If there is one structure that Myanmar is absolutely tied to, it’s the Buddhist temple. In fact, 90% of the population here practices Buddhism, making it the most religiously dense country practicing this religion.
While the old city of Bagan, with 100’s of ancient pagodas and stupas, gets most of the credit, the amazing temples throughout Yangon are also worth dedicating some time to check out. To help avoid getting a bad case of temple fatigue, I’ve provided a brief list of my favorites below!
When approaching Chaukhtatgyi Paya from the outside, the lack of initial golden flash present in many of the other Yangon temples makes it hard to see what the big deal is.
But after taking just one step inside, you quickly see why this temple in particular is so special.
The reclining Buddha housed inside is absolutely HUGE. Measuring in at approximately 217ft long, it’s one of the largest figures like this throughout all of Southeast Asia.
Initially constructed in 1899, the original figure was deemed unacceptable due to numerous aesthetic flaws and completely rebuilt in the 1950’s over a 20 year period.
The current figure is absolutely incredible, with a soothing, almost lifelike, gaze. Whereas many of the other reclining Buddhas in the country have eyes that have been painted on, Chaukhtatgyi’s are made entirely of glass, with each measuring at almost 6 feet across!
In addition to the massive reclining Buddha, there’s an eerily lifelike statue lineup of some of this temple’s most important abbots and monks.
Adding to the mystique of Chaukhtatgyi Paya is that it’s located within the large Shwe Min Won Sasana Yeiktha Meditation Centre. After hanging around for an hour or so, it felt almost as if I had entered into a small sacred oasis within the center of the hustle and bustle of Yangon. Monks of all ages are absolutely everywhere, often walking to/from various meditation sessions.
The monks even welcome new meditation students from all over the world, and it’s not unheard of for tourists to stay long term after their initial visit…
Kyauktan Yele Pagoda
Yele is technically about an hour south of Yangon in Kyauktan Township, but it’s totally worth taking the half day road trip to check it out. I ended up visiting on Independence Day, so the roads going both in and out of this small town were absolutely jammed.
I didn’t know all that much about Yele beforehand or, out of all the other Yangon temples, why it was called out by some of the locals at the Independence Day festival as a must visit.
After a long chat with the driver, who insisted that he be referred to as Mr. Phone, we eventually made it to a good drop off point where I could easily walk the rest of the way. Squeezing through the crowd of people, I paid the $2 USD ticket fee and was handed a pink stub with a brief bit of instruction.
I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, until I continued down a set of stairs and saw where exactly Yele temple is located…
It turns out Yele sits right in the center of the Hmaw Wun river and is only accessible by rickety wooden boats. The trip over is relatively quick through – much shorter than the time you will most likely be waiting in line to board.
Constructed in the 3rd century BCE, Kyauktan Yele Pagoda has a much more intimate feeling than many of the other Yangon temples. Even its open courtyard, which you enter almost immediately into after stepping off of the boat, is filled with beautifully large decorated structures that fill in the available space.
One of the most unique aspects here though is related directly to the river itself. Throughout various parts of the temple, you can purchase small puffed rice balls for a small donation fee. Rather than begin munching away on these (my first thought), you take your rice ball to the side of the river and toss it in as an offering to the spirits.
In this case, helping these crunchy snacks make their way to the river spirits is a large school of catfish that devour everything just as soon as it hits the water.
Yele also has a collection of beautiful Buddhist art to take in, though it seemed like most of the visitors just casually lounged around, enjoying each others company.
With how much traffic we were all going to have to sit in though, it was totally understandable. Why rush?
No list of Yangon temples is complete without including Shwedagon Pagoda. Not only is this the most sacred pagoda in all of Myanmar, but at 315 ft, it’s also one of the largest. It’s so tall that the pointy golden spire can often be seen sticking out over various parts of Yangon.
After dropping off my shoes and purchasing a ticket ($8 USD), I moved into a beautiful long hallway that ended with a pair of escalators.
Beside the escalators sits a long flight of stairs covered by a worn down red carpet that had clearly seen some heavy use.
I wonder how many pairs of feet have made this journey over the 1,000+ years of Shwedagon’s existence…
Finally, stepping off the escalator and through a large opened door, I got my first glimpse of the complex’s grand scale.
This inner courtyard encircles the massive golden pagoda and features various colorful structures along the outer edge.
Not surprisingly, Shwedagon ended up being one of the most heavily crowded of the Yangon temples I checked out. Even with the consistent crunch of visitors, there were still plenty of people experiencing their own quiet and personal moments.
From families performing water rituals…
To individuals providing offerings of flowers…
To the many monks and sila-rhan (nuns) performing their daily rites…
It’s these smaller moments, set within the grand scope of Shwedagon, that really make it a must see.
There you have it – my favorite of the Yangon temples I visited while in Myanmar! While it’s best to take your time exploring these over 2 days, you can easily hit-up all 3 in a single day if you start early enough.
Whichever route you take though, you’re sure to enjoy these!