Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

40 years ago my mum visited Yangon on a 24-hour visa - the only type then available to foreigners. She was backpacking across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia on a shoe-string budget with a friend, and stopped off in Rangoon (as it was then called).

Her strongest memory of that closed city was of gold; brilliant golden temples that rose above a canopy of trees. 

That was Shwedagon Pagoda.

These days, there's not much sign of a canopy-covered vegetation in Yangon as construction booms. Roads, bridges, buildings and even a new airport are all underway, as the ensuing traffic and dust can evidence.

But Shwedagon shines above all that (and not just because it's on a mountain). It is truly spectacular. On our last day in Yangon, we visited Myanmar's most famous golden pagoda.

We weren't the only ones; I hadn't realised that it was Independence Day and the pagoda was swamped with visitors. I didn't appreciate this at the entrance when I was squeezed into a line, through the beeping-yet-unmanned metal detectors and into an elevator but I did when I stepped out into the sunshine.

The brilliant colours of a thousand or so brightly coloured longyis weaving around golden temples against a bright blue sky is surely a travel blogger's dream. I found myself taking more photos of the people than the temples; together the two were pretty special.

Visitors poured into the pagoda through one of five entrances. Shwedagon is the most important Buddhist shrine in Myanmar. It is said to be over 2,500 years old (though rebuilt many times) and contain 8 hairs of Buddha, as well as 27 tonnes of gold leaf and thousands of precious gems.

One of the four stairwells (north, south, east and west). Flowers, tinsel decorations, trinkets, statues, incense, and other offerings line the stairs to people to buy.

One of the four stairwells (north, south, east and west). Flowers, tinsel decorations, trinkets, statues, incense, and other offerings line the stairs to people to buy.

Incense sticks burn around a small stupa while monks and people pray and lay flowers

Incense sticks burn around a small stupa while monks and people pray and lay flowers

A little girl reads the inscription carved on the pillar

A little girl reads the inscription carved on the pillar

This whole temple is covered in a mosaic of tiny mirrors

This whole temple is covered in a mosaic of tiny mirrors

It was such a cheerful atmosphere with families, old and young, children and babies, wandering the pagoda, taking photos, eating, praying, and enjoying a beautiful sunny day. 

Everyone was getting in on the act.

Everyone was getting in on the act.

Do you like wandering through temples?

Shwedagon is open from 4am-10pm daily. Every taxi knows where it is. Go early for the tranquility, late for the lights, or on a public holiday for the carnival atmosphere. Entry for foreigners is $US8 and you get an attractive sticker that marks you out for photo ops and guides. Wear appropriate clothing including pants that cover the knees for both women and men. A no-shoe policy applies; there's a shoe check in counter near the elevator.