Travelling to Yangon, Myanmar is like travelling back in time. So peaceful, simple, ancestral and people are generally not loud and somewhat old fashioned. There are a lot of pagodas to be seen and spend some time to visit here, but for this post, I will focus on Yangon’s most important monument, The Shwedagon Pagoda.
The Shwedagon Pagoda
This is the most popular tourist destination in Yangon and my ultimate goal for coming here. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in the world, estimated to be 2900 years old. The stupa is the dome that symbolizes the Buddhas teachings. Usually Buddha relics, piece of clothing, hair and texts are kept here. Around it are smaller pagoda complex, bodhi trees, worship grounds and many temples. The top dome of the central pagoda is adorned with real diamonds. You can view this using the magnified viewer scattered around the complex. The top dome of the central stupa can be seen from afar, if you are coming to Yangon either by sea or by land. If Japan has Mount Fuji and China has its Great Walls, then Myanmar has its Shwedagon Pagoda.
Ticket price to enter the Shwedagon Complex is 8000 kyat and you can pay with your crisp US dollar bills. All visitors are required to take their footwear and socks off before entering. You may carry your footwear with you while walking inside the pagoda. Upon entering its huge grounds, my jaw dropped in awe! There’s so much to see and experience inone location. There’s a lot of pagodas around, temples, buddha statues, bodhi trees, owl water jugs, bells with wooden mallets on the side, wishing areas. I stared at the central stupa for I don’t how long. It’s really gold and tall! I mean I really had to crane my neck.
I politely asked a local what it means to ring the bell 3 times. He said it means you are giving this serene place a merit and it will give you good luck. So I lined up for ringing the bell.When my turn came, I lifted the wooden mallet, smiled at the camera and rang it three times.
You will feel the holiness of the place while walking around. Every one is wearing their Sunday best here. People are talking in soft tones, tourists just observing on the sides and of course trying to get the best shot of the central stupa. I just sat on the floor, with my knees and my feet tucked under me, it’s apparently bad luck to sit with your feet pointed outward, breathing all this beautiful scenery in.
It feels so peaceful here, like there is no war going on in other parts of the world. I made a small wish in one Buddha status that I saw. I noticed that it’s palms where in upward position like it’s giving me something. Locals say that it’s good luck. I had an incredible 2015 so I got my wish!
If you are into photography, i suggest you take photos of the central stupa at sunrise and at sunset. Sunrise happens around 6AM, at this time ticket office at the ground floor is already open to visitors. If you plan to go sight seeing somewhere and come back in the afternoon for some sunset and night shots, make sure to get a stamp on your wrist before leaving. That way you don’t have to pay again when you come back.
What i did is go for the sunrise photos, walk around and take more photos. Exit and have breakfast around the area, go for another location and come back at sunset time. So for my shots, i have a sunset photo, sunset photo and night time photo of the grand pagoda. So beautiful to look at whatever time of day it is. My photos is not enough to describe this magnificient place. I don’t think photos will ever give it justice.
The crowd at later time of the day is different. More youngsters come here late in the day with friends and partners. They just sit on the ground and hang out, passing time.
It is truly an exhilirating experience to come here at Shwedagon Pagoda. A not to be missed activity when you come here in Yangon, Myanmar.
Some tips when travelling here.
The currency used in Myanmar is called kyat (pronounced as “chat”). If you are staying only in Yangon, changing your local currency to kyat is not problem. There are a lot money changers especially in the downtown area. If changing your US dollars, make sure your dollar bills are crisp, no folded corners and not crumpled. They are very particular about this. They may not accept your bills for exchange. For Euro on the other hand, they have no qualms and will generally accept whatever the condition of your Euro bills. Also US dollar bills are generally accepted as mode of payment especially if you are shopping for souvenirs. The first price quoted or displayed is the USD amount. Just let them know you are paying in kyat and they will convert the US amount for you.
If you are going outside of Yangon, you need to make sure you have enough kyat on hand. Money changers and ATMs are difficult to find outside of the main city. Also POS terminals for your credit cards maybe limited. So just bring enough cash with you.
Dress a bit conservatively when visiting as the dressing mode here is conservative. The ladies usually wear skirts reaching the floor even during summer. For the men, many still wear the “longyi”, a long piece of cloth wrapped around their waist line. Collared shirts and long sleeves are still in.
Walking in the streets of Yangon is generally safe and secure. I was walking ’til late around 9PM and I did not get any of those hungry wolf look that you would usually get in an unfriendly neighborhood. And here, vendors are still up and about with their trade even at night. Hot steaming noodles are still available from street food stalls ’til late. And no worries getting a taxi too. With a bit of haggling in your firmest tone and smile will cost 2000kyats and get you around town. Fast. I mean they drive really fast!