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Mysterious Myanmar Temple Tips Pagodas, stupas, temples – which is which?

July 29, 2017 Destination ASEAN No Comments Email Email

A deluxe voyage on the Ayeyarwady River with The Strand Cruise takes visitors to some of the world’s most spectacular spiritual and cultural icons, but determining the difference between stupas, temples, and pagodas can be challenging, even for seasoned travellers.

While ‘temple fatigue’ often sets in for visitors to Asia, enjoying these captivating cultural icons as part of a broader itinerary aboard The Strand Cruise ensures you’ll experience a balanced blend between significant landmarks, fascinating heritage, magical markets, breathtaking riverside scenery, and delectable local cuisine.

To help navigate these stunning sights, enjoyed on small-group guided shore excursions, the expert staff from The Strand Cruise are sharing their favourite cultural highlights, essential temple etiquette and a go-to guide on the distinction between temple types.

Magical Myanmar – which spiritual landmark is which?

While Myanmar is home to Buddhist pagodas, stupas and temples aplenty, first-time visitors can (understandably) struggle to distinguish between them. To help, here are the differences between the three different places of worship:


Known in Burmese as payas, a pagoda is a stupa (a memorial structure with a relic chamber above or below its bell-shaped central section), together with the enclosure which surrounds it, usually a multi-tiered building with multiple eaves. Constructed in a range of sizes, from petite to vast and in finishes from simple stucco to solid gold, large pagodas are typically built upon a series of terraces and include interior space.


Temple is a generic name for a place of worship or meditation. You’ll often find a pagoda within a ‘temple’.


Traditionally, an ancient Indian burial monument, the key element of a stupa is a solid hemispherical mound of earth called an ‘egg’ (anda) or ‘womb’ (garbha). On top of this mound is a square or rectangular shape surrounded by a four-sided railing (harmika) which harks back to the days when the village altar was housed inside a fenced enclosure. In the middle of this is a pillar sprouting an odd number of circular discs resembling a tiered parasol. This architecture was intended to reflect the idea of Buddha as a cosmic spiritual being.

Staff picks

Neville Joseph, Cruise Manager on board The Strand Cruise, says it’s difficult to choose a favourite port destination along the Ayeyarwady River journey, but there’s something magical about the sunrise over the Buledi Pagoda at Bagan.  “Each voyage down the Ayeyarwady takes in the most spectacular sights of local life on the riverbank, stunning scenery and the most incredible vistas, and includes on-shore visits to temples, stupas and nats. Sunrise at Bagan, especially with all the early morning hot air balloons floating gracefully over the pagodas, is certainly a sight that guests will treasure,” says Neville. 

Temple etiquette tips 

Feet: Typically you’ll need to remove your shoes outside the temple compound and leave them on a rack at the main gate (although some temples will allow you to carry them with you in a plastic bag). Slip-on shoes are a handy item to pack in your luggage when travelling to Myanmar.

Hands: Remember not to use your finger to point at people or at any religious imagery, keep your palms open instead.

Clothing: It’s important not to wear revealing clothing when visiting temples. For women, low-cut tops are frowned upon, as are singlet tops for both sexes – shoulders should be covered. Short shorts or skirts are also a no-no – knees should also be covered. Bring a spare shawl or sarong if you’re unsure.

Talking: Talking is fine in temples so long as you keep your voice down – unless there is a specific sign asking for silence, in which case you should adhere to it.

Photography: Check the rules around photography with each individual temple. 

The Strand Cruise

The Strand Cruise is a reinvention of the legendary style and unique personality of its sister hotel, The Strand Yangon, within a contemporary river cruise experience, with design touches that evoke the character of the Strand in its heyday as a meeting place for explorers and raconteurs, combined with latest creature comforts and technology. Passengers can complement their cruise with a stay at the recently refurbished The Strand Yangon:

A luxury touring experience, The Strand Cruise is acclaimed for its flawless service, insightful guides, exceptional comfort, an on-board wellness spa, international chef, expert sommelier, upper deck swimming pool and personal butler service.

The Strand Cruise three and four day itineraries include three meals a day, soft drinks and local beer, house wine during meals, port charges, English-speaking guides, many on-board activities, shore excursions and satellite WI-FI in all cabins and public areas.

Itinerary Highlights

Highlights of voyages aboard The Strand Cruise include Bagan’s lacquerware houses, the former capital, Mingun, the U-Bein Bridge, the ancient imperial capital of Ava, the famous gold-leaf Shwezigon Pagoda, Paya Hsinbyme and the Ananda, Sulamani, Gubyaukgyi, Mahamui and Shwe San Daw temples.

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