Whenever I visit somewhere for the first time, if time allows, I find the best way to get to know the place is to hire a local guide, as well as explore on my own. So with my exceptionally knowledgeable guide and our driver, that I’d pre-booked through Holiday Architects back in the UK, I was taken on an educational tour around the temples and cultural icons of Yangon.
In my free time, I took to the streets on my own and explored the back-alleys and side streets of downtown Yangon, discovering the people and architecture of the former capital.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in the world. It is most definitely Yangon’s jewel in the crown. This stunning pagoda is over 2,500 years old, dating back to the lifetime of Buddha. It’s Burma’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site. On the day I visited, a large group from Cambodia had journeyed there to pay reverence.
The massive 99-metre high gold-plated pagoda, encrusted with 4531 diamonds, is set on top of a small hill in downtown Yangon from where it dominates the city’s skyline. The main stupa enshrines sacred relics of the Gautama Buddha as well as the three previous Buddhas. Surrounded by 64 smaller stupas, it is set within a massive complex, which is worth taking some time to explore. This beautiful shimmering monument is one of the most impressive temples I have ever visited.
The Sule Pagoda is located in the heart of downtown Yangon. According to legend, it was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of the Buddha, making it more than 2,600 years old. It’s a small pagoda, octagonal in shape and positioned on a roundabout surrounded by busy roads. So take care when you cross!
The Sule is much less visited than the better known Shwedagon Pagoda but still highly revered because it enshrines a hair relic of the Buddha.
This impressive 65-metre long and 16-metre high reclining Buddha lies within a hangar-like structure inside the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda in central Yangon. It’s one of the largest Buddhist statues in Myanmar. Elaborately decorated and with striking, almost 2-metre wide, glass eyes and 33cm long eyelashes, it’s an impressive image. The feet of the statue are carved with symbols in red and gold depicting 108 lakshanas or auspicious characteristics of the Buddha. Beyond the feet, a beautiful mural extends across the whole of one wall and illustrates the life of Buddha.
The Independence Monument, a 46-metre high white obelisk, is located in the centre of Maha Bandula Park in Downtown Yangon. It commemorates the independence of Burma from the British in 1948. Around the base of the monument, inscribed in the Myanmar language is a brief history. The park is a pleasant place to pass some time. It’s is a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of downtown Yangon.
From there it’s an easy walk to other downtown landmarks like the Sule Pagoda, Yangon City Hall and the High Court. A little further afield is the glittering Karaweik barge. A replica of the royal barge, which lies on the eastern shore of Kandawgyi Lake. Also known as Karaweik Palace it offers traditional Burmese entertainment and buffet restaurants.
Further north on University Avenue on the southern side of Inya Lake is the house where Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest off and on for 15 years. A high wall, with NLD posters and flags, has since been erected right around the mansion. So unfortunately you can no longer see the house from the street.
Top Image: The Reclining Buddha inside the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda