The Shwedagon Pagoda earns its own blog post.
The 112 metre tall gold plated (yes, gold plated, not gold leafed) pagoda marks the holiest of holy places for the Buddhist, with relics of the four Buddhas being enshrined within it. The pagoda and its surrounds glitter and shine in the sunlight endlessly. Families donate gold and jewels to decorate the pagoda, or if they are very wealthy, build their own smaller temples and stupas within the complex in order to attract good karma. Indeed, the pagoda is surrounded by smaller stupas donated by families and wealthy individuals. The pagoda itself is crowned by a solid gold hti or umbrella which is embellished with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies. The very top of the hti is crowned by a 76 carat diamond.
Photos do not do this magnificent place justice. It is simply awe-inspiring. My favourite part of this place? Amongst the endless shining gold, diamonds, jade, emerald and rubies, the Shwedagon Pagod still operates as a proper place of worship for Buddhists. People swarmed around the pagoda around us, making offerings at their planetary posts (your planetary post is based on what day you were born on, thus also determining your animal, colour and planet), ‘watering’ their Buddhas, lighting incense and praying- either silently or aloud for the whole worship hall to hear. People applied gold leaf to Buddha images or twirled prayer beads through their hands. Monks and nuns, both young and old padded across the marbled in their robes, carrying alms bowls.
Our guide, Oong, lead us around the pagoda (you must always travel in a clockwise direction around the pagoda, or any Buddhist temple), explaining the different images and materials as we went. He lead us to our respective planetary posts, and encouraged us to ‘water’ the Buddha and animal symbol.
We spent a good few hours wandering around the complex with our guide. There is so much to look at. But be warned! Seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda first will make most other temples you visit pale in comparison.
This is a place which commands respect, which means you must follow all rules set by authorities. Men and women must wear longyis and shirts with sleeves. If you don’t have either, you will handed some when you arrive at the entrance hall. As with all temples in SE Asia, you must remove your shoes and leave them in the racks at the entrance. Socks are also forbidden – you must be barefoot. For this reason, it is best to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in the early morning or late afternoon; the marble floor will become too hot underfoot in the sun otherwise. Entry will cost you $USD1 each, and is valid for multiple entries the entire day, including at night time when the pagoda is illuminated and seems to sparkle more than in the day time, if that were even possible.
Getting a guide is highly recommended, as they will be able to translate signs for you and explain the significance of each piece of the complex. They will also do their best to answer any questions you might have about the complex, Buddhist religion or Burmese culture. Our guide cost us 5000 kyat each and was well worth it.
Taxi drivers will know exactly where to take you if you ask them to take you to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Alternatively, you could take the number 43 or number 204 bus (learn Burmese numbers however, not much is in English!).