Burma's Double Bind

No Comments

Burma’s (Myanmar) crackdown on protesting monks last year made a dent in tourist receipts, something the military government is trying to curtail. But despite the calls to boycott the temples of Bagan, it’s really the locals who feel the pinch.

CC by Hartfried Schmid
Image by Hartfried Schmid

Burma Lures Tourists with Reopening of Ancient Palace
Ethical Traveler, 03 February 2008
Read More

Myanmar opens up ancient palace in Bagan

No Comments

News coverage of Myanmar has been overshadowed lately by the political unrest and the actions of the military government to retain control; tourism is one of the hardest hit industries in Myanmar today, which is a shame when you consider that the temple complexes that make up Bagan are just as majestic as Angkor in Cambodia. In a bid to restore tourist visits to the country, the government has opened a 1,000-year-old palace to tourists. But given Myanmar’s track record in handling archaeological work, are these archaeological treasures or just mismanaged tourist traps?


Creative commons image by Jungle Boy

Myanmar reopens ancient palace to attract tourists
Xinhua, 03 January 2008
Read More

Soon: Direct flights between Bagan and Angkor

1 Comment

24 May 2007 (news.com.au) – Soon, after your visit to Angkor, you will be able to fly directly to the ancient monuments of Bagan in Burma (Myanmar) thanks to a just-inked agreement between the governments of Cambodia and Myanmar. This agreement will pave the way for a larger influx of heritage tourists to visit the ancient cities of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (Luang Prabang is connected to Siem Reap by plane as well).

Cambodia, Myanmar agree to direct flights

CAMBODIA and Myanmar have agreed to direct flights between their main tourist destinations, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong said Wednesday.

The flights will connect Bagan and Mandalay, Myanmar’s top tourist stops, to Cambodia’s Angkor temple town Siem Reap, he said after returning from accompanying the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, to the reclusive state.

“Cambodia and Myanmar agree to boost the tourism industry between the two nations and attract more international visitors,” he said.

“We have the same culture because we are both Buddhist, so we have to attract more tourists to both countries,” he added.

Impoverished Cambodia has built a booming tourist industry on the back of the 800 year-old Angkor temples, drawing some 1.7 million foreign visitors in 2006.

Read more about direct flights between Angkor and Bagan.

For more information about the ancient capitals of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, you might want to look up:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Fifth Edition by D. Rooney and P. Danford
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Bagan by B. Broman
Ancient Luang Prabang by D. Heywood

Myanmar captivates with mystical charm

No Comments

1 April 2007 (San Jose Mercury News) – Another tourist’s account of Indochina, this time to Burma, through a three-week archaeological tour.

Myanmar captivates with mystical charm

Woozy from jet lag and blinded by a golden reflection of light, I was struck speechless the first time I saw Shwedagon Pagoda.

The shimmering bell-shaped stupa reigning over the 14-acre Shwedagon complex – and indeed over the city itself – is the heart and soul of Yangon. Devotees and visitors come to pray, meet friends, meditate, burn incense, chant or, like me, to just stand dumbstruck.

I still might be standing there if I hadn’t become engrossed in the traditional clockwise stroll around the mosaic-covered columns, spires, prayer pavilions and hundreds of images of Buddha that fill every nook and cranny.

The glistening 32-story stupa is topped by a golden orb studded with 4,350 diamonds and precious stones. Inside, away from the faithful and onlookers, are said to be relics of Buddha. So it’s easy to see why it is the most revered site in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma.

To our little band of Westerners, it was Wonderland.


Related Books:
Bagan by B. Broman
– Recent developments in the archaeology of Myanma Pyay (Burma): an introduction. (Editorial) by M. A. Aung-Thwin and M. T. Stark
Shwedagon: Golden Pagoda of Myanmar by E. Moore and U Win Pe

The Gold Coast: Suvannabhumi? Lower Myanmar Walled Sites of the First Millennium A.D.

No Comments

Spring 2007 (Asian Perspectives) – This year’s first edition of the journal Asian Perspectives has a paper on Burmese archaeology, focusing on three walled and moated sites. Asian Perspectives is a subscription-based journal; the abstract is featured in this post.

The Gold Coast: Suvannabhumi? Lower Myanmar Walled Sites of the First Millennium A.D.
Elizabeth Moore, San Win

The high rainfall of the Lower Myanmar coast is balanced by the aridity of the country’s inland plains. The article profiles three sites in a laterite-rich area located in the northern part of the Lower Myanmar peninsula. The walls and moats of these sites underline their role in water management, one where control of water was the decisive catalyst. The sites of Kyaikkatha, Kelasa, and Winka illustrate how slight changes in topography signal critical junctures, the points where walls and moats were constructed. As a result, up to seven walls flank the higher edges of these sites; these protected the interior by diverting excess water to lower areas. Using large finger-marked bricks and terra-cotta artifacts such as votive tablets, plaques, and architectural elements, a broad chronology of c. the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. is proposed, although a majority of the pieces dated to the seventh century A.D. Attention is also drawn to evidence of Lower Myanmar prehistoric habitation in lowland areas close to the coast, where natural and man-made changes continue to alter the ecology and affect archaeological interpretation. The survey is used to encourage comparative studies, drawing in environmentally diverse but culturally related areas of South and Southeast Asia.


