If you have never visited Myanmar before, here’s a simple reason why you should: the pagodas. It is safe to say that the country has more than 150 pagodas scattered all over its regions and states, each of them with a story of their own to tell. These beautiful structures are a religious Burmese symbol with a rich Buddhist history that goes a long way back to when the religion was first established in Myanmar.
Each pagoda shines with its own unique architecture so you will never be bored of examining the intricate structures and stupas.. In fact, there are so many of them that it is not possible for you to visit all of them throughout your trip. Knowing that, here are the top 10 pagodas that are the ones most likely to make your Myanmar trip worthwhile.
#10 Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda
There is a limestone cave in Kalaw that houses the Shwe Oo Min Pagoda. Surrounded by stalagmite and stalactite formations, you will be able to witness more than 8,000 Buddha images made of various materials like teak, marble, brick and cement. These Buddha images are offered by local pilgrims and even foreigners, a tradition that remains standing untill today. You can also donate a Buddha image to be placed in the cave. It is best to visit the pagoda in the morning, when the air is cool and pleasant to enjoy a comfortable trip and avoid the peak-hour crowd. The path leading down the hill makes a beautiful background for great photos, so bring your camera along for some insta-worthy shots!
#9 Kyauktawgyi Pagoda
This pagoda features intricate designs and decorations that highlight the workmanship of Myanmarese artists who have devoted a great deal of time perfecting the interior. The size of the entire pagoda is huge and it houses a marble Buddha image that is 37 feet tall and 24 feet wide. The gardens are well-kept and trimmed with paintings displayed proudly. The highlight is an 8-feet marble statue of Buddha. Sculpted in the 19th century, it is believed that the glossy statue took more than 2 weeks to complete and required ten thousand men to transport the statue. Situated in Mandalay, it is recommended that you visit the pagoda in October to celebrate one of the city’s largest festival, Kyauktawgyi Paya.
#8 Hsinbyume Pagoda
In Sagaing Region, the first place locals would suggest you to visit is Hsinbyume Pagoda. The pagoda’s exterior is completely white and its design differs from the usual Burmese pagodas. Inspired by the physical description of Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Buddhism mythology, the pagoda is surrounded by seven terraces that represent seven mountain ranges leading to the mountain. The wavy structure of these terraces is surely a spectacular sight to see. If you do not mind the heat from the hot weather, this pagoda is a great spot for photography—it looks exceptionally beautiful in photographs, giving off an ethereal look due to its white colour.
#7 Shwezigon Pagoda
This pagoda is one of the oldest in Bagan. Also known as the smaller version of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, visitors who wish to explore all of the structures and rooms around will be happy to visit Shwezigon Pagoda. There are several Buddha images around the pagoda and tourists can place their own gold leaves on the statues. Each leaf is about 1,000 Kyats. You can purchase one for yourself, crouch under the stupas where the statues are located, and paste a leaf on the damaged parts of the statues to restore them. The gold plated pagoda creates a grand view, especially at night when spotlights shine on the gold surface, causing the entire pagoda to glow. It is perfectly safe to visit this pagoda at night as it is still buzzing with activities, and locals are friendly enough to help you take a few photos. The pagoda also enshrines a few precious Buddha relics, making it a highly significant religious site to devotees. As you are required to remove your shoes, it is best to visit this pagoda in the morning or evening to avoid walking barefoot on the hot pavements.
#6 Ananda Pagoda
This pagoda in Bagan will charm you with its beautiful, ancient architectural style that reflects Mon and North Indian influence. Legend has it that the king who ordered the pagoda to be built also ordered its architects to be executed upon its completion, to prevent the pagoda being replicated. The openings in the walls allow sunlight to enter the temple, providing plenty of natural sunlight for photography purposes, and cavities created to hold Buddha statues. You should also not miss seeing the sikhara, which is a spire influenced by North Indian architecture built on top of the pagoda that can be spotted from far away.
#5 Sule Pagoda
Located in the heart of downtown Yangon, this pagoda stands out as a traditional structure placed in a bustling city, where bright lights are ever-present with the sounds of traffic. You can get a better view of the pagoda from a footway bridge up the Northern part of the road. In the evening, this pagoda lights up magnificently, coupled with lights from the passing traffic. It is believed that the pagoda enshrines a hair relic that belonged to Lord Buddha. It was named after a spirit (Nat) called Sule Nat that once lived at the spot where the pagoda was built. The 44m tall pagoda also has an octagonal shape, which is an unusual design for a Burmese pagoda.
#4 Kuthodaw Pagoda
You will find the world’s largest book when you visit Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay. With 729 marble slabs inscribed with inscriptions of Buddhist teachings placed around the pagoda, the creation of these slabs took 8 years to complete. The smooth and glossy surface of each slab is engraved with Buddhist inscriptions, making it a sight to behold. The gilded pagoda stands tall at 57m, with a bell-shaped stupa and 4 Chinthe (mythological lions) guarding each side. The pagoda and marble slabs was once vandalised by the British colony, but was successfully restored with the help the donations from the Burmese people.
#3 Kyaiktiyo / Golden Rock Pagoda
Compared to other pagodas in Myanmar, Kyaiktiyo pagoda is a rather small temple located at Mon State. However, do not let its size stop you from climbing up the hill to get a great view of the peak. Located on top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo, this pagoda is built on top of a granite boulder which presents a smooth surface due to the many layers of gold leaves pasted on it. However, only men are allowed to touch the rock and to paste gold leaves. The pagoda is believed to be placed on the boulder due to its resemblance to a monk’s head, and the rock is able to balance on the steep edge due to the support of a strand of the Buddha’s hair.
#2 Mahamuni Pagoda
This pagoda is the second most important religious site in the country, located at the southwest area of Mandalay. You will find a 4m-tall bronze Buddha statue enshrined in the pagoda. If you visit the pagoda in the morning, you will be able to see the cleansing ritual of the image conducted by a senior monk, witnessed by many devotees. Enjoy tons of photo opportunities and don’t miss out on visiting markets around the area that sell plenty of souvenirs and local goods. Be sure not to miss the painting museum that features the story of Buddha along with the creation of the Buddha statue, explained in detailed paintings and hand-drawn by local artists.
#1 Shwedagon Pagoda
As one of the most famous pagodas in the world, Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is often crowded with many tourists. Despite not having an official age, Shwedagon pagoda is believed to be 2,600 years old and is the oldest pagoda in the world. The majestic gold-plated dome is decorated with diamonds, rubies and precious stones. The pagoda’s enticing design and decorations resemble that of a crown, causing people to nickname it as ‘the Crown of Burma’. This pagoda is perfect for tourists who love meditation as the ambience of this huge pagoda is calm and soothing. If you visit this pagoda in the evening during sunset, you will witness the monks and devotees chanting mantras and prayers.
Now that the top 10 pagodas are listed out for you, it’s time to plan a trip to Myanmar. Be prepared to witness the beauty of each pagoda and be enticed by each unique design that will surely leave a memorable experience of your journey to Myanmar. If you are up for more adventures after exploring the pagodas, check out this article about diving in Myanmar.