Botataung pagoda is the lesser known of “the three pagodas” of Yangon. While it may not not have the flare of Shwedagon or the stature of Sule, inside its golden-leafed walls is laid a hair of the Buddha, making it a significant religious site for Buddhists.
It’s the history too that makes this pagoda particularly interesting. “Bo” translates to “military leaders” and “tataung” is the word for 1,000. The story goes that 1,000 military officers welcomed Buddha relics, including a hair, that were brought from India to Burma more than 2,000 years ago. The pagoda was built to house the hair and other relics, which can now be seen behind glass around each turn of the golden labyrinth that zig-zags around the inside of the hollow stupa.
The original pagoda was bombed by an RAF pilot during World War II; it was completely rebuilt when Burma won independence from the British shortly afterwards, following the same design and dimensions as the original. A chamber housing relics and treasures was discovered during the rebuilding process.
Within the compound sits a large bronze Buddha statue, which travelled to India and London before returning back to Burma in 1951. The bridge leading over the turtle pond offers a calm space to sit and watch as people feed the turtles and release fish into the pond to gain merit.
The atmosphere is more open and relaxed at Botataung than the other better known pagodas, as it sits at the outer end of downtown on a wharf. Religious characters on pilgrimages cross paths with teenage love-birds who’ve come to enjoy the cool harbour breeze and gardens.
Venders outline the entrance off Strand Road and follow Botataung Road as it passes through a golden archway. To the left after entering is a colourful monastery where novice monks can usually be seen watching the crowds from the second floor or interacting with the older monks. Further along the road opens up to a gigantic parking lot for the wharf that doubles as multiple football fields for locals to play on after work. A tea shop and a beer station are set up overlooking the concrete fields and enjoy great sunset views — take a break from sightseeing here at the end of the day and then look again at the pagoda, which looks completely different when it’s aglow with its lights switched on.
Recently the price for foreigners to enter the pagoda has risen to a flat fee of US$3, which should be paid inside at a booth that is supposed to accept your money and your shoes. They have been known to collect far more than that amount if you’re paying in kyat, so if you mention that you are aware 3,000 kyat is more than US$3, they should accept it.
By Christopher Smith.
Last updated on 27th March, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.