The Shwedagon pagoda is perhaps the main attraction of Yangon. Even the Burmese themselves make pilgrimages to this gigantic pagoda. It is one of the most important ones in the country. I decided to combine a visit to the pagoda with some of the surrounding attractions.
In front of the pagoda is the people’s park. I really didn’t know what it was and thought I’d just find a park, like the Central park of Yangon. However, they change a small fee to enter. At first the place was very much like any other park. There was a fountain, although there was no water in it, and there were lots of trees, plants and grassy fields. A bit further on, the park turned out to be a mix of an amusement park and a waterpark. There were also some small eateries and vendors of snacks. Me and my friend sat down at a small food stall with some tables and chairs, right next to a big roller coaster. After some lunch we bought a ticket, because neither of us had been on a roller coaster for a while. It seemed like a great idea! When we got in, the thing turned out to have seatbelts! It wasn’t the only safety. There was still a bar that went over your head, but seatbelts? Why does it need seatbelts? Anyway, we made it through the looping and corkscrews alive and went to the Martyr’s shrine.
On our way we passed some very old looking dinosaur statues. They could have been from the prehistory. There was also a swimming pool and lots of stalls where you could win stuffed animals. Outside the park, at the top of the hill was the Martyr’s shrine. According to my guidebook it was ‘striking’ and it holds the remains of general Aung San and the eight cabinet ministers assassinated with him in 1947. It seemed like this could be an interesting monument to check out. It was surrounded by a big gate, so we couldn’t really see what was inside. We paid way to much to see half a halfpipe. In the center of those walls stood a big red halfpipe. There was no information. Well… only in Burmese. How bizarre. If I’d seen a photo of it, it would have been the same experience.
We’d come to this corner of the city to see the Shwedagon pagoda though. It was right across the street and was a lot better. It was about an hour before sunset and just starting to get busy. There is so much to see that you really don’t know where to look. Eventually we just sat down somewhere to take it all in. In the center stands the 99m high stupa, a shimmering golden spire that is visible from afar. Even when you are in a taxi and drive past the pagoda, the driver will fold his hands together towards the pagoda and briefly close his eyes. Prayer before safety. It was fascinating to see all the people who came to pray. It seemed like not all of them were regulars. Many people walked around taking selfies with their phones. There were even photographers offering their services and taking stately portraits of families and individuals. While I was taking a photo I was approached by a monk, who put his hand on my arm: “Can we take a photo with you?” I thought monks were not allowed to touch women. But I also thought Buddhist monks would not care about possessions like mobile phones. And yet all the monks had a phone sticking out of the side of their red robes.
I realise I am an exotic species in this country, but I don’t exactly know why I am so interesting. It’s probably because I am a white giant with kind of blond hair. I’ll probably end up on some monk’s Facebook with the caption ‘met a giant at Shwedagon today’. Then someone comes to me and touches my arm and says: “Thank you”. I feel like I am the tourist attraction here at times. It is so random. I have no clue why she is thanking me. Before I know it she is already gone again. I sit back down again and watch the life happening around me. Suddenly three rows of ladies start lining up. The all have brooms and after a minute they all start sweeping the floor, staying perfectly in line. Is this some sort of Buddhist ritual too? I don’t understand much of what is going on at the pagoda, but that’s what makes it so interesting to walk around here. After darkness has fallen we make our way back down the big staircase, which also has escalators, and then to the hostel.
Another thing you can combine with visiting Shwedagon, is the zoo and Kandawgyi lake. I didn’t make it to the zoo, but I walked around a part of Kandawgyi lake over a boardwalk that was in desperate need of repairs. I mostly looked at my feet to avoid the holes, aiming for the nails, hoping I wouldn’t fall through, but when I stood still and looked behind me I had a perfect view of the Shwedagon pagoda. At the other end of the lake is an area where you pay 300K to get in. I don’t know what you pay for, because the only thing you can do is buy souvenirs and eat or drink at one of the many cafés and restaurants. Time this for around lunchtime, because it is a nice area and there is a lot of choice when it comes to food.
You can easily combine all these things in one day. Planning the Shwedagon pagoda at the end of the day is more interesting because that’s when all the people come to pray. Not far from Shwedagon is Feel Myanmar. I can highly recommend going here for dinner. There is a central courtyard with lots of tables. You can choose your food from many different stands and they even have dessert. It’s a great place to check out and finish your day!