The Shwedagon Pagoda consists hundreds colorful temples, stupas, and statues that reflects the architectural era spanning almost a 2,500 years. It is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond. An earthquake destroyed the upper half of the pagoda spire and many buildings in 18th century. Myanmar Buddhists constantly build and rebuild pagodas for merit.
There are four entrances on each of the four cardinal directions - north, south, east, and west, flanked by gargantuan sculptures of mythical Burmese lions. These entrances open up to the four walkways as the appendages of the cross ascending to the top via flights of steps. At the top is the octagonal intersection of the cross which consists of the Stupa at the very center itself surrounded by shrines that can qualify as temples by themselves and separated from the Stupa by a vast open walkway paved with shiny marble tiles.
Day Shrines: There are eight shrines, one for each day of the week (in the Burmese calendar, Wednesday is divided into two parts), dotted around the eight corners of the stupa (the stupa is octagonal), and most Burmese pray at their day shrine when visiting a pagoda. If you can figure out the day of the week when you were born, light a candle, place some flowers, or pour water over the shrine corresponding to that day. Starting from the Southern entrance, and going clockwise, the eight planetary posts are: Mercury (Wednesday morning, before noon), Saturn (Saturday), Jupiter (Thursday), Rahu (no planet, Wednesday afternoon), Venus (Friday), Sun (Sunday), Moon (Monday), Mars (Tuesday). Each shrine also has a beast associated with it, the most interesting one being the Gahlon, a mythical half-bird half-beast said to guard Mount Meru (the shrine for Sunday).
Opening Hours: From 4:00 am to 10:00 pm daily. Except on the following days that Shwedagon Pagoda is open 24 hours:
1. Waxing Day of Tabaung – the day before full moon day of the Myanmar Lunar month Tabaung (around March) and
2. 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)
Entrance fee: US$ 8 per person.
Tickets are valid for one day only (not a 24 hour period) and must be retained throughout your visit. While a sticker is to be displayed, is unusable the next day for a new color is introduced. Bring some sticky tape to help keep the sticker attached to your clothing (especially if it is a hot or wet day, like 2/3 of the days in Myanmar).
Guides: Guides, official and unofficial are available for US$5 (add a US$1/1000 kyats tip). The quality is variable but most guides are friendly and trying to make their way against the odds. The pagoda is vast and complex and, if you can afford the extra dollars, the company and practical information on what's going around you is well worth the expense.
Today, all the tourists come to visit this pagoda when they arrive in Yangon.
Walkways to The Pagoda: Four covered walkways lead up to the pagoda from the plains surrounding the hills. The Eastern walkway is the most interesting, crowded as it is with vendors selling items for pilgrims (candles, flowers, gold leaf, stones and other paraphernalia of Burmese Buddhist worship) and souvenirs for domestic (and international) tourists (Buddha statues, lacquer ware, and thanaka). Nothing tacky is for sale, so do stop and take a look. The other walkways are less interesting but the Western walkway has escalators and the Southern has an elevator. Walking up the Eastern walkway to the top and allowing the beauty of the pagoda it to emerge remains the best way to get up the hill.
There is no other place like the Shwedagon Pagoda in the world. Find a comfortable step, or sit yourself on the floor, and look around. For one, it is lit up Las Vegas style with multicolored neon light on a galaxy of shapes and textures. Children run up and down, monks sit on the steps chatting, couples, young and old stroll up and down, women cluster in groups gossiping, all while others are deep in prayer in front of whatever shrine has significance for them. Burgundy robed monks are everywhere.
There is no awe here, only life, religious and secular life. Sit there long enough and someone will stop to chat with you, to ask questions, to exchange information. The Shwedagon captures the essence of both the informal nature as well as the strong ties that signify the relationship that the Burmese have with their Buddhism.