I had a vague idea of the existence of the Shwedagon Pagoda before I took off my shoes and socks at its entrance and handed them over for safe keeping. The complex features as a wonder in the computer game Civilisation 4, a pursuit I’d engage with when wanting nothing better to do.
Building the wonder in the game adds additional culture points to your score and initiates a short video narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Normally I click this off almost as soon as it begins and get on with the serious business of attempting world domination but if you see two seconds of something over and over again sooner or later it begins to stick in your mind.
The video focuses on the building of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Beginning over 2600 years ago with its imagined architectural blueprints, the animated building rises to its full 99 metre height without any sense that completion took millennia of kings adding tonnes of bling onto the top of a casket containing eight hairs from the Buddha.
Today the top of the stupa is encrusted with thousands of gemstones and crowned with a 72 carat diamond. Encircling the stupa are numerous gilded buildings housing golden idols illuminated with varying degrees of flashing neon.
Should you ever happen to find yourself waiting in line for a Burmese visa and booking a ticket to Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda’s gaudy glory is a true must see to rival the far more famous Angkor temples in Cambodia.
Entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda is $5 (4500kyt) between 4am and 10pm.