MYANMAR’s Ministry of Culture has banned visitors from ascending Bagan’s temples and pagodas, save for five of the largest ones, namely Pya Thet Gyi, Shwe Sandaw, South Guni, North Guni and Thitsar Wadi.
The ministry had earlier issued a complete ban, but allowed for some concession after tour operators voiced concerns over tourist arrivals. Bagan is famed for its sunsets and sunrises.
The blanket ban was issued six days after a video of people dancing on Bagan’s pagodas surfaced, and the ministry sought to prevent the ancient sites from structural damage and to condemn what was regarded as disrespectful tourist conduct.
“We can’t accept this type of behaviour on the top of the pagodas. At the same time, watching the sunrise or sunset from these sites is one of the main tourist activities in Bagan, which we make a point to highlight in our itineraries,” said Phyyu Phyu Mar, spokesperson for Seven Star Travel and Tour.
Mar added that there are ways to preserve the ancient cultural sites while still allowing access, such as more systematic regulations or the building of sunset towers.
Aye Kyaw, managing director of Ruby Land Travel and Tour, agreed that a full ban was not the only option, citing the example of one of Cambodia’s temples. He said: “(Out of concern) that the temple will not be able to withstand (the influx of tourists), metal railings and stairs were built so that visitors were not walking directly on the temple. Provisions have also been made to limit the number of people that can access certain areas of the temple at one given time.”
Bagan is known as the temple fairyland of Myanmar. From the 11th to 13th century, more than 13,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in Bagan’s 42km2 plain, of which around 2,200 temples and pagodas have been kept intact while another 2,000 remain in ruins.