Bagan Temples & Irrawaddy River – Myanmar (Burma) 08.02.16
Bagan (also known as Pagan), with temples standing like lighthouses in the early morning mist arising from the banks of the Irrawaddy River, is one of Myanmar/Burma’s most exciting historical destinations, drawing increasing numbers of visitors from around the globe.
After years of isolation following the world’s economic sanctions and ‘tourism stand-off’ in support of the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar is now beginning to embrace the long term protection of its tourism industry.
This is great news, except for the conflict between tourism development and long term sustainability, something to be expected in a destination so new to large scale international tourism. Presently receiving in the region of 300,000 annual tourist, in comparison to its neighbour Thailand’s 14 million.
On my recent visit to Cuba, I was aware of parallels with Myanmar. Both countries, after years of economic decline and political stagnation, are enjoying an explosion of interest from foreign tourists. This is largely because both destinations feel under-visited and caught in a time-warp that may not last very much longer.
On the one hand this new interest brings much needed income to the struggling local authorities and long-neglected grassroots stakeholders. On the other, it highlights the importance of addressing the delicate matter of sustainability. As more and more visitors plan to travel to Myanmar, and in particular to Bagan, supply is struggling to keep up with demand.
In both Myanmar’s and Cuba’s case we at Nomadic Thoughts are having to book clients’ travel reservations as much as, and beyond, a year in advance. Even during the low periods, booking nine months in advance won’t necessarily guarantee you the perfect itinerary.
The good news however, is that this Irrawaddy River region – overlooked by Bagan’s collection of temples – remains one of the country’s most exciting and dynamic destinations, just as it was when I first visited over thirty years ago in 1984. I delight in hearing Nomadic Thoughts’ clients telling us they regard their visit to the region as a major highlight of their holiday.
Which puts me in a retro mood. Preferring to look back, I am posting some of my photographs from yesteryear, which show how little the local landscape has changed over the past decades. A major bonus for visitors trying to experience the ‘old Burma’ today.
As tourism numbers expand, the hope is that planners can manage that growth with a firm eye on developing an appropriately sensitive, sustainable tourism model.
The signs are positive, partly because of the extraordinary warmth of the people, but also because of their vibrant and welcoming local culture. Historically, as much as spiritually, Myanmar is re-emerging as one of Asia’s real jewels. With Bagan and the Irrawaddy River region at the top of anyone’s list.
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