Bagan – that fairytale-like, but still very much a real destination in Myanmar, is one of those places you can not even describe. It is one of those places you need to experience your self to understand. Over the years, I’ve been to many historically significant temples over the years, ranging from Angkor Wat to Chicen Itza, but no place has gotten me as speechless as Bagan did.
Bagan, the ancient capital of Myanmar was home to the royals for several centuries. The history of the area is diverse and extremely interesting, but what makes the place such an interesting destination for tourists is the temples. Between the 12th and 14th century over 10 000 temples of various sizes rose in Bagan plains, all within a tiny area of under 70square kilometers. The years passed, the capital moved several times in the country, Bagan saw its collapse and so did many of the temples after that. During the centuries after the collapse of Bagan, eosion has heavily damaged the area and the pagodas and today, only 2200 are estimated to be still standing. But, regularly one pagoda after another comes crumbling down. Naturally this has led to constantly rising concerns for the future of this historically valuable area in Myanmar, as well as globally.
Bagan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Myanmar, and for a reason. No matter where you look in the city, you will see the temples, most often dozens of them. I believe that anyone who has ever looked up Myanmar as a tourist destination, has seen pictures of this magical place where the temples rise up from the ground and fill up the horizon as far as the eye. Generally, there is also a magical sunset or sunrise coloring the picture. The sight is very much unique and almost like out of this world. I have to admit, that witnessing the sunrise and sunsets on top of a large, but remote pagoda were one of the most magical experiences in my life. I already wrote about the experience and strongly advised everyone to seriously consider traveling to Bagan, just to witness this same magical sight. Little did I know what was waiting ahead.
It seem now, that I was even luckier than I originally thought, when I travelled to Bagan when it still was possible to climb almost any of the pagodas we saw. Turns out that the ministry of Culture in Myanmar has announced this week that they will be banning all climbing to the pagodas starting next week.
As the number of tourists arriving to Myanmar are rapidly growing. This also means that Bagan is visited by even more tourists in the future. already now this magical area is changing quickly with the influx of tourism. The quickly deteriorating pagodas are under heavy stress daily as every single tourist visiting the area want to experience the same magical sight as we did and climb up the pagodas.
The news of the ban were published on Monday, but already on Tuesday there was an amendment – climbing is banned everywhere except five designated pagodas. Great! Or wait, maybe not. Already now, when tourist numbers were still low and when you were allowed to climb on nearly all of the pagodas, the largest ones were relatively crowded. I do not even want to think what they will be like when there are even more tourists in the city and only a handful of pagodas to climb. Even less I want to think what this increased load will cause to the few selected pagodas that you can climb.
Although the views from the top of the pagodas were incredible, Bagan is still an awesome destination to visit even if you only get to view the pagodas from the ground level – they are pretty impressive still. Despite that, I can’t help but to feel a bit sorry for everyone who has the pagoda-spotting in Bagan on their bucket list, as the experience most likely will not be the same anymore. While I keep hoping the ban will not become active, I’m also very happy about it at the same time. After all, the purpose is to protect that priceless, historically significant site from a total destruction.