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Two ancient cities – One destination

July 22, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

It sounds fantastic: Visit Angkor in Cambodia and then fly to visit Bagan in Myanmar. Exactly, this will happen, when tourism authorities of both countries go ahead with their ambitious plan to connect directly Siem Reap in Cambodia with Bagan Nyaung-U in Myanmar as one destination to promote their most valuable tourism resources they have. 5 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2016, while Myanmar counted some 3 million visitors, mainly from ASEAN and GMS countries. With a dwindling market from Europe and America, it will be a good and timely campaign to raise awareness and attract more tourists to come in the future.

Angkor Wat is the most famous of the Angkorian temples built in the twelfth century by King Suriyavarman II and is a real wonder of the world. With its altogether 9 towers, the temple is a reconstruction of Mount Meru, the abode of the 33 gods in India. The king who built it within an estimated period of 30 years dedicated it to the Hindu god Vishnu.

In later times, the temple was used as a Buddhist sanctuary and first described by French naturalist Henri Mouhot (1861) and German explorer Adolf Bastian (1864). Impressive bas-reliefs designed to be viewed from left to right are adorning an outer gallery around the temple, while two stony libraries and lotus-filled temple ponds are in the large first courtyard after you enter the temple from the west, which is surrounded by a huge wall and a moat.

Other attractions are the old fortified city of Angkor Thom and the Mahayana-Buddhist temples of  Ta Prohm and Phreah Khan all built by Jayavarman VII (1180-1220). Angkor Thom has 5 huge entrance gates including 2 in the east and houses the Bayon Temple with 216 massive and smiling stone faces in its center. The surrounding galleries tell about wars and the common life of the Khmer people. More temples abound in and outside the city. Fish-rich Tonle Sap Lake and forested Kulen Mountain, from where all the stones came from, are nearby. Angkor was abandoned in 1432, when the Thai armies conquered it.

In contrast to Angkor, Bagan was the capital of the first Myanmar Empire (1044-1287). Situated in a bend of the Ayeyarwaddy River, some 2,000 ancient monuments in the Bagan area can be seen lined up like pearls on a chain. There was once a fortified city, which was conquered by the Mongols and then abandoned. The city was protected by four golden pagodas with tooth relics of the Buddha. Built by King Kyanzittha in 1091, the famous Ananda Temple east from the old city houses 4 huge Buddha statues in the standing position and 80 stone bas-reliefs depicting the Buddha from his birth to his death. Other attractions not to be missed are the massive brick temples of the Dhammayangyi and Sulamani. Such as the highest Thatbyinnyu Temple within the old city, it is forbidden to climb the monuments in order not to harm the constructions and stucco ornamentations.

Some of the temples in Bagan feature interesting wall paintings such as the Myinkaba Gubyaukgyi, which was built by Prince Rajakumar in 1113. It is famous for its murals showing the 550 jataka birth stories of the Buddha. The temple was built in Mon style such as the temples of Nanpaya and Manuha. On the grounds of the Myazedi Pagoda nearby, you can see the well-known Myazedi Stone Inscription, which is written in Pyu, Mon, Pali and Myanmar. The village of Myinkaba features colorful lacquer ware and this industry is also done in New Bagan, where most of the small population of Bagan now lives. Excursions are possible to the volcanic Mount Popa, which is the center of the 37 nat spirits of Myanmar and not far away from Bagan.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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