Seven reasons to go to Bago in Myanmar

15 October 2013

I spent a day sightseeing in Bago last weekend, and was so impressed by the number of sights to see that I felt it necessary to recommend this little city and its surrounding jungle. Admittedly, I didn’t see everything (such as Kanbawzathadi Palace), so there are probably many more reasons to visit than listed here. Leave a comment below if you’re in the know!

Beautiful Bago
Beautiful Bago

Reason 1: Bago is beautiful.

Not that the vast majority of Myanmar isn’t, but Bago has the added bonus of being an easy weekend “escape” from Yangon. It takes just an hour and a quarter from Aung Mingalar bus station. Tickets cost K5000 each way if you book through a bus company at Aung San Stadium, or K3000 if you buy a ticket from the station itself. My husband and I took the 7.30am Saturday bus and we found that there are frequent buses departing for the return trip. This photo was taken at the Four Figures Paya.

Is this the world's largest snake?
Is this the world’s largest snake?

Reason 2: You can get up close to what could be the world’s largest snake.

While some may consider this a reason not to go anywhere near Bago, this 17 foot long, 125-year-old python is apparently totally harmless (no doubt every effort is taken to ensure she never gets hungry though). Our guide said that her carers at the Snake Monastery where she lives (complete with her own swimming pool) stopped allowing visitors to pat her three years ago, as she’s getting on a bit… The python is believed to be a reincarnated man who was the head of a temple in Hsipaw. Our guide said that pilgrims often start crying when they see the snake and tell her all their problems – sometimes they even writhe around on the floor like a snake in front of her.

Kha Khat Wain Kyaung Monastery
Kha Khat Wain Kyaung Monastery

Reason 3: You can visit one of Myanmar’s biggest monasteries.

Before the Saffron Revolution of 2007 there were about 1500 monks living in Kha Khat Wain Kyaung Monastery, but that number dropped sharply and is only now increasing upwards of 500. Most people come at 10.30am to see the monks eating lunch in the super-sized hall, near the super-sized kitchen.

Where a monk sleeps
Where a monk sleeps

Reason 4: You can see a monk’s bedroom.

If you visit the monastery in the afternoon, when the monks are reciting prayers in the hall, you’ll be able to have a peep at the dorms where the monks sleep. No pillow, no mattress: this is life stripped of its all materialism. But note the football poster just visible on the left!!

A friendly local at Shwemawdaw Paya
A friendly local at Shwemawdaw Paya

Reason 5: Bago has Myanmar’s tallest pagoda.

Yep, it’s 46 feet higher than Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda and the complex is equally beautiful, and almost completely devoid of tourists. A photographer’s delight, no doubt especially during the pagoda festival that takes place in March/April. Here’s another picture below…

Rain falling on Shwemawdaw Pagoda
Rain falling on Shwemawdaw Pagoda
Cheroot making
Cheroot making

Reason 6: You can see how cheroots (a traditional cigar) are made.

Women with dexterous fingers wrap them up almost quicker than the eye can see, which is lucky in a sense, because our guide told us they are paid just K3 for every cheroot they make. It’s not easy finding the cheroot making building – I definitely recommend hiring a motorcycle taxi driver and guide (who will likely approach you as soon as you get off the bus from Yangon).

Shwethalyaung Buddha, Bago
Shwethalyaung Buddha, Bago

Reason 7: Bago has two stunningly massive reclining Buddhas.

The one pictured above and below goes by the name of Mya Tha Lyaung and it was built in 2002. Although the other reclining Buddha is 2,000 years older, I actually prefer this new one, only the other is covered by a roof.

My husband Sherpa takes a long walk around the gigantic reclining Buddha
My husband Sherpa takes a long walk around the gigantic reclining Buddha

That said, Shwethalyaung  (pictured below) was the biggest reclining Buddha in the world until 10 years ago, when the reclining Buddha in Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State, was completed and took the title. This one is 180 feet long (about 10 times the length of the python!!). It’s little finger is taller than any human, but that if that isn’t perspective enough, take a look at the photo below…

The world's second largest reclining Buddha
The world’s second largest reclining Buddha

As for hotels and food, there’s really not much to recommend. This is largely because Bago is usually visited as a day trip from Yangon because it’s so close. For the hell of it, we stayed overnight at Emperor Hotel, which at seven stories is the highest building in Bago. The top floor has a wonderful view of the city, particularly at night, but the $25 rooms are poor value (pink, musty and dusty) and the $15 rooms wouldn’t fit a freckle of a reclining Buddha… ha ha. We tried Three Five Restaurant as it was next door to the hotel and because Lonely Planet said that goat testicles are on the menu – which indeed they are, but we just couldn’t do it. Unfortunately the food was dripping in oil and the waiter messed up our order more ways than would seem possible, so try elsewhere for grub.

At any rate, the lack of nice places to stay in and eat at will no doubt start springing up relatively soon, because a major airport serving Yangon, Hanthawaddy Airport in Bago, will be completed by 2018. It will surely entice people to stay overnight in Bago (at the very least) before trekking the hundred-odd kilometres to Yangon…

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16 thoughts on “Seven reasons to go to Bago in Myanmar”

  1. Hi Jessica,
    My partner and I are hoping to live and work in Myanmar next year. As a lesbian couple we were wondering what your perception is of how gay and lesbian people are viewed in Myanmar? We would of course be sensitive to local customs, but are just interested to have some idea of attitudes towards gay people before stepping off the plane 🙂 Cheers, Sophie

    1. Hi Sophie

      Sorry for my delayed reply. I haven’t reported on the issue so my knowledge is limited, but just based on personal experiences I think that you won’t have any issues in Myanmar. I have a lesbian Muslim friend who is open about her sexuality, though has not been in a relationship while I’ve known her. I could put you in touch when you come if you wanted. Men and men and women and women often hold hands on the streets etc and people aren’t nosy. I have several male gay friends and they’ve dated Myanmar men and never told me of any negative societal experiences.

      There’s also monthly LGBT night once a month at a bar in Yangon and it’s really popular – I just cannot remember the name right now! Please drop me an email so I can ask some friends to remind me! jess.mudditt[@]gmail.com

      Anyhow it might be a bit early on for you to want the name, but just contact me whenever!!

      I found this on Wikipedia, though you’ve probably already seen it…
      Despite the illegal nature of it, homosexuality and gender expression has become more visible in Burma, especially after the political reforms. [8] Gay and lesbian couples freely cohabit in major cities like Yangon and Mandalay, though they are not legally allowed to marry. The increased media freedom has also allowed journalists to report on the gay and lesbian community. [9] Same-sex couples have also been able to celebrate ceremonial marriages in major cities without any legal persecution.[10]

      Burma also celebrated its first gay pride in several cities around the country in 2012, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

  2. Hey Jessica – hope you’re well. Glad to see you made it to Bago – as it happens I’m writing up that section of the guide now! Shame you didn’t make it to Han Thar Gardens, which is just outside of town and a lovely place to stay and eat (much nicer than the Emperor – completely agree with you about poor quality of the rooms there! A better option for you would have been the new Hotel Mariner close to Shwemawdaw Paya). Also BTW, the reclining buddha at Chaunkhtatgyi in Yangon is bigger – no idea why people keep bigging up the one in Bago 🙂

    Anyway, glad to see you’re keeping up the writing and hope your post Myanmar Times life is working out well. Thanks again for your help and company while I was in Yangon.

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