crown of Burma" outshines all the other temples we visited during our trip.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave comments/questions below and I'll do my best to answer.

Basic Info
  • ・Name: Shwedagon Pagoda
  • ・Opening hours:04:00 AM to 22:00 PM (Last admission: 21:45)

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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