Myanmar was an impulse booking, a last-minute decision. Since my friend and I did not really have any plans to explore Mandalay or Bagan, we thought to ourselves that three days in Yangon should suffice. A little research told me that there was really not much to see in the city and that a day to explore interesting sites is enough, so we squeezed in Bago, a town just an hour away from the country’s erstwhile capital. Bago was once called Hanthawaddy, which means “She Who Has Swans.”
We left the comforts of our hotel early in the morning at eight because we wanted to make the most of our day. It was scorching hot, and my friend and I both took comfort in the fact that our van had great air-conditioning and that our driver was quite fluent in English. He could easily answer our queries and perhaps share a story or two about the places where we were going.
Taukkyan War Cemetery
The first stop for the day was Taukkyan War Cemetery. This cemetery for Allied soldiers from the British Commonwealth who died in Myanmar during the Second World War, is about 25 kilometers north of Yangon. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains it.
There are more than 6000 graves of soldiers, and the memorial pillars have the names of more than 20,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in Myanmar. It was a quiet day when we got there, and there were not too many people. Well preserved and clean, the memorial reminded me of European columns. It stood out from the rest of the architecture in both Yangon and Bago.
Although this is a minor temple compared to Shwedagon in Yangon, I find this pagoda much more appealing. Often called the Golden God Temple, the Shwemawdaw actually holds the record for the tallest pagoda in the country although credit usually goes to Shwedagon. Shwemawdaw, along with Kyaiktiyo and Shwedagon, are some of the most famous Mon pagodas. Originally built in the 10th century, it has been destroyed several times and rebuilt.
We reached the pagoda at the height of the afternoon, so there were not many people there. It allowed us more time to reflect, just observe the surroundings and of course, take pretty pictures. If you ask me, the beauty of this pagoda surpasses that of Shwedagon. Since this is a holy place, we were then again subjected to removing our footwear and walking barefooted in the temple grounds. I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing easily removable footwear and having wet wipes on hand when visiting temples so you can easily wipe your feet clean.
Built for King Bayinnaung in 1556, the original palace has 76 apartments and halls. It was burned down in 1559, reconstructed in 1990 and finished two years later. The Kanbawzathadi Golden Palace is a reconstruction of the original structure from the second half of the 16th century.
Approaching the palace gave me such an exhilarating feeling because it looked stunning from afar. It is even more gorgeous up close, and the intricate details of the palace suggested just how labor-intensive it must have been to decorate a home for the royals. Well, don’t believe what I say. Just look at the pictures!
Kyaik Pun Pagoda
Kyaik Pun Pagoda is nestled in a small Buddhist monastery. It is known for its four towering images of the Buddha, visible from far away. The magnificent images are devoid of shelter and are exposed to the elements. Built in 1476 by Dhammazedi, a King of the Mon Kingdom and a devout Buddhist, it is an active place of worship today.
The images are a representation of the four Buddhas that have achieved the state of Nirvana, and they are called Gautama Buddha, Kassapa Buddha, Konagamana Buddha, and Kakusandha Buddha. They sit back to back facing the four cardinal directions against a massive brick square.
I personally find Bago more interesting than Yangon. The places we have visited had so much character and were beautiful in their own ways. Often overlooked for more popular sites such as Mandalay and Bagan, Bago deserves more than just a cursory glance.