More must-see pagodas in Myanmar

BY Susan, Yonder destination expert
In Part One of this blog I described the fabulous Shwedagon Phaya (pagoda) in Yangon, surely Myanmar’s single greatest historic monument. But there are so many more fascinating pagodas to discover during luxury Myanmar holidays. Here are five more that make my must-see shortlist.

Kuthodaw Phaya, Mandalay

It’s fitting that the Burmese would lay claim to building ‘the world’s largest book’ since the Burmese have such reverence for the written word and their historical chronicles of events, mostly concerning royalty, provide the oldest and most extensive historical source material in Southeast Asia.

The 729 marble ‘books’ here, however, bear the Triptaka, the entire Buddhist canon as recorded over 500 years. Arranged in neat rows, each marble tablet is 1.5 metres tall and inscribed with Pali text on both sides.

The diamonds, rubies and other precious stones that originally adorned the tablets were looted by the British shortly after the conquest of Mandalay in 1885 when troops were quartered here. All tablets are today enclosed in white marble stupas that were built during early 20th Century restoration.

Located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw was an eight-year construction project, begun in 1857 by the revered King Mindon (1808-1878), as he planned what was to be Myanmar’s last royal palace in his new royal seat.

The father of Myanmar’s last king, Mindon in 1871 had 2,400 monks read the scripture in non-stop relays to mark the 5th Buddhist Synod held in Mandalay. It took them almost six months.

Mingun Phaya, Mandalay

Mingun was intended to be the world’s largest pagoda when King Bowdawpaya began construction in 1790. Thousands of war prisoners and slaves laboured for almost 20 years, but had only completed about one-third when worked stopped abruptly upon the king’s death.

It is located in the village of Mingun, just 11 kilometres north of Mandalay, a visit to Mingun Phaya makes an excellent day-trip, especially if you travel by an Irrawaddy River ferry.

What you see today of the Mingun Phaya, or Mingun Pahtodawgyi, is the world’s largest brick base. On top of a square lower terrace with sides of 137m is a second square terrace with sides of 73m. It’s about 50m high. Had it been finished, the pagoda would have been three times that height, rivalling the Giza Pyramid.

Bowdawpaya did succeed in completing what was for many decades the largest ringable bell. Now only outsized by a bell in China, the awesome bronze Mingun Bell is 4m high, almost 5m wide and weighs 90 tons.

A night view of the pagodas of Bagan

Kyauk Ka Lat Phaya, Kayin State

Only opened to foreign tourism in the past few years, the beautiful Hpa-an district of Kayin (or Karen) State is already a favourite. This is partly due to the convenient access from northern Thailand, but the flat roads also make for excellent sight-seeing by bicycle.

One of the weirdest pagodas here is Kyauk Ka Lat, which looks from afar like a gold spire poking from the top of a pile of precariously balanced boulders.

The pile is in the middle of an artificial lake, reached by crossing a long wooden walkway from the property of the famous Kyauk Kalat monastery and meditation centre. Up close, you are allowed to climb barefoot up a series of steep stairs to a shrine about halfway up. The golden dome at the pinnacle is off-limits, but you still have a great view of the monastery below and surrounding farmland framed against Mount Zwegabin.

Sulamani Pahto, Bagan

Over 400 years, from the 9th to 13th Centuries, the rulers of the Bagan Empire built about 3,000

pagodas and other Buddhist monuments across more than 100 kilometres of plains in central Myanmar, creating one of the most amazing sights the world can offer the curious traveller.

The pagoda features some of Bagan’s finest murals and glazed plaques as well as carvings in stucco on the pilasters and pediments. You can still see the remains of the original frescoes on the inner walls and vaults.

Some historians have speculated that King Narapthisithu II (1150-1211) made Sulamani so grand to atone for his many sins.

Golden Rock, or Kyaiktiyo Phaya, Mon State

Kyaiktiyo pagoda itself is little more than a 15m spire. But for the tens of thousands of Buddhists that visit each year, especially at the full moon, it’s all about the location.

Located in Mon State, 186 kilometres northwest of Yangon, English speakers call this pagoda ‘Golden Rock’ because the both pagoda and rock are completely covered in gold leaves, which can only be pasted on by males.

According to legend, perhaps one thousand years ago, when the Mon people ruled this area, Buddha gave a strand of his hair to a hermit. Giving the strand to his king, the hermit requested that it be enshrined in a boulder shaped like his own head.

With supernatural powers, the king pulled this rock from the bottom of the sea and found the ideal spot to place it: atop this 1,100m mountain. Supposedly, the strand inside the pagoda keeps the rock from falling.


Susan, Yonder destination expert
Susan is a writer and editor long stranded in South-East Asia. In the travel arena, she has written features for in-flight magazines, updated guidebooks to Thailand and Vietnam, and reported for two US newspapers.


Yonder offers luxury holidays to Myanmar. Each tour of Burma created by Yonder is done as a bespoke holiday which is drawn up according to individual desires .

Historical and Cultural holidays are at the heart of many of Yonder’s tailor-made tour Burma. This article features a range of destinations, all of which can be incorporated into a Maynmar holiday. If you want to read more about Bagan, Mandalay  and  Inle Lake you can scroll through the pages of the Yonder website.

All of the luxury tours of Burma that are presented on the Yonder holidays website are just sample ideas which help give a sense of the possibilities available in Myanmar.

If you are looking for detailed information on any Burma holiday visit through Yonder’s Destinations pages or look at their Collections and Inspirations pages.

All Yonder itineraries are crafted on a tailor-made, one-off basis, so you can be sure that your holiday will be as individual as you are.