Some of Myanmar's Must-See Buddhist Sites
Myanmar is perhaps the most devoutly Buddhist nation on earth, with a dizzying array of golden pagodas and ancient temples, perched in splendid isolation on hillsides and sandwiched between busy city streets. With so many impressive Buddhist sites to choose from, here are just a few that are well worth planning your Myanmar trip around.
The very symbol of Myanmar, the gold-laden spire, or zedi, of Shwedagon Paya soars almost 100m above Yangon and is visible from most parts of the city. This is one of the holiest Buddhist sites anywhere in the world – the pagoda has stood here for over 2500 years – built originally to house a handful of hairs given by the Buddha Gautama to two Burmese brothers.
Visit the Shwedagon in the cool of dawn for a more tranquil experience. Otherwise, join the crowds who gather here just before dusk, when the Shwedagon shimmers in the setting sun. The north gate and northwest corner of the complex are prime spots for photos.
Mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
Perched precariously atop a ridge, the golden rock of Mt Kyaiktiyo in southeast Myanmar is one of the country’s most revered pilgrimage spots. It’s also the most eye catching: a huge gilded boulder topped by a small stupa that looks like it could topple down the mountainside at any moment.
There are stunning views from Mt Kyaiktiyo when the weather is right, as well as other stupas to explore. But only men are allowed to cross the small bridge that separates Mt Kyaiktiyo’s summit from the rock to pray and attach gold-leaf squares to the boulder.
The views from Mt Kyaiktiyo are best from November to March, which is when pilgrims come here, staying up all night to chant and meditate in a heady atmosphere. During the rainy season (June to October) mist and cloud often shroud the summit.
Deep in remote Rakhine State in western Myanmar, Mrauk-U is the least visited of all the country’s major Buddhist sites. Made of stone, rather than brick, and darkened by age and weather, most of the stupas, former monasteries and temples date from the 15th and 16th centuries. This was a time when Mrauk-U was the capital of Rakhine and one of the richest cities in Asia thanks to its trade with the Middle East, Portugal and Spain.
Don’t miss the stupa-laden Shittaung Paya and its 80,000 Buddha images; the towering Ratanabon Paya, which is surrounded by several, smaller stupas; or the hulking Kothaung Paya, the largest temple in Mrauk U. Some countries might advise their citizens against travel to Rakhine State, following sectarian violence in 2012 but Mrauk U was not affected.
Bago was once the capital of southern Myanmar and is still home to some of the finest temples in the country, as well as many important monasteries. Rising above Bago is Shwemawdaw Paya, taller than the Shwedagon and stunning at night. Equally impressive is the giant, reclining Shwethalyaung Buddha, which dates back to the 10th century.
No. (341) Pyay Road, Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar