Bago is a city of history. A long and somewhat of a violent history. It had been a capital of Burma, or the Second Myanmar Empire, an important port on the sea, and strategically important for colonial conquistadors from the British Empire. It is still a very important city in Myanmar, capital of the Bago Region, just 80 kilometers from the ex-capital Yangon.
Although it is not the capital of the country anymore, or even located on the sea shore, there are numerous monuments and remnants that remind us just how rich this city is historically. Its history is reaches so far back that even the origin of its name can’t be exactly determined. In some parts of the world, Bago was and still is better known by its former name- Pegu. It is considered the biggest and most important archeological sight in Myanmar.
Once in Bago, it is easy to see how important the city was in the country’s history. Many monuments stand as reminders of ancient rulers and battles. Very special for the local people is the significance of Bago as a kind of a pilgrims’ city. It is believed that Bago was Gautama’s, the historic Buddha’s, great town.
Things to see in Bago
With the exception of the city’s main market, there is not much to see in the center of Bago. Most sights, which consist mostly of pagodas, Buddha statues and temples, are located a little further, but pretty close to each other for the most par.
Shwe Tha Yaung Reclining Buddha- located in the west part of the city, this is one of the two reclining Buddhas in Bago. It is 55 meters long and 16 meters high. Tourists can read these measures from the table standing in front of the statue and stating all measures of this monument. It is believed to have been built in 994, during the rule of the Mon, but literally lost in 1757, after the city was destroyed by the Burmese. It was rediscovered during the British colonial rule, hidden in the jungle vegetation, in 1880. Its first restoration began the next year, and has since been restored many times. Its miraculous rediscovery had only strengthened the beliefs of the Burmese Buddhists about this being a very sacred statue. It is open for visiting every day, from 4am to 9pm, and an admission fee of $2 is required.
Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha- the other of the two reclining Buddhas in Bago. It is located next to its famous look-alike, the Shwe Tha Yaung Reclining Buddha. It is located in the outdoors, which is rare for reclining Buddha statues. It is around 70 meters long and 30 meters high. Besides being out in the open, what differs it from the more famous Shwe Tha Yaung Reclining Buddha is that the soles of its feet are painted, and there is no culture ticket, or admission fee, required.
Shwemawdaw Pagoda- also known as 'Great Golden God Pagoda' of Bago, it has been growing for more than 1000 years. The Shwemawdaw Pagoda, whose spire can be seen behind this impressive entrance portal, was originally built by the Mon to a height of 23 meters in the 8th century and had been rebuilt several times until it finally reached its present 114 meter stature in 1954. Legends say that enshrined beneath the towering pagoda are the hairs and teeth of the Buddha. Because of these relics, the Shwemawdaw Pagoda is visited by throngs of Buddhist pilgrims. Just like the Shwe Tha Yaung Reclining Buddha, it is open from 4am to 9 pm, and an admission fee of $2 is required.
Kyaik Pun Pagoda- Kyaik Pun Pagoda is in the form of four gigantic Buddha images all in sitting posture facing the four cardinal points of the compass. They are seated back to back against a massive brick pillar. It was built by King Dhamma Zedi in 1476 A.D. According to a legend, four Mon sisters were connected with the construction of the images. It was said that if one of them had married, one of the Buddhas would have collapsed. The same opening time and fee applies for this pagoda as for the previous two sights.
Mahazedi Paya (Pagoda) - also called “the Great Stupa”, was originally constructed in 1560 by King Bayin Naung, and destroyed during the 1757 attack on Bago. It was restored a few times and acquired its present looks in 1982. It is known that the pagoda had enshrined a tooth-relic brought from Sri Lanka., considered the most sacred relic of the Buddha. Legend has it that Hinthakone is the hill where the two sacred mythical ducks called Hintha (Hamsa) have alighted. This is where the name Hantha-Wadi or Hamsavati, by which Bago and its kingdom were known, had originated from. Admission fee is $2.
Maha Kalyani Sima- The essential building for Buddhist Order is no doubt that of Sima or Ordination. Also known as ‘Sacred Hall of Ordination’, it was originally constructed in 1476 by Dhammazedi, the famous alchemist king and son of Queen Shinsawpu. Right next to the Hall are ten large tablets which describe the history of Buddhism and the Buddhist Order in Myanmar. It was erected in the form of Kalyarni Sima in Sri-Lanka. Opening hours are from 9am to 5pm, and admission fee is $4.
Hintha Gon Pagoda- it is located on top of a hill, just behind the Shwemawdaw Pagoda. The hillock is decorated with small shrine and the symbolic figure of the female Hansa bird perching on the back of the male one. Culture ticket is required here-$2.
Kambazathadi Golden Palace- the famous palace of King Bayin Naung is being extensively excavated and some buildings are being rebuilt. King Bayin Naung was the founder of the Second Myanmar Empire, and in 1566 A.D. he built a new capital city called Hanthawadi on what is now Bago. The Palace has not yet been completely excavated, but the Settaw Saung., one of the main rooms of the palace, has been reconstructed. The part of the Palace that is excavated spreads over 9.662 acres. Opening hours are from 9am to 5pm every day, and admission fee is $4.
Shwegugale Paya- located just beyond the Mahazedi Paya, it dates back to 1494 and the reign of King Byinnya Yan. It features a dark gu (tunnel) with 64 seated Buddha figures inside.
Snake Monastery (Pagoda) - Legend has it that the gigantic python curled up in this sanctuary is the reincarnation of a nat (spirit), or even a monk who brought the snake here. The python, now over 5 meters long and almost 50 cm wide, spends all of his time here snoozing, but the visit might be worth while because of a ritual performed by the monks, when they start dancing in order to summon the spirit, which sometimes leads them to a state similar to that of a trance.
Kha Kha Wain Kyaung- a monastery known for its monks; every morning, they go out and scatter around the city asking for alms. It is, or was, one of the largest monasteries in Myanmar. It is estimated that it houses around 500 monks at the moment. Tourists also like to take pictures of monks having their lunch, around 10:30 am.
Each of these places might be a museum, a cultural or historic heritage, and most of them are very important Buddhist shrines.