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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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…
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).
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.
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…
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…