Lonely Planet Writer

Climbing Myanmar's pagodas off limits to tourists

Visitors will no longer be able to climb the venerated pagodas in Bagan, a city in Myanmar (also known as Burma) to view the city’s famous archaeological sites at sunset from Tuesday 1 March.

Scaling pagodas to watch the magical sunset over the plane of temples in Bagan
Scaling pagodas to watch the magical sunset over the plane of temples in Bagan will not be permitted after March 1 this year Image by Stefan Munder / CC BY 2.0

The government has blamed the measure on recent bad behaviour by tourists. The clampdown brings to an end the traditional ritual of tourists scaling the structures to watch the sunset over a plane containing 2,500 Buddhist monuments. The Minister of Culture claims the decision was taken to protect the ancient buildings which are considered to be holy sites by local people, according to MailOnline. The Minister described as “culturally disgraceful” that visitors – despite a series of warnings – continue to dance and sleep on the monuments while also wearing inappropriate clothing. On a post on the government’s Facebook page, the Minister announced that action would be taken against anyone climbing the pagodas from 1 March onwards.

Buddhist monks and people of the Buddhist faith see the famous archaeological site as holy ground
Buddhist monks and people of the Buddhist faith see the famous archaeological site as holy ground Image by (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Built between 600 and 1,000 years ago, the temples in Bagan are one of the nation’s biggest tourist attractions and are considered places of reverence for the mainly Buddhist country. Having jettisoned military rule five years ago, Myanmar almost instantly became a favourite spot for holidays, becoming a must-see destination. One of its big selling points from its own Ministry of Tourism back then was highlighting to visitors that they should experience the panoramic view of the hallowed temples at sunset. Close to half a million tourists arrived from abroad last year – double the number of five years ago.

The Myanmar government wants Bagan UNESCO.
The Myanmar government wants Bagan  to be designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Image by Shaun Dunphy / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bagan is a particular attraction for both package holidaymakers and those travelling on their own and should maintain its popularity despite the crackdown. However a spokesman for the local travel association admitted that those not able to scale the statues to see the sunset at Bagan “would be missing out.” Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, a tour operator who also spearheads the Myanmar Tourism Marketing industry group, felt it was also likely that there would be an impact on the country’s tourism business. The government, despite its decision to halt climbing on the statues, still wants to see Bagan designated as a Unesco world heritage site.