Before my first visit to Yangon, I did some pre-reading to find out what the city’s prime tourist attractions are considered to be. Initially, it was quite clear that Yangon itself was much different than many other cities that I have been to before in terms of mega attractions, amusement parks and restaurant choices. Different in a sense that it boasts few, if any, commercialized tourist magnets. My initial search, did however, reveal that Shwedagon Pagoda is considered by many to be the must-see religious venue for those visiting the city. I immediately decided that I would try my best to integrate it into my travel itinerary while in Myanmar (Burma). Here are some of the main websites I used for planning this trip:
Since Shwedagon is located about 10 minutes by car from downtown Yangon, I had to make the decision whether to book accommodation near Shwedagon or at the heart of the city. I chose the downtown quarter after some careful thought. I figured that there would be more convenient access to stores and restaurants near some of the major hotels in the city center.
During my second day in Yangon, it was time to check out the very same complex that has added striking golden hues to Burmese postcards. The taxi meter was no more than 3 dollars when I got dropped off at Shwedagon Paya (Pagoda) from Aung Sang Market. It was late afternoon and the blue sky was darkening by the minute. Instantly, when I stepped out of the cab, I noticed a long covered staircase leading up Singuttara Hill to the complex. A steady flow of worshippers, monks and tourists passed by in both directions wearing colorful sarongs. They were all barefooted and modestly dressed. This is the dress code for Buddhist temples in Myanmar. So, I also removed my shoes at the stairs and wrapped the sarong I brought with me around my waist to cover my legs.
As I walked up the staircase, I wondered what my first glimpse of the pagoda would reveal. Bright gilded vertical structures were visually stunning to the eye. Since cameras are permitted at Shwedagon, I couldn’t help but capture the calming atmosphere around me. What made it so fascinating was the fact that there were so many people, yet it still felt so relaxing. A steady stream of people walked slowly around the central Paya in the conventional clockwise direction. I soon began to follow their pathway. Intermittently, tourists would stop to take photos of the intricate designs and the local monks walking around.
As I got to the back of the complex, the number of visitors sitting on the spotless tiled floor increased significantly – and for good reason. As the sun slowly set, golden Shwedagon reflected the late afternoon light beautifully, creating some of the most photogenic scenery that I have witnessed in Burma. Unfortunately, this lighting could not last forever. As the natural rays from the sun slowly dims, the atmospheric lighting of the complex itself began to illuminate the sharp golden peaks. Capturing the transition from day to night at Shwedagon was truly an experience to remember. Hundreds of people remained within the complex well after the sky turned from blue to black. Fortunately, I was one of them.
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Aside from the visual pleasure I experienced in Shwedagon, I was also captivated by the locals and their palpable display of faith. Most of them were wearing traditional bright clothes, giving me the impression that they want to look their best as the symbol of respect to the site. I saw middle aged men, women, lovely old folks and even children pick their own little space around the pagoda and say their prayer. To tourists like myself, Shwedagon may be a stunning attraction worthy to be photographed. But for the people of Myanmar, it is the most sacred Buddhist site they could ever visit. Seeing and praying in Shwedagon is a lifelong dream for the Burmese. And I feel humbled by the intense reverence shown by these people toward their religion.
After I made a second loop around the Shwedagon complex; I knew it was time to go back to downtown Yangon. And as I unwrapped my sarong and put my shoes back on, I made one final glance of appreciation and respect to one of Myanmar’s most valuable treasures.
How to find the cheapest rooms in Yangon?
Over the last five years the number of accommodation options in Yangon has skyrocketed. This of course is a good thing for tourists because increased competition will mostly likely lead to higher service standards. During our stay we reserved our rooms through Agoda. Although we were completely satisfied with the room selection, I will also share some sites that we have used over the years that might also work for you:
With the largest selection of rooms in Yangon, this is the natural selection for many tourists visiting the city. At the time of writing they had almost 300 properties in Yangon. Here is a link to this list:
With slightly fewer rooms than Agoda, www.booking.com is still the top choice for many of our readers because of their free-cancellation policies, and the freedom to pay right at the hotel. Here is a link to their 200+ properties in Yangon: