Myanmar, formerly known as Burma is a delightful country in Southeast Asia that is home to stunning beaches, tropical jungles, and more than 100 different ethnic groups. Saying it’s a diverse country is an understatement.
The capital Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is the biggest city in Myanmar and most likely the place you’ll arrive in when visiting Myanmar. Yangon is alive with bustling streets, markets, lakes, parks, and much more. It’s the perfect place to plan and connect to all the adventures you want to have in Myanmar.
Myanmar is home to thousands of Buddhist temples and pagodas and you should definitely visit a few of them whilst you’re there. Now, there is no way you can see them all, there are just too many of them, so we have made it a little easier by pulling together the best Myanmar temples for you to add as stops along your way.
While you’re Yangon, on your way into or out of Myanmar, you have to go and see the Shwedagon Pagoda which you’ll find just outside of Yangon’s city center.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is by far one of the best Myanmar temples to see and is recognized as the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in the country. This is because it’s said to have relics of the 4 Buddhas including Koṇāgamana’s water filter, Kakusandha’s staff, 8 strands of Gautama’s hair, and a piece of Kassapa’s robe.
It’s believed that the Shwedagon Pagoda was built over 2600 years ago, which if proven would make it the oldest Buddhist temple in the world. Legend has it that a pair of merchant brothers actually met the Buddha Guatama and were given 8 strands of his hair which they then presented to King Okkalapa of Dagon who put them together with the other relics in a shrine we now know as Shwedagon Pagoda.
Walking around the Shwedagon Pagoda is absolutely dazzling. The entire build is shining gold and covered with gems. It’s quite mind-blowing. The Shwedagon Pagoda is also huge and stands 112 meters high on top of Singuttara Hill.
It’s the highest building in Yangon and it dominates the skyline and will forever. The build restrictions for the capital can not exceed 127 meters, which is 75% of the Shwedagon Pagoda when you take into account it’s on a 51-meter hill. This means the Shwedagon Pagoda shall always sit looking down on Yangon and own its skyline.
When you’re visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda you should expect quite a lot of crowds but don’t let this put you off, as it’s a big space and you’ll never feel claustrophobic.
It’s best to arrive at the Shwedagon Pagoda around 430pm so you can see it in the daylight and then catch the beautiful sunset views after which the Shwedagon Pagoda is lit up as soon as it falls dark. This way you’ll get to see it in all its best moments.
In central Myanmar between two mountainous regions lies the town of the Bagan along the Irrawaddy River and along with it an amazing Myanmar temple, the Ananda Temple.
The Ananda Temple is a Buddhist temple that was built by order of the King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty way back in 1105 AD. King Kyansittha wasn’t very nice about it and the legend of how the Ananda Temple came to be is a little tragic.
It’s said that 8 Buddhist monks went to the King and have him an excellent description of the Nandamula Cave temple in the Himalayas which they had once visit. The King, intrigued by the description, invited them to the palace to hear more where the monks passed on the landscape and temple via meditative skills.
The King then requested the monks to build the Ananda Temple on the Bagan plains that would stay cool despite the conditions. Once the monks completed the temple, the King mercilessly had them killed so that the Ananda Temple would remain unique.
While visiting the temple you’ll find several terraces, a stunning umbrella top on the pagoda, 4 Buddhas standing and facing East, West, North, and South, along with hundreds of special details like carvings. It’s a truly beautifully built temple and is and said to be architecturally amazing as it fuses Indian and Mon styles of architecture. So much so it is known as the “Westminster Abbey of Burma”.
The temple was damaged in an earthquake back in 1975 but was restored and is excellently maintained today. if you’re in the Bagan area, the Ananda Temple is a must-see.
Just to the east of the Ananda Temple at Bagan, you’ll find the Taung Kalat Temple & Monastery sitting on Mount Popa.
Mount Popa is an extinct volcano and the Taung Kalat Temple & Monastery was built on a 225-meter tall volcanic plug that rises from Mount Popa and is known as one of the spiritual sites connect to Mount Popa.
Due to the spiritual site that the Taung Kalat Temple & Monastery is built on, it has become a very important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists seeking to connect to the source of nat spiritual energy.
To visit the Taung Kalat Temple & Monastery which sits 225 meters high requires a little bit of legwork. There are 777 steps that you’ll need to climb before you’ll reach the top. The climb is actually quite fun as you’ll be accompanied by a lot of monkeys and every time you pause for a breath on the way up, you’ll find the view gets better and better as you look further and further over the plains and into the valleys.
One of the nicest things about this temple is how remote it is and it’s one of the best Myanmar temples if you’re looking for a peaceful visit full of meditation and reflection.
