Visit Myanmar’s No 1 must-see pagoda

BY Susan, Yonder destination expert
Tens of thousands of pagodas (phaya) are sprinkled dramatically across the Myanmar landscape. For anyone enjoying a luxury Myanmar holiday, they make a great day out, containing sacred images, manuscripts, precious stones or the relics of the Buddha, prominent monks or royalty.

Topped by a spire, they are typically made of brick and plastered with white stucco. Pagodas, or stupas, may be bell-shaped, square, rectangular or round. The most revered ones are sheathed in gold leaf. In Myanmar, pagodas’ heights may range from a few metres to more than 100.

Technically, temples differ from pagodas in that they have an open interior that can be entered for worshippers. In practice, the distinctions can get blurry, especially on ancient sites.

Pagodas are frequently in the vicinity of the monasteries but often are not enclosed within their walls, as is usually the case in the nearby Theravada Buddhist countries of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

Here is my Number One pagoda to see during your luxury Myanmar tour. In Part Two of this blog, I will detail a further four must-see Myanmar pagodas.

A view of Shwedagon pagoda from ground level

Shwedagon Phaya (Yangon)

A symbol of Myanmar itself, the fabulous, gem-encrusted Shwedagon pagoda is the country’s most important monument and among its oldest pagodas.

Every dignitary to Myanmar pays a visit to Shwedagon. It also often has been the site of political rallies, as during the independence movement and Aung San Suu Kyi’s democracy campaign of 1988.

The 100m bell-shaped dome, crowning Singuttara Hill, can be seen glowing from many points in the city. Made of brick covered in gold leaf – shwe means ‘gold – it is lavishly adorned with diamonds, rubies and other gems.

If, as it is believed, Shwedagon truly is 1,600 years old, its origins would date from the time of Gautama Buddha himself.

The story goes that two local merchants visiting India were given eight hairs by Buddha himself. They brought the strands back and had them enshrined with other relics in a gold dome, which was then encased in a layer of silver, then of tin, copper, lead, marble and brick.

Archaeologists reckon the original pagoda was built somewhere between 1,200 and 1,600 years ago and has been rebuilt many times, often in the wake of earthquakes.

Shwedagon isn’t really one pagoda. It’s a vast complex spread over 45 hectares, with plenty to see and photograph. The four wide stairways leading to two marble terrace levels are lined with stalls selling offerings such as flowers and incense sticks, as well as Buddha images, antiques,toys, umbrellas, religious texts and fortune tellers.

On the main terrace, smaller golden pagodas containing relics surround the main dome. There are also Buddha images, iron bells, prayer halls, telescopes and many, many visitors.

Watch out for Part Two of my blog on pagodas in Myanmar, when I will reveal amazing details about more must-see, jaw-dropping pagodas.

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 Burma. Each tour of Myanmar created by Yonder is done on a tailor-made basis.

Cultural holidays are a core part of the Yonder travel offering. Yangon is featured in this article but other destinations including Bagan, Mandalay and Irrawaddy River cruises amongst others are also available as part of a tour of Burma.

Every luxury hotel in Burma has been sampled by Yonder’s Escapologists. From grand colonial hotels to luxury river cruise boats and from converted mansions to thatched beach hotels Yonder has traveled the length the country to ensure only boutique retreats and true travel experiences are provided.

If you want want to find specific details on any Myanmar holiday, browse through Yonder’s Destinations pages or look at their Inspirations and Collections 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.