No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to the legendary golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The huge 110-meter tall gilded pagoda, which lies to the west of the Kandagyi Lake on Singuttara Hill, dominates the city skyline. Its warm, golden glow and its intricately encrusted dome and stupa will leave you absolutely gobsmacked.
According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda is over 2,600 years old, making it the oldest historical pagoda in the world, and is Myanmar's most sacred Buddhist Pagoda. It is covered with gold plates, making it a spectacular sight when it catches the sun, and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds—there's even a 72-carat diamond up there! The magnificent Pagoda contains relics from the past four Buddhas: the staff of Kakusanha, the water filter of Konagamma, a piece of Kassapa's robe, and eight strands of Guatama's hair. It started out at only 8.2 meters high, but now is a golden giant that will leave you standing there, mouth open, and eyes wide in wonder.
The Pagoda was originally created to house the eight hairs of Prince Siddartha who had just attained Buddhahood. Two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhalhika from Asitanjana came across the new Buddha who sat under a tree revelling in his newfound emancipation. They gave him honey cakes and asked for a gift in return. The Buddha took eight hairs from his head and gave them to the brothers, who gave half of the sacred hairs away to two kings they met on their way home. They then put the hairs on a pile of pearls shaped like a Pagoda and King Ukkalapa came to see them, vowing to return the hairs to their original eight. They took the hairs back to Asitanjana to add to the other relics they had, and built the Pagoda on Singuttara Hill, where it stands today.
As well as a place of worship and a focal part of the city's skyline, the Swedagon Pagoda is a place to keep and display art, history, and architecture. You can find out more in the Shwedagon Pagoda exhibit, a photo exhibit showing the history and symbolism of the Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda plays hosts to religious festivals almost every month, during which time it is full of people from dawn until midnight. Some of these festivals are celebrated all over the country and all the pagodas are busy, but some are specific to the Shwedgon Pagoda. The Tabaung festival is especially important, as it commemorates the Full Moon Day of Tabaung that King Ukkalapa and the two brothers enshrined the sacred hairs.
The Pagoda is open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except for the important religious festivals of Waxing Day of Tabaung (around March) and Waxing Day of Wakhuang (around June), when it is open 24 hours.
You'll need to dress modestly. This means, trousers or at least a knee-length skirt or shorts, and enter barefoot.