Anger in tourism industry after govt bans Bagan sunset viewing

Anger in tourism industry after govt bans Bagan sunset viewing

Foreign tourists flock to view the sunset at Shwesandaw Pagoda in Bagan city, Myanmar, on Nov 10, 2015. The pagoda is one of the famous tourist attraction to view sunset and sunrise. (EPA photo)
Foreign tourists flock to view the sunset at Shwesandaw Pagoda in Bagan city, Myanmar, on Nov 10, 2015. The pagoda is one of the famous tourist attraction to view sunset and sunrise. (EPA photo)

Tourism industry leaders in Bagan have condemned a Ministry of Culture decision to ban visitors from climbing on ancient pagodas in the world-renowned archaeological zone.

Tourism industry leaders in Bagan have condemned a Ministry of Culture decision to ban visitors from climbing on ancient pagodas in the world-renowned archaeological zone.

Watching the sunset from the top of a pagoda is one of Bagan’s main tourism drawcards, and is regularly cited as a “must-do” when visiting Myanmar.

But the Ministry of Culture said on Monday all climbing on pagodas would be banned from March 1, following public backlash against a video showing a song-and-dance performance on top of one structure, the Myanmar Times reported on Tuesday.

The ministry said in a post to its Facebook page that it took the decision because a medical company had conducted a cultural show on Pyathagyi Pagoda in the second week of February, describing dancing and singing on pagodas as having an “ugly impact” on Myanmar’s culture.

The ban will also ensure the pagodas are “maintained for the long term”, the ministry said.

The growing number of local and foreign visitors to Bagan – the number of foreigners has more than doubled since 2011, from 120,000 to 250,000 last year – means hundreds are turning up each evening to ascend the temples, placing strain on the ancient structures.

But tourism business operators in Bagan were scathing of the decision, which they said was poorly thought out and damaging for the industry.

“I’m totally against the decision. The main reason tourists come here is to enjoy the views from the pagodas. This will damage the image of Bagan,” said Zaw Win Cho, chairman of the Bagan Guide Association.

“We want this decision to be reconsidered. They can punish this [medical] company directly. If they think climbing damages the pagodas, they should only allow it on temples that have no ancient art, have a strong structure and can hold over 300 people. That would solve the problem,” he said.

Another business owner in Bagan suggested that alternative viewing sites should be arranged before any ban is introduced.

“Tourists will be upset when they come and visit to Bagan but are not allowed to climb the pagodas,” said Khin Maung Htwe from New Bagan, who runs a travel agency and restaurant. He said businesses were also upset at the ministry’s failure to consult with them before making decisions about managing the archaeological site.

Bagan has more than 3000 ancient pagodas and temples, of which five are particularly popular for watching sunsets: Shwesandaw, Thitsarwady, Pyathetgyi, Shwenanyindaw and Oah Chan Pae Kone.

As the Myanmar Times reported last month, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has proposed building a raised earthen bank at the northwest corner of Nyaung Lat Phat pond near Sulamani temple for tourists to watch sunsets. The proposal is being considered by the government.


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