Chaukhtatgyi Paya, with its 65-meter-long reclining Buddha, is not only a must-see, its sheer size and rich details make it one of the most memorable stops in all of Yangon. The Buddha’s bright white face hovers some 16 meters above the ground and is decorated with brilliant red lips and bright blue eye shadow. Its golden robes drape down to the statue’s feet, which are covered in 108 intricately designed lakshanas representing each of the noble characteristics of the Buddha. Travelers can witness local monks from nearby monasteries honoring Buddha’s teachings as they wander the grounds, thick with the scent of burning incense and fresh flowers.
Located southwest of Mandalay Hill in Myanmar, the Mahamuni Pagoda (also called the Mahamuni Buddha Temple) honors the Mahamuni (Great Sage) expression of the Buddha. The temple, arguably the most important to the residents of Mandalay, was built to house a 12-foot (3.8-meter) tall statue of the Buddha that was already ancient when King Bodawpaya conquered Arakan and claimed it in 1784.
According to local legend, the statue was cast while the Buddha was still alive, but it was more likely cast some six centuries after his death, somewhere around 150 AD. No matter its origins, the statue is highly venerated by devotees — evidenced by the inches thick layer of pure gold leaf that has been added to the metal statue over the centuries. The pagoda courtyard houses six more statues, Khmer bronze pieces of lions, elephants and warriors, that were taken as war loot from Angkor Wat during the fifteenth century. It is believed that rubbing these statues imparts healing.
Since 1926 this city heritage site known for its rare antiques, old coins, Burmese jade and black market moneychangers has been a destination for locals and travelers alike. The halls of this crowded labyrinth are lined with bustling stalls where local artists sell traditional handicrafts, handmade clothes and hearty regional dishes.
Bogyoke Aung San Market has one of the largest selections of traditional longyi and gemstones, and since the first sale of the day is considered good luck, those who arrive early are likely to get some of the best prices. Travelers can watch jade being fashioned into earrings or bracelets and see clothes being stitched by hand on the second floor of Bogyoke.
Visitors looking to escape the intensity of the market and the sounds of the city can stop into the nearby Holy Trinity Cathedral for some peace and quiet contemplation.
About 11 kilometers south of Mandalay, just between the Taungthaman Lake and the Ayeyarwady River, lays the small town of Amarapura, another former capital of the old Burmese kingdom. Apart from pagodas and the ruins of the ancient palace, the city offers one of Myanmar’s most photographed sights: the narrow, 1,200-meter-long U Bein bridge, which made entirely out of teak wood. The gangly looking bridge was built in 1784, but is still in mint condition and never needed any serious repairs. It was named after its founder, a former mayor, and was built from over 1,000 teak logs, partially even with the ruins of the abandoned royal city. Thus, for its incredible length spanning the lake, the U Bein bridge is recognized as the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Sunsets are especially popular, as the setting sun creates a beautiful silhouette of the bridge, photos of which adorn many a living room at home.
Bago lies about 85 kilometers north of Yangon and was founded in 573 AD. The city was one called Pegu by the British and used to be the capital of the powerful Mon Kingdom for centuries. According to records, Bago was then still connected to the ocean and was actually known as Burma’s largest seaport. Travelers from far and near boasted about its size and beauty when returning home from their journeys. These days, the power of the once important empire can only be guessed at by visiting the many sights Bago has to offer. Among those are many small and big Buddha statues, pagodas, ceremonial items and gardens. One of the biggest and oldest reclining Buddhas in the world, which was only rediscovered in 1881, when workers started clearing the jungle for a new train route from Yangon to Bago can be found in the city. Even older are the four 27-meter-tall Buddhas, which were built by King Migadippa in the 7th century, sitting back to back at the entrance to the city.