Fifty years ago there was a giant standing buddha poking his head above the temples and monasteries here, but one day he got tired and collapsed into a heap on the floor, whereupon he was replaced with the monster-sized lazy reclining buddha you see today. One of Myanmar’s more beautiful reclining buddhas, the placid face of the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha is topped by a crown encrusted in diamonds and other precious stones. Housed in a large metal-roofed shed, only a short distance northeast of the Shwedagon Paya, this huge figure is surprisingly little known and hardly publicised at all. Close to the buddha’s feet is the small shrine to Ma Thay, a holy man who has the power to stop rain and grant sailors a safe journey. Fortune-tellers on the surrounding platform offer astrological and palm readings.
Attached to the temple complex is the Shweminwon Sasana Yeiktha Meditation Centre, where large numbers of locals gather to meditate. It’s not hard to find someone to show you around the adjoining monasteries, which until the protests of September 2007 housed 500 monks but now provide a home for only 300 – many of them returned to a civilian life where it’s easier to hide from the authorities.