While walking around the Taung Kalat Temple & Monastery you can not help but be a little stunned by the amazing gold stupa along with all the stunning statues of Buddhas and the wall carvings to go with them.
While you’re there you should also explore Mount Popa itself. It’s covered in springs, streams, lush forest and will soon be a national park.
The Htukkanthein Temple can be found in Mrauk U, the ancient Arakanese city that sits just a few minutes away from the western coast of Myanmar. The location of the Htukkanthein Temple has a lot to do with its architectural design and it was built with two purposes – to be a temple and a fortress.
The Htukkanthein Temple is built on raised ground and features just one entrance and tiny windows. It looks incredibly militaristic and it’s thought that the temples may have been used as a place for Buddhists to retreat to during times of conflict. This would make a lot of sense consider the seaside location and that all the temples in Mrauk U also feature this dual-purpose style.
The Htukkanthein Temple was built way back in 1571 by King Min Phalaung and was made from brick and stone. It survived time very well and as you walk around it today you’ll be able to see the dome-topped hti, four corner stupas, and 3 main chambers along with 180 images of Buddha and the men and women who built the temple.
You’ll walk through mazes in a dark setting that will lead you inwards where you’ll find a large central statue of Buddha sitting in the middle.
It’s not your average temple visit but it’s well worth it. If you arrive for sunrise you’ll be able to catch the sun’s rays shining through a special window in the dome onto the central Buddha.
North of Mount Popa and Bagan is the town of Mandalay and it’s where you’ll find the Mahamuni Buddha Temple one of the best Myanmar temples to visit, especially if you’re in need of a break from the busy streets of Mandalay.
The Mahamuni Buddha Temple is quite famous and a hotspot for pilgrimage as it’s said to hold one of the only five likenesses of the Buddha ever created during his lifetime on earth. Two were in paradise, two in India, and one in Myanmar.
Legend has it that Buddha visited the Dhanyawadi city of Arakan in 554 BC and when doing so the King at the time, King Sanda Thuriya asked that an image be cast of him. After it was cast, Buddha breathed on it and it then morphed into his exact likeness, Mahamuni Buddha.
The Mahamuni Buddha image was moved from Araka and is not found in the Mahamuni Buddha Temple and it’s seen as an expression of Buddha’s life which the locals take very seriously.
While visiting the Mahamuni Buddha Temple you’ll, of course, see the 13ft image of Buddha along with a stunning golden spire that protrudes from the red and white structure. There are also lots of little halls leading to secrete nooks where you can reflect and meditate.
You can also visit the art museum within the temple grounds to get a deeper understanding of the history of the temple.
The Bayin Nyi Temple is named after the Bayin Nyi cave which it is built into. The temple is tucked away from the public sight and is quite an enchanted place to hang out. On arrival, there are hot springs you can bathe in and then it’s time to find the temple.
The Bayin Nyi Temple is absolutely stunning. It sits above a crystal clear lake of water and is awash with colors that stand out from the stunning rock formations and forest that are its backdrop.
While walking around the Bayin Nyi Temple you’ll notice the many golden umbrellas and the small stunningly made pagoda. There are carvings and Budhha statues all over the place and once you enter the caves things change a little, as it’s not like your normal Myanmar temple experience.
Walking through the caves is quite spooky and you’ll see a seemingly never-ending series of Buddha statues. It’s a great experience and a refreshing change from your classic Myanmar temples.
You can also choose to stay the night at the Bayin Nyi Temple, which is a great way to hang out in nature and enjoy the hot springs as much as possible. One tip is to be cautious with the monkeys as they are very cheeky and will take things out of your hand.
The Hsinbyume Pagoda sits just a few kilometers outside of Mandalay in the small town of Migun along the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The pagoda was built back in 1816 by Bagyidaw and in dedication to the memory of Princess Hsinbyume, his cousin and first consort.
The design of the Pagoda is said to resemble descriptions of the Sulamani pagoda found on the Buddhist sacred mountain, Mount Meru. The lower parts are said to represent the mountain while the seven terraces represent seven mountain ranges that, according to Buddhist mythology, lead up to Mount Meru.
As you can see, there is a huge amount of temples you can visit in Myanmar and they are all incredibly different and diverse from one to the next. You’ll find temples on top of volcanoes, in caves, and even ones built like fortresses to protect the Buddhists of the area, which were all featured above.
No matter where you end up going in Myanmar, you’re not going to be far from a stunning temple to visit, so unless the temples are the main reason for your travels, I would go with your preferred itinerary as you’ll be able to stop at some fantastic temples along the way.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!