Now I’ve definitely seen a good amount of Temples and Pagodas since arriving in SE Asia. They are a major part of the culture and religion. All are stunning, beautiful, majestic and very well maintained. Honestly though, once you see a few, you’ve seen them all. They start to all look very similar. Seeing as these are major attractions in this part of the world, I have made it a point to visit as many as I can when I get to a city. None of them can compare to the Shwedagon Pagoda in the old capital city of Yangon, Myanmar.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is said to be over 2,500 years old, making it the oldest pagoda in Myanmar. It is situated on Singuttara Hill which is the holy resting place of 3 relic Buddha’s and the reason why this was the chosen spot for this Pagoda. It enshrines strands of the late Buddha’s hairs, it is about 326 feet tall, it is said to have more than 60 tons of gold, about 5,400 diamonds, 2,300 rubies, sapphires and other precious stones. There is approximately 1,065 bells and a single 72 carat diamond at the very top.
I had the pleasure of being accompanied to this beautiful spot by a lovely friend named Jen, who is from Myanmar. She currently resides in Singapore but flew back to Yangon to show me around and treat me like a princess. She picked me up, treated me to breakfast at a fabulous tea house where she ordered me traditional Burmese food and tea. We talked about the loving culture of the Burmese people and the troubles they have endured over the years. She graciously answered all my questions about life in Myanmar. After breakfast we headed to the Pagoda.
Shwedagon is covered in gold and situated on a hill so you can pretty much see it from any part of Yangon. Being a national treasure it is always buzzing with people there to pray and show their respects. After you leave your shoes and go through security, you’re ushered to an elevator that takes you to the main pagoda at the top. As soon as the doors of the elevator open you know you’re somewhere special.
Walking around the Pagoda was truly breathtaking. It’s peace and serenity is undeniable. The stone walkway that surrounds the main Pagoda are cooling stones so when you walk on them barefoot you don’t burn your feet. The brightness of all the gold is blinding. At first I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses and was thankful I had remembered to grab mine. It would have been miserable without them. The architecture of the buildings is outstanding. The buildings surrounding the main Pagoda have multi tiered roofs with distinct decorations and beautiful matching color schemes and SO much gold.
Around the perimeter of the main Stupa are several small shrines with Buddha’s that all represent different things, as to which I do not know. Many people can be seen praying, leaving offerings and washing the statues all around. In each corner is a prayer spot for each day of the week. Whatever day of the week you are born on is the corner you go to pray. I don’t know what day of the week I was born on. Does anyone else know what day of the week they were born on? I guess that’s a major thing in this culture and religion.
There is a large star in the stone ground that faces the main Stupa where you can go and pray and make a wish to be granted. Jen asked me what I would wish for. I really didn’t know. A part of me felt like all my wishes and dreams have come true and that up until now my wishes have been to be on this incredible journey. I told her I guess I would wish for safe travels. She said that was to be assumed and that I should think of a real wish. I said I guess I wish for love. She grabbed my hand and said “come now we must go pray and make this wish.”
I’ve never said a prayer in a Buddhist temple but I have watched many others and I am familiar with the motions. So we knelt inside the stone star facing the Stupa and with your hands pressed together you bring them to your chest then to your head and put your hands on the ground as you bow with your head tucked down. At least that’s what I did. Who knows if I did it right. As I did this, I said my wish to have love. I’ll let you all know how that works out.
After we walked the perimeter Jen asked if I wanted to go to the souvenir shops that line the path back down the hill. I declined because it’s almost torture to shop but not be able to buy. So we left and Jen took me to Kandawgyi Lake, previously known as Royal Lake, which is man made and situated just east of the Pagoda. On the eastern side of the lake is Karaweik, which is a concrete replica of a Burmese royal barge built in 1972. Inside the barge is one of the most extravagant grand restaurants I have ever been in.
We were greeted at the door by two men dressed in full costume, I’m assuming of the royals. They were decorated from head to toe. I wish I had a picture of them, but I don’t. I don’t even know how to explain them. Also, at the entrance, on a platform, was a beautiful woman dressed in a royal Burmese dress who greeted us with a smile and hello. After we sat Jen said that she is meant to be an entertainer of sorts. On the stage a man was playing a Burmese harp. It was so beautiful, I’ve not heard anything like it. He continued to play the entire time we were there.
At first we were the only people in this giant grand room. Later a few other groups showed up. But for the first half of our meal we were alone. Jen ordered us a giant feast of many different traditional Burmese food. As we ate she explained each one to me and from what region of the country each one came from. She ordered us Soju, which I cant believe I haven’t tried before. It’s a clear, colorless, distilled beverage with Korean origin. Mostly coming from South Korea and traditionally made from rice, wheat or barley. Although can also be made from starches like potatoes and tapioca. It has a smooth, mildly sweet taste but definitely packs a punch.
After lunch we headed to Yangon’s famous market where Jen helped me pick out a traditional sarong of the Burmese woman. It’s almost the only thing you see woman wearing here. I still haven’t worn it because I can’t figure out how to tie it properly and I look like a goon. I’m still in search of a friend to help me out with this one.
We then parted ways and I headed back to my Hostel. Later, Jen came and picked me up and treated me to drinks at a fancy hotel bar with live music as well as a DJ. All day she refused to let me pay for anything. I’ve never been treated to such a grand day of culture, food, shopping and festivities. Here’s to you Jen! Check out my Video Of the Schwedagon here.
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