Related Books:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)

Bagan: beautified or sacrificed?

No Comments

12 November 2006 (a Reuters story, seen on CNN) – The restoration of Bagan using modern tools and materials risk turning it into another “Disneyland”.

Bagan: beautified or sacrificed?

Restorations are not new to Bagan, a victim of many floods, fires and earthquakes over the centuries.

A severe 1975 quake destroyed or damaged scores of clay brick and mud buildings and stunning wall murals some say are Bagan’s greatest treasure.

The junta allowed UNESCO experts in to help, but it later ignored the U.N. culture agency’s recommendations for World Heritage status, which would have required a conservation plan and unwanted international scrutiny.

After UNESCO withdrew in the mid-1990s, the generals launched their own restoration drive and solicited donations from wealthy Burmese and merit-seeking Buddhists from across Asia in pursuit of their own temple for the next life.

“They just wanted it to look beautiful,” said Gustaaf Houtman, editor of UK-based magazine Anthropology Today, who believes it is part of a wider campaign to rewrite history.

“Generals sponsored the renovation of a pagoda as a merit-making exercise, as a way of demonstrating to the whole of Burma, and to the world, that they were in control,” he said.

A forthcoming study by Australian archaeologist Bob Hudson says 650 complete buildings have had major repairs — including new spires, roofs or corners — since 1996.


Related Books:
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Bagan by B. Broman
Cultural Sites of Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia b. J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies

'Blitzkrieg' rehab imperils Myanmar's ancient temples

No Comments

10 Sep 2006 (Chicago Tribune, LA Times) – Another news feature on the architectural damage done to the stupas in Burma/Myanmar by the military junta.

‘Blitzkrieg’ rehab imperils Myanmar’s ancient temples

BAGAN, Myanmar — The bricklayers are paid $1.35 a day to rebuild the ancient ruin: a small, 13th Century temple reduced by time to little more than its foundation.

But they have no training in repairing aged monuments, and their work has nothing to do with actually restoring one of the world’s most important Buddhist sites. Instead, using modern red bricks and mortar, they are building a new temple on top of the old.

They work from a single page of drawings supplied by the government. Three simple sketches provide the design for a generic brick structure and a fanciful archway. No one knows, or seems to care, what the original temple looked like. Nearby are two piles of 700-year-old bricks that were pulled from the ruin. The bricklayers use them to fill holes in the temple.


Related Books:
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Bagan by B. Broman
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Cultural Sites of Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia b. J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies

Future of Myanmar temples worries Asian art conservationists (Burma/Myanmar)

No Comments

3 September 2006 (San Antonio Express) – A travelogue through the archaeological site of Bagan (Pagan) in Burma, where an uncooperative military junta and the effects of commercialisation have led to shoddy and inaccurate restoration works on the numerous Buddhist stupas there.

San Antonio Express, 3 September 2006

Future of Myanmar temples worries Asian art conservationists

The delicate beauty of Bagan, unfortunately, is under dire threat because it lacks something Angkor Wat, for instance, has — a World Heritage Site designation from UNESCO, whose decades-long efforts on Bagan came to a halt in recent years. The unwillingness of Myanmar’s ruling junta of generals to turn over preservation and restoration work to the international body, which had created a detailed plan to conserve and protect one of the world’s great cultural heritages, proved too great a barrier to surpass. Now many Asian art conservationists and art lovers around the world fear for Bagan’s future.

There are no signs the generals plan to open their relations with the wider world. Indeed, there have been clear signs that unskilled work has been carried out at the [tag]Bagan archaeological site[/tag] that could jeopardize its integrity and also open the door to commercialization that could further threaten its future.


Related Books:
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Bagan by B. Broman
Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
Cultural Sites of Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia b. J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies

A parade of payas

No Comments

2 July 2006 (The Hindu) – Another travel piece with pictures of the Buddhist stupas in Bagan, Myanmar. Scholarship about Bagan is rare, more so pictures, so it’s a great introduction to this site.

The Hindu, 1 July 2006

A parade of payas

Bagan is Myanmar’s ode to Buddhism, as Borobudur is to Indonesia and Angkor Vat is to Cambodia. Situated in the dusty central plains of Myanmar, Bagan is literally a forest of stupas — more than 2,000 and still counting. From the moment you land, there is a never-ending procession of stupas of different shapes, sizes, height, colour, materials, vintage. Many are made of brick, some of stones and a few grand ones like the Anand Pahto dazzle with their golden steeples.


Related Books:
Bagan by B. Broman