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The magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda is probably the most gloriously decadent attraction in Yangon. Climb up one of four impressive staircases to gaze upon the grand stupa, which is said to enshrine strands of Buddha's hair, as well as other ancient holy relics. At around 100 metres tall, the 2,500 year-old monument is draped in real gold and encrusted with 4,531 diamonds, including one of 72 carats. Around it are hundreds of colourful temples, statues and more stupas, making the sacred Buddhist complex a busy hub for both tourists and devoted locals.
The streets of Yangon
Decades of isolation have meant that little has changed in Myanmar since British colonial times. Within the former capital of Rangoon (now Yangon), this traditional charm takes the form of longyi and thanaka-adorned locals and delightfully decrepit architecture. Though it’s a commercial hub, don’t look for multi-floor shopping malls. Stroll along the stall-lined streets or visit Bogyoke Market to embrace the bustling, and endearingly chaotic, buzz as you browse all manner of souvenirs and fresh ingredients. If you visit during a full moon, you could also enjoy cultural immersion in one of its celebratory festivals or street parades.
Botahtaung Pagoda greets maritime visitors to Yangon, its gleaming spire peeking between riverside palm trees. Following its original destruction during World War II, the 40 metre tall golden stupa was rebuilt with glistening grandeur. Step inside its mirror-mosaicked walls to view precious stones, ornaments and jewellery uncovered from its ruins. Among them was a tiny cylinder thought to contain body relics and the Sacred Hair of the Buddha that was preserved by the ancient Mons.
Beyond Yangon lies a landscape barely touched by the western world. Along the shores of the freshwater Inle Lake, self-sufficient farmers live in simple stilted homes and grow crops in floating gardens, while fishermen row boats with their legs to afford them the best views from their boats. In the countryside of the central Mandalay region, thousands of stone temples punctuate the skyline of ancient Bagan.