The most famous landmark in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most sacred place for Burmese Buddhists. It is believed that as far as 2,600 years ago there was a pagoda at Shwedagon’s current location; making it one of the longest continuous religious site in the world. Most Burmese Buddhists aspire to visit it at least once in their lifetime.
The whole complex is called Shwedagon, named after the main pagoda; which is said to have strains of the Buddha’s hairs enshrined in it. But there are smaller pagodas, temples and prayer pavilions surrounding the huge golden pyramid. You could easily spend a good 2 hours wandering the complex, marveling at the different pagodas with intricate designs, and watching the monks and nuns meditating and chanting in the temples. The pagoda and its surrounding areas are full of people and activities during the day. Devout locals come to pray, make offerings, mingle with camera touting tourists. Despite the amount of people, it is a quiet and peaceful place.
The best time to go there is in the late afternoon. The tour groups would have been gone by then and there is a kind of hush and solemnity that hangs in the atmosphere. It is hypnotic to see the locals going about their rituals: praying with incense sticks, bathing Buddha statues, and sitting in the small temples or out in the tiled floor, meditating.
As the sun sets, the hot tiles cool and hordes of tourist leave, you can see volunteers carrying brooms line up in front of an instructor. The instructor would direct the line of sweeper to move as one as they sweep the whole complex. Then you’ll see another line of sweepers about 5m behind the first. Then lights come on to light the whole place and neon lights illuminate the buddha statues.