Bago (formerly spelt Pegu) was the capital of Hanthawaddy Pegu. this was the heart of the Mon kingdom, that ruled lower Burma from the 13th century to the 16th century. Today 9 pagodas and monasteries still remain as a symbol of the power and culture of this magnificent period. Each provides a different understanding of the Buddhist culture of Myanmar.
There is the bizarre – the Snake Pagoda at Sakarwar MaGyiTaung Tawya Monastery – lives a large Burmese python (approximately 5 metres (17 ft) long and a 30 cm (1 ft) wide), is revered by local people. According to the guardians of the python, it travelled south from Inle Lake and is 114 years old. Either you want to see a large Burmese python or the thought of it will keep you away. On most visits the snake will be sleeping, with donations of money piled on its scales. The guardians of the python say it eats 12 chickens once a month, when it is awake and ready to eat.
Bago has large monuments, such as the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, at 114 metres (374 ft), it is the tallest pagoda in the country; with Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda being 98 metres (322 ft)). There are also different representations of the Buddha: the Reclining Buddha (Shwethalyaung Buddha), with a length 55 metres (180 ft) and a height of 16 metres (52 ft,; the Kyaik Pun Pagoda, which features a shrine with Four Seated Buddhas, 27 metres (90 ft), sitting back to back to four directions; and also the Laymyatnar Buddha, which features Four Standing Buddhas.
There are more modest sites, such as Shwe Gu Lay Pagoda & Monastery, with tranquil ponds and walkways; with an inner chamber going around the pagoda with 64 Buddha statues. This is a small-scale Buddhist site, which can be contrasted with the major tourist sites.
While some of the 9 pagodas and monasteries of Bago are within walking distance of each other; your choice of sites to visit may result in hiring a taxi or combining tuk-tuk rides (200 MKK) or a motorcycle taxi with some walking, as the best way to travel from site to site. The government fee of 10,000 MKK (USD$6.50) is collected at the major sites, the ticket allows access to the other sites without further cost.
Modern Bago does not have much to attract tourists beyond those visiting the Buddhist sites or those going on to Golden-Rock (Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda). While, Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay have a wide choice of hotels, restaurants and cafes, Bago offers a limited choice of hotels and, with the city spread out, the choice of restaurants and cafes may be limited to the hotel restaurant or a local restaurant or bar. You can rent bicycles and motorbikes at the San Francisco Guest House. Standard taxis and tuk tuks (3 wheeled taxis) can be hired, although the suspension in tuk tuks means the ride along the back streets to pagodas