what you should know before you visit Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, Myanmar, was a bit overwhelming, and Shwedagon Pagoda was no exception from the city. It was filled with people coming to pray, earn merit, or simply visit the golden shrines and pagodas. Visually, it was a shiny display of Buddhist culture, something I have grown to find comfort in.
Here are some quick facts you should know before you go!
Don't visit in the heat of the day //
If you decide to walk around the golden pagoda in the middle of the day, you better have callused feet! Even as someone who is fully onboard with the 'no-shoes-in-Southeast-Asia' lifestyle, the soles of my feet were fried on the hot marble as we walked from relic to relic. There are green plastic mats which line the main walkways that are meant to help protect visitor's feet, but honestly, they were hotter than even the marble. If you visit early in the morning or in the evening, your feet will thank you.
Enter through the West to avoid crowds //
We entered Shwedagon through the West entrance purely by blind luck. It was the entrance nearest on our way as we opted to walk to the pagodas from our hostel. This entranceway has less traffic which means a few perks for you: 1) more cubbies for you to put your shoes into without having to share with a stranger, 2) which in turn means you'll be more likely not to lose your shoes, and 3) fewer merchants trying to sell you goods. Fewer people also means less body heat, so you won't have to push through hoards of visitors sweating all over each other.
It's cash only //
The Shwedagon Pagoda costs 8,000 Kyat per person to enter. Like basically everywhere else in the country, the sacred pagoda admissions fee is accepted in cash only. Bringing your card is no use. There are ATMs nearby, but Myanmar is known for unreliable electricity and frequent power outages, so anytime you put your card in a machine it's a bit risky.
Come covered //
You won't be allowed in if you don't have your shoulders and knees covered. It's standard procedure throughout all Buddhist temples, so this shouldn't be surprised. If for whatever reason, you come to the temple in shorts and a tank top, you can always run to the market out near the East entrance of the pagoda and buy some trusty elephant pants and a scarf, though we all know they aren't the most conscious purchases to make.
Bring water //
There is no place inside the pagoda to get a drink if you become parched in the heat. Bring your reusable water bottle filled up and if you get desperate, you can buy a beverage from the markets located out of the East entrance.
Not everyone dressed in robes is a Monk //
My travel companion at the time sat down to have a conversation with someone dressed in full robes about the kind of Buddhism practiced in Myanmar, as there seemed to be differences between the practices we were familiar with in Laos. It turns out, the man was just peddling for money. Lesson learned: just because they have robes doesn't mean they are part of the temple.
I found Shwedagon a bit wild compared to the simpler, hidden temples of Laos that I'm so used to. It's well worth the money, as a matter of fact, I'd say it's easily the coolest thing a person can do in Yangon.