Towering over the Burmese city of Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda is rumored to be the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world, and more miraculous than the priceless gems and gold plates coating its exterior, it is also said to hold hairs from the head of Buddha himself.
As the legend goes, two brothers were traveling when they encountered the Buddha beneath a tree. After feeding him, Buddha offered them a gift and gave them exactly eight hairs from his head. The brothers then carried the sacred hairs in a ruby casket back to their country where, with the help of the king, they began building what would become the Shwedagon Pagoda complex. When the casket containing the holy hair was opened, the relic unleashed a flood of miracles including causing the blind to see, the lame to walk, and seeing a rain of gemstones issue from the sky. A number of other relics were also entombed at the shrine including a holy staff, a piece of cloth from a sacred figures robe, and oddly a revered water filter.
If the legend is believed, the pagoda is around 2,600 years old, but many scientists have placed its construction closer to 1,000 to 1,400 years old. Either way, the opulent site has survived through war and political turmoil in the area and still looms over Yangon in glittering glory. The large central stupa is covered in real gold plates that are constantly donated from countries around the world as needed, and its tip is encrusted with rubies and diamonds.
Both spiritually and materially glorious, the Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the wonders of the modern Buddhist world, and may be one of the fanciest sites ever to be founded on a handful of hair.
Know Before You Go
Head towards the golden stupa that towers over Yangon. Shwedagon Pagoda is open daily, from 4-22. Last admission is at 21:45. The ticket is valid for the whole day, so you can visit the pagoda during the day and also at night. Shwedagon Pagoda on weekends and middle of the day can get really crowded, so avoid this time. If possible hire a guide, who will explain everything about the pagoda and the rituals, enhancing your experience hugely.
You won't be allowed to enter the temple grounds if you're dressed in shorts. You can rent or buy a sarong outside the entry gate.