Culture Ministry backflips on Bagan pagoda sunset ban

YANGON — The Ministry of Culture has reversed an edict banning tourists from watching the sunset from atop five pagodas in Bagan, one day after the directive sparked a backlash from local tour operators.

The ministry announced the ban via social media on Monday, in apparent response to a widely shared video of tourists and Myanmar nationals dancing on the top of Bagan’s Pyathatkyi Pagoda.

Local tour guide Ko Zaw Win Cho told Frontier that the ministry’s new rules, if left in place, had the potential to seriously impact the local tourism industry.

“Most tourists come here to watch the sunset from the pagodas,” he said. “If they are banned from doing so, why would they come here?”

One of Myanmar’s premier tourist attractions, Bagan has seen an influx of tourists since the country’s transition to nominally-civilian rule in 2011. Since then, viewing the sunset over the Ayeyarwady River has become a popular ritual for visitors.

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A large number of people living in Nyaung U town, the administrative centre of the Bagan temple complex, earn their living through selling souvenirs, operating local stores and working in hotels catering to foreign travellers.

“Bagan is not solely owned by the Culture Ministry,” Ko Aung Min Thann, a Bagan storeowner, told Frontier. “It is owned by all the people of Myanmar. The ministry should take decisions only after consultation with townsfolk and the tourist industry.”

Before the announcement, the ministry officially permitted tourists to climb five of the thousands of temples in the area to watch the sunset.

The ministry has previously summoned and warned tour agencies for flouting its rules by organising dinner and drinks for tourists on top of unauthorised temples. Monday’s announcement was the first time that a total ban had been announced on climbing all temples and pagodas in Bagan.

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