Skip to Content

The Shwesandaw Pagoda in Pyay is Bigger Than the Shwedagon!

All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold.

Except in the case of the Shwesandaw Pagoda, it is.

And yes, you heard right. 

We’re not talking about the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in bustling Yangon.

Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyay
Located on a hilltop in the center of tow, the Shwesandaw Pagoda is an important Buddhist pilgramage site in Myanmar

We’re talking about the even taller Shwesandaw Pagoda in the country town of Pyay.

And this pagoda is three feet higher than the Shwedagon.

Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyay

The Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyay, is one of the most impressive sights in Myanmar
The Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyay, is one of the most impressive sights in Myanmar

The Shwesandaw Pagoda in Pyaa is mighty striking.

Also, just to confuse you a little further, this isn’t the same Shwesandaw Pagoda as the one in Bagan.

Shwesandaw Pagoda
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is three feet taller than the more famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (which is over 300 feet high)

There are thousands of fabulous pagodas and temples in Bagan.

And you guessed it, there’s the exact same name of pagoda there in Bagan (which also happens to be the tallest pagoda in Bagan).

In fact, we understand there are four Shwesandaw Pagodas in Myanmar – in Bagan, Taungoo, Twante and here in Pyay.

Worshippers at the Shwesandaw Pagoda, Myanmar
There were few other visitors at the Shwesandaw Pagoda (no international tourists) when we visited

We visited the Pyay pagoda, gilded in gold leaf, while cruising up Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River (aka Irrawaddy River).

The pagoda is said to date back to 589 BC and contain four strands of the Buddha’s hair – hence its name “Shwesandaw,” meaning the “golden hair relics.”

A ramp leads from the top of the elevator to the base of the Shwesandaw Pagoda
A ramp leads from the top of the elevator to the base of the Shwesandaw Pagoda

There are 64 smaller pagodas surrounding the main bell-shaped stupa, which rises from a terraced base.

To reach the pagoda’s platform, we took an elevator up.

Numerous side halls surround the pagoda, housing different large Buddha statues like these

From the back side of the pagoda, we had wonderful views of the imposing Sehtatgyi Buddha (meaning literally “10-storey Buddha”), rising up over the treeline opposite.

From the Shwesandaw Pagoda, we saw the 10-storey Buddha looking back at us.
From the Shwesandaw Pagoda, we saw the 10-storey Buddha looking back at us

The Shwesandaw was the first gold pagoda we toured in Myanmar (Burma). And it caused our jaws to drop.

It was hard to take pictures that captured the sheer size and scale of the place.

But this is an important pilgrimage site – one that is worth visiting. And one of the best Myanmar temples to see.

Monks wait to take the elevator back down from the Shwesandaw Pagoda
Monks wait to take the elevator back down from the Shwesandaw Pagoda

Experience more of Asia!

Thailand: See stalactites and stalagmites. And squeeze through narrow tunnels to enter wondrous sea caves. Sea canoeing in Phang Nga Bay is a day trip of a lifetime!

Singapore: The Singapore Botanical Gardens are a tropical Eden.

Bali: Watching Balinese dance? Monkeying around in the Ubud Monkey Forest? Exploring abandoned airplanes? Oh yes. There are lots of fun things for couples to do on Bali.

Sri Lanka: From climbing the UNESCO rock temple of Sigiriya to roaming the colonial fort city of Galley, this 2-week Sri Lanka itinerary shows you the best of the island!

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!

Photo credits: 2, 4 to 7 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

Have you seen any of Myanmar’s golden pagodas?

Which one is your favorite?

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!


Saturday 25th of July 2015

I'm scheduled to visit Myanmar sometime next year. After reading your post and seeing the great shots you got I'm really excited to go now! Thanks for sharing. Any suggestions or advice you want to give me before I go?

Janice and George

Monday 27th of July 2015

Lucky you! It's good you're visiting in the near future, as Myanmar is changing rapidly now that Aung San Suu Kyi (the country's democratic opposition leader) has invited the world to visit). Tips? Do allow a couple of days or more to visit Bagan and soak up the atmosphere of all its pagodas there. And we'd suggest a river cruise on the Irrawaddy River as well, as that's the best way to visit some of the country (infrastructure beyond Yangon is still relatively undeveloped). We've written a long post on Yangon and more posts about the country which you might find helpful too - see our Myanmar posts on our blog.


Friday 24th of July 2015

Oh, I'd heard about this pagoda but unfortunately it wasn't on my route! You were lucky to be able to see it on the cruise!

Lara Dunston

Sunday 19th of July 2015

Stunning pics, you two. Isn't Myanmar just amazing? We're madly in love with it right now after spending a month there updating a guidebook chapter. Nightmare job but didn't detract from the beauty of the place. Planning a return trip. Still so off-the-beaten-track. While tourism is picking up, it surprises me why there aren't more people there. It's so easy to travel there too now, with the e-visas (our's was done the same day) and dirt-cheap flights from Bangkok. Will you return?

Janice and George

Monday 20th of July 2015

Yes, we could easily return to Myanmar :-). We'd like to visit Inle Lake and see the one-legged boat rowers. And we hear Nagapali Beach is pristine for some R&R.


Wednesday 15th of July 2015

So amazing. I studied Myanmar's temples & pagodas in college (Asian art history classes) but I've never seen them in person.

Lara Dunston

Sunday 19th of July 2015

Jenna, you must go if you've studied Myanmar - it's a magical place, you'll just love it.

Janice and George

Wednesday 15th of July 2015

Interesting that you learned about Myanmar's pagodas in college! You should try to make it there someday - see if it brings back memories of what you learned :-).


Monday 13th of July 2015

Thanks for this posting! I really enjoyed reading it. I am bookmarking your blog and will come back to it again.