Shwedagon Pagoda is one of Myanmar’s most iconic landmark we can confidently say that visiting Myanmar without visiting this most important religious site means not visiting Myanmar. So I have decided to write this guide for those interested in visiting the historical site – definitely after the COVID is over and the military junta control is over.
At the same time, I will also write down some tips and tricks for you while travelling to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This article is quite lengthy and if you want to skip some sections, you can use the table of contents below
- A brief history of the Shwedagon Pagoda
- The best time to visit Shwedagon Pagoda
- Clothing etiquette to be observed by the pilgrims/visitors
- How to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda
- Activities you can do during the visit
A brief history of the Shwedagon Pagoda
In Maha Sakarit 103 (about 588 BC), Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment and while he has travelled to seven places, two merchants, Taphussa and Balika, offered him alms-food. Having obtained eight strands of hair from Gautama Buddha as a blessing, the two returned to Okkalapa land where they were welcomed back by the multitudes led by King Okkalapa.
King Okkalapa and his subjects enshrined the Buddha’s hair together with the relics of three Buddhas before him – the staff of Kakusanda Buddha, the water filter of Kawnagamana Buddha and netherrobe of Kassapa Buddha in a ceti of 66 feet high which they consecrated as the Shewdagon.
Because it contained the relics of the four Buddhas who had attained enlightenment, it was known as Shwedagon, the Reliquary of the Four.
From about 588 BC to 14 century, the Shwedagon was maintained by 32 kings of the Okkalapa dynasty and since 1372 AD by Kings Banya U, Banyayan, Bangyagyandaw and others.
In 1453 AD, when Queen Shin Saw Pu ascended the throne, she had it raised to a height of 302 feet and in 1774, King Sinbyushin had it rebuilt to a height of 326 feet (99.36 m).
The best time to visit Shwedagon Pagoda
Before planning your trip to Yangon, it would be good that you understand the weather conditions. The best time to visit Myanmar would be around November to February as this is considered the winter period in the country. The weather is warm but not stifling, and the possibility of some cool nights. In November there will be a little rain but nice cloudy skies and fresh sparkling greenery everywhere. December and January are slightly cooler and sometimes you would need a light jacket and/or sweater.
If you are not able to visit during this period, the next will be from March to May, the hot season or perhaps we will say it is the summer. The daytime temperature can be around 35 degree Celsius and at times soaring up to 40 degree Celsius. You will feel sweaty in both day and nights and it becomes unbearable without air-conditioning.
The next would be the Monsoon season between May to October. It usually enter southern Burma around mid-May and with the arrival of the rain and pleasant monsoon breeze, temperatures drop. However, with the inadequate drainage system and bad road conditions in the city area, it causes flooded streets with potholes and become dangerous for cars to travel, especially when there are rainstorms as well.
I have visited Shwedagon Pagoda several times, in the noon as well as the evening for my seven round of circumambulating worshipping of the pagoda. I think that if you would like to visit in nice weather, you could try early in the morning between 7 to 9a m or evening between 7 to 9 pm. They are open daily from 4 am to 10 pm except for some days which they are opened 24 hours as below:
- Waxing Day of Tabaung – the day before full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month Tabaung (around March);
- Waxing Day of Wakhaung – the day before full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month Wakhaung (around June which is the beginning of the Buddhist Lent)
Clothing etiquette to be observed by the pilgrims/visitors
Just like any other temple in Myanmar or other parts of the world, you should dress conservatively. This applies to both men and women visiting the pagoda. I usually wear long pant with a short sleeve shirt during my visit.
- For the ladies try not to wear a blouse with wide and deep hives.
- No singlets or off-shoulder top for both men and women.
- Not allowed to wear short pants and/or skirts above knee level.
Tip: Plan what to wear for the day if you are going to Shwedagon Pagoda to avoid paying to rent a cover up at the Pagoda for an inflated fee.
Shoes and socks and/or stockings are strictly prohibited inside of the pagoda. Upon arrival at the gate, you have expected to take off your shoes and socks. I would recommend that bringing a plastic bag so that you can put them in the bag as you might be finding yourself leaving via a different exit!
Tip: If you have hired a private car or bus tour, you might want to bring a pair of disposable slippers from the hotel and wear it along. It is lighter to put in the bag and you can just dispose it after your trip at the pagoda.
How to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda is towards the north of the city, to the west of Kandawgyi Lake. Depending on where you stay, the Shwedagon is around a 10-15 minutes drive away from the Downtown area when the traffic is good. You can contact your hotel concierge for taxi and bus directions or you can use Grab, Asia’s version of Uber.
There is a total of four entrance to the pagoda, so make sure to choose the nearest entrance for the cheapest fare ! Below are the road names corresponding to each entrance
- South – Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Kandaw Min Road, Arzarni Road (Wheel Chair Accessible)
- West – U Wisara Road
- North – Arzarni Road
- East – Arzarni Road, Gyatawta Road
The entrance will lead you to a series of stairs and elevators before arrival at the ticket booth.
PS: The main platform, information centres, and concessions are wheelchair accessible. Those that require the use of a wheelchair can enter the pagoda through the Southern Stairway. The Southern Stairway includes the use of two elevators. For assistance, please contact the board of Trustees Office.
The entrance fee is free for all the local Burmese community, but all foreigners would need to pay an entrance fee of 10,000 Kyat (USD 6) person and you will also have to go through an informal outfit check. Once that is done, you are in!
Activities you can do during the visit
It will take a while to see everything and I recommend that you take about two hours to visit the place. Once you enter, you will be first be greeted by the sheer size of the pagoda and definitely look up at the gigantic pagoda!
You could feel the change in atmosphere and feel the tranquillity in your mind. While there are monks and pilgrims performing their rituals or tourists walking around, you will feel yourself to be absorbed into such a breathtaking place.
Looking to the left and right of the main pagoda, you will see it is surrounded by smaller temples, magnificent bodhi trees, and other smaller stupas.
Walking Clockwise Around The Pagoda
In the believer of Buddhism, the rite of walking in a clockwise direction (circumambulate) around the pagoda purifies negative karma and fosters realisations of the path to enlightenment. Many tourists travelled to Yangon every year just to that.
Visit The Museum
Located in the north-west corner of the pagoda, the three-storey museum housed some of the historical arts on the first two levels and religious items donated to the pagoda over the years.
If you are uncomfortable travelling by yourself, perhaps you can check with the hotel’s concierge for guided tours or you can also find some Shwedagon guided tours on Viator as well.