Travel Tuesday: Behold the Temples of Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar - Travel Tuesday - 1000 Places to See Before You DieToday’s Travel Tuesday brings us to Bagan, Myanmar, a must-visit destination in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar.

While the red, white and blue excitement of July 4th is behind us, Myanmar’s national day, Burmese Martyrs’ Day, is just around the corner on July 19. In commemoration of Aung San and seven other pre-independence leaders who were assassinated on July 19, 1947, Burmese Martyrs’ Day is an occasion of solemn remembrance. Leaders observe the holiday by making a pilgrimage to Yangon, home to the Martyrs’ Mausoleum, to remember the fallen.

If you travel to Yangon, you too can stand before the bold memorial: a sculptural wave of red dotted with a white star. After such a solemn experience, lighter attractions in Yangon await, like the 70 kinds of animals at the Hlawga Wildlife Park, and the Shwethalyaung Buddha, an enormous sculpture of a reclining Buddha dating back to the year 994, obscured by the flora of the jungle and rediscovered in 1880.

In light of the recent violence sweeping the country, a visit to the Martyrs’ Mausoleum is particularly poignant. In 2012, the murder of a young Buddhist woman sparked fighting between the Buddhist and Muslim populations in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Riots continue to erupt as more and more casualties accrue as a result of the conflict. The government’s action has taken the form of emergency and night curfews to reduce violence.

To the north of Yangon lies Bagan, the ancient city of 2000-plus temples, one of which is pictured in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar. The temples were largely constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries when the Myanmar dynasty based its leadership—consisting of 55 kings over the course of twelve centuries—in Bagan. 

From a bird’s eye view, the domes and tips of the sun-baked red spires rise above the trees like organic parts of the landscape. This video shows this perspective, as well as a snapshot of what the city of Bagan is like.

Whether or not you’re a religious person, it’s likely you’ll have a religious experience at Bagan’s temples. White and red stone-hewn, gilded, bursting with spires and filled with sculptures of the Buddha, these monumental constructions are spiritual, moving places. Other wonders rise from the landscape in Bagan, too. Monasteries, pagodas and sculptures render the city a sprawling, open-air art museum of sorts, each block, each corner turned boasting its share of ancient edifices.

Photo Credit: Stefan Munder (temple and birds)

You could spend an entire day touring and meditating within one or just a few of these spiritual structures, or “temple hop” and cross as many off your list as you can. You’ll need more than just a few days to see them all. To learn more about Buddhism before you go, The Accidental Buddhist is a light read that will get you excited for a visit. It’s also a great choice to bring with you on the trip.

Delicious local food is always an excellent reason to add a destination to your bucket list. Take breaks from your tour de history with traditional Burmese cuisine—a cross between Indian and Southeast Asian fare—for phenomenal prices. Try Myanmar’s unofficial national dish: a bowl of mohinga, rice noodles in a fish broth with toppings. Get down to business with a Burmese curry. Then, sweeten things up with has nwin ma, small semolina cakes with coconut milk, ghee and raisins.

Read on for more on 1000 Places to See Before You Die book and calendar line from Workman Publishing and Page-A-Day. 


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