Officially called Yadana Labamuni Hsu-taungpye Paya, this Myanmar pagoda is generally known by another name: Hmwe Paya, or the “Snake Pagoda.” This out-of-the-way pagoda near Mandalay is distinguished by the large pythons who live happily coiled around the Buddha statue within.
The temple was founded in 1974 when a Buddhist monk was tending the old pagoda. Inside, the monk found two large pythons wrapped around a statue of Buddha. The monk dutifully carried the snakes out to the jungle and returned to clean the pagoda. Within a day the snakes were back, and a third had joined. Each time, the monks would carry the snakes out to the jungle, and each time they would return. Eventually the monks came to see the snakes as holy, possibly the reincarnated souls of monks who used to tend to the pagoda. The monks stopped removing the snakes and instead began taking care of them.
They take such nice care of them, in fact, that it makes sense that the snakes like to hang around the pagoda. The two pythons currently in residence are fed a pot of milk and three eggs every five days as well as a small amount of goat meat. Every morning at 11:00 a.m., the snakes are lovingly washed by the monks in a bath filled with flower petals. They are sometimes even dried with money left as an offering at the pagoda.
Each year, thousands of the faithful make a pilgrimage to the temple, and the walls of the pagoda are lined with photos of families visiting the semi-holy serpents. Some depict toddlers happily bathing alongside the snakes. They snakes have never been known to injure anyone and seem quite happy to be touched by the visitors.
Though the original pythons have died, new snakes have since been donated by faithful followers. The original snakes can still be seen in the pagoda, albeit in a taxidermied state. Considering the level of care the snakes receive, the snakes no doubt lived a long and happy life.
The area surrounding the snake pagoda is also worth exploring and is full of overgrown and beautiful ruins rarely visited by tourists.
Know Before You Go
It's best to get a car and driver in nearby Mandalay.
- visit in 2008, Lonely Planet