Myanmar · Travel Tales

A night at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

On May 6, Joey, Vince, Andy and I arrived in Yangon from Bangkok toward sundown. We headed to Father Land Hotel to drop off our bags, and quickly headed back out to go to the Shwedagon Paya, which we heard was best seen at night — and was still open until 9PM.

We took a cab going there. At the entrance we paid 15000 kyats to a couple of betel nut-chewing young men, who gave each of us a ticket and a sticker. We removed our shoes and left them with others’ on a shoe rack. Then we took an elevator up.

The moment you behold the Shwedagon Pagoda up close would take your breath away.

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The huge golden chedi is one thing.  A former guide later on told us that the crown actually holds some gems, diamonds included. Indeed, at certain angles you’d see one winking.

Then there are the many buildings housing several images of the Buddha in different positions. Practically everything is in gold, and it was rather easy to overlook the many intricate details around us.

And then there are the images of the Buddha, some of which had blinking multicolored LED lights forming a sort of halo behind his head. It was kind of jarring as they foregrounded the ancient chedi and the monuments in a display of modern tackiness.

So I tried to avoid them as much as possible in my pictures. And there was so much else to see.

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Those pillars are made of broken mirrors.

We went around the chedi counterclockwise (which is wrong; one should walk around any Buddhist monument clockwise for greater luck, but we were new to the place and pretty ignorant). I got to people-watch a bit, which was my sort of way of getting my bearings in a new country. Some were praying to the many Buddha images; many were walking around or simply sitting on the floor, probably marveling as we were at the chedi.

The former guide showed us around, taking our pictures and showing us some good places to take pictures from.

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Details on a pillar.
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A jade Buddha with a coronet made of gold and rubies.
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Taken by the guide from under a bodhi tree

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This was our introduction to the Golden Land. I might have needed to pick up my jaw from the ground a few times.

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Leaving the Shwedagon Pagoda and entering a marketplace.

Leaving the Pagoda and entering a marketplace as we looked for a place to eat was like entering the belly of the city (though we were to find out the next day that it was nothing compared to downtown Yangon). It was a scene reminiscent of many countries in southeast Asia — poverty beside a monument to opulence. Granted, this sort of opulence has religious roots, unlike the monuments to the gods of capitalism in my country.

Still, Myanmar already felt like home, for reasons that unfolded themselves to us in the coming days.

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3 thoughts on “A night at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

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