Shwe Baw Kyune

At first glance this monastery looks like a 20th-century structure. Historians, though, say it was built in the 13th century, while monastic fables suggest it was founded two millennia ago when an Indian prince turned up with seven holy bone fragments of the Buddha. These are now encased within small buddha statuettes decorated over the centuries with layers of gold leaf.

While they form the monastery's priceless main treasure (dattaw), for non-Buddhists the monastery is far more interesting for its extraordinary array of over 7000 closely packed stupas, ancient and modern, which fill the eastern end of the small island the complex sits on. Some are whitewashed, others gilded and many more are mere piles of antique bricks with just traces of former stucco detail. Most appear to have been suffocated for years by foliage, Angkor Wat–style. Getting to the outlying stupas is very uncomfortable barefoot, due to all the stubble and thorns (carry your sandals).

Hidden here and there are dozens of tiny buddha statues and the odd brick-and-stucco lion. The whole scene is made even more photogenic by a series of pyatthat (stepped towers) that flanks the monastery’s central golden-tipped stupa. And the island setting, with its tree-shaded village of wooden stilt houses, makes for a wonderfully peaceful environment. There’s a big local festival here in the week leading up to the full moon of Tabaung.

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