There’s no doubt you’ve gazed at mystical photos depicting hazy mornings in the sacred Bagan valley as hot air balloons float past ancient Buddhist pagodas. Perhaps, like me, this picturesque place was high up on your bucket list and you’ve been dreaming of visiting Myanmar someday to explore the heritage site. Sadly, you may not have the chance to see these wonders yourself due to thoughtless tourists who’ve caused irreconcilable damage. Bagan is truly beautiful, but it’s suffering from the impact of over-tourism. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Bagan and why you can’t climb the temples
Once, an astonishing 10,000 monuments for Lord Buddha dotted the desert plain. Over time through natural erosion, disaster, and disrespectful travelers the testaments to devotion have fallen. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the spiritual center in 2016 and many of the recently renovated pagodas crumbled. Somehow it was the ancient structures that stayed standing. The earthquake put the already at-risk structures on an even higher alert for breaking, with each one that crumbles another piece of history is lost. It’s our duty as travelers to preserve the sacred cultural heritage sites that we’re fortunate enough to visit–not destroy them.
Tourists used to be able to climb the pagodas within the Bagan Archaeological Zone after paying the K25,000 entry fee. Unfortunately, many thoughtless tourists aren’t satisfied with the views from the pagoda’s platform and climb up the brick formations to sit on the tip of the pagodas. These structures are thousands of years old and aren’t built to hold the weight of humans. Those who climb to the pagoda pillars are putting everyone’s lives in danger, including their own. On more than one occasion the mistreated pagodas have broken and tourists have plummeted to their deaths.
Due to the constant misuse and illegal climbing of the pagodas the Burmese government has recently secured all of the temples in Bagan. This was after my visit in November 2017 when I was still able to go to the viewing platform on many pagodas. To climb these historic structures completely disregards the significance of the pagodas. The temples weren’t erected for our viewing pleasure, we’re guests in this land and should do everything we can to preserve these monuments for future Burmese citizens to enjoy. Trust me, you’ll still have an awe-inspiring view from the valley, or you can always go to the Bagan Nan Myint Tower for a birdseye vista.
If you visit Bagan please abide by local laws, signage, and directions given to you by locals regarding whether or not you can enter a temple. Be considerate and wear modest clothing, don’t wear shoes inside temples, and keep your feet pointed away from depictions of Buddha. Never climb over a fence, you’re putting yourself and the temple at risk of injury. Think twice before you double tap on a whimsical Instagram photo of someone sitting on the edge of a temple in Bagan.
It would be wise to have travel insurance from World Nomads to keep yourself protected and healthy while in Bagan. I had a bicycle accident here and my leg got seriously cut up in the sand and rocks. Unfortunately, at the time my insurance had expired so I seriously regretted not purchasing a new travel insurance plan earlier!
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