Shwedagon Pagoda – Worth Its Weight in Gold (and Diamonds)

Like a shining beacon in the sky, the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the Yangon skyline. This 112m (367ft) golden, gilded stupa sits atop the 51m (168 ft) Singuttara Hill and can be seen from anywhere throughout the city.

Myanmar’s most prominent holy site houses four sacred relics, most notably eight strands hair belonging to the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Guatama. And it is upon these eight hairs which the king of Dagon (former name of Yangon along with Rangoon) would build and enshrine the artefacts within the pagoda.

Shwedagon’s Steep Price Tag

At nearly 2,600-years-old, Shwedagon has the distinction of not just being the world’s oldest pagoda – it also lays claim to being the world’s most expensive. The central stupa alone is plated with over 20,000 bars of gold, which becomes more apparent in the evening when bright lights illuminate its golden spires.

But the pagoda’s most valuable asset is the stupa’s crown, known as the ‘umbrella’. Approximately 5,500 diamonds, 2,300 rubies and 4,000 golden bells and other precious gemstones line the crown. And sitting at the very top of the umbrella is its largest and most precious gemstone, a 72-carat (15 grams) diamond. The gem-encrusted ‘Crown of Burma’ is estimated to be valued at $3 billion USD – that’s roughly 5% of Myanmar’s annual GDP!

The International City of Yangon

Although Heritage Line’s Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) and Chindwin river cruises depart from Bagan or Mandalay in central Myanmar, most international visitors arrive by air in Yangon before transiting to other destinations.

While in the country’s largest city, be mesmerized by one of Burma’s most fascinating national landmarks. A visit in the late afternoon is recommended so you can witness the splendour of Shwedagon Pagoda during daylight hours as well as after sunset.