The Golden Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung-U

NYAUNG-U, Myanmar (Burma) – The impressive gold stupa is reputed to encase a bone and tooth of The Buddha. It sits in the heart of Nyaung-U, a vibrant and buzzing town near the Bagan Archeological Zone.

Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma

Myanmar / Burma Travel Update

Since I was there, the situation in Myanmar/Burma has changed a lot. In February 2021, a military coup sparked widespread civil unrest and armed conflict.

The U.S. State Department currently advises: "Do not travel to Burma due to civil unrest and armed conflict." You can find their full travel advisory and security alerts here. And you can find the British Foreign Office's travel advice for Myanmar / Burma here.

Shwezigon Pagoda is located in Nyaung-U, near Bagan. It was built in the 11th century.

From a large central gold leaf-gilded bell-shaped stupa radiate a number of smaller temples and shrines. The stupa is solid, and legend has it that it enshrines a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.

And if you’ve been to the World’s Largest Book in Mandalay, the stupa might look familiar–the central stupa at Kuthodaw Pagoda is modeled after Shwezigon Pagoda. And, in fact, Shwezigon Pagoda serves as the model of several other pagodas in the region.

Photos of Shwezigon Pagoda

Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Story Depiction at Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Golden Stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
The main golden stupas is the inspiration for the newer Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay (best known for the World’s Largest Book). Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Golden Stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Market Hall Outside Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Golden Stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Golden Stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Goldn Leoglyph at Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Golden leoglyph. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Golden Stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U, Myanmar, Burma
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

More About Shwezigon Pagoda

  • Commissioned by King Anawrahta, the founder of the Pagan Empire
  • Construction began during King Anawrahta’s reign and completed during the reign of his son, King Kyansittha
  • Houses important Buddha relics, including a tooth and frontal bone
  • Designed as a prototype for Burmese stupas, with a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa atop square and rectangular terraces
  • Features terra-cotta tiles and stone pillar with Mon language inscriptions
  • The Shwezigon Festival is held annually in December (9th month of the Burmese calendar)
  • Located on the south bank of the Irrawaddy River, at the edge of Nyaung U village
  • The temple complex includes smaller pagodas, shrines, and statues of the Buddha
  • Entrance guarded by large statues of chinthes (mythical lions) and makaras (sea creatures from Hindu mythology)
  • The main entrance gate features sculptures of the four previous Buddhas: Kassapa, Konagamana, Kakusandha, and Gautama
  • The pagoda has undergone several renovations due to natural calamities, such as earthquakes
  • The central stairway features sculptures of ancient nat spirits, highlighting the blend of Theravada Buddhism and local beliefs

The Shwezigon Pagoda is a stunning example of Burmese architecture, featuring a gold leaf-gilded stupa and ornate decorations. Located in Nyaung-U, near the ancient city of Bagan, the pagoda dates back to the 11th century and holds significant religious and historical importance. As a prototype for Burmese stupas, the Shwezigon Pagoda’s design has influenced countless other temples throughout Myanmar. It is believed to house sacred relics of Gautama Buddha, including a tooth and a frontal bone.

The temple complex comprises several smaller pagodas, shrines, and statues of the Buddha, all set within a walled enclosure. The entrance is guarded by large statues of chinthes (mythical lions) and makaras (sea creatures from Hindu mythology), while the main entrance gate features sculptures of the four previous Buddhas: Kassapa, Konagamana, Kakusandha, and Gautama. Visitors can explore the intricate carvings, sculptures, and glazed terracotta plaques depicting the Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s previous lives.

The Shwezigon Pagoda also plays host to an annual festival in December (the 9th month of the Burmese calendar), which attracts locals and pilgrims alike. During this time, the temple is a bustling hub of religious and cultural activities, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in Myanmar’s rich traditions and heritage.

What’s Nearby to Shwezigon Pagoda

How to Get to Shwezigon Pagoda

The Shwezigon Pagoda is located in the Nyaung-U region of Myanmar, near the ancient city of Bagan. The nearest major airport is Mandalay International Airport (MDL), approximately 180 kilometers away. Nyaung-U also has an airport, but it’s a much smaller airport that only caters to domestic flights and smaller planes.

Nyaung-U, Myanmar (Burma)

What to Know Before You Go

Like so many Burmese words transliterated into English, you’ll come across variations. It’s also sometimes written as Shwe-zi-gon Pagoda.

If you’re flying to Bagan, you’ll almost certainly be flying into Nyaung-U Airport. The airport is close to town, making this an easy first stop en route to Bagan.

Shwezigon Pagoda FAQs

Who built Shwezigon Pagoda and why is it significant?

Shwezigon Pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in the 11th century and is considered to be one of the most significant religious sites in Myanmar. The pagoda is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth relic of the Buddha, and its design has influenced the architecture of many other pagodas in Myanmar.

What is the height of Shwezigon Pagoda and what are its dimensions?

Shwezigon Pagoda stands approximately 161 feet (49 meters) tall and has a base measuring approximately 160 feet (49 meters) on each side. Its bell-shaped stupa is topped by a decorative umbrella known as the hti, which is adorned with gold and precious stones.

What are some of the architectural features of Shwezigon Pagoda?

Shwezigon Pagoda is known for its striking architecture, which blends Burmese, Mon, and Indian influences. It features a terraced base, a bell-shaped stupa, and a circular terrace at the top. The pagoda is adorned with intricate carvings and gilded ornaments, and its grounds are surrounded by a wall with four entrance gates, each guarded by a pair of mythical lion statues.

How can I get to Shwezigon Pagoda?

Shwezigon Pagoda is located in Nyaung-U, Myanmar, just a short distance from the ancient city of Bagan. It is easily accessible by bike, e-bike, or taxi from nearby towns. If you are staying in Bagan, it is possible to visit Shwezigon Pagoda as part of a guided tour or on a self-guided excursion.

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David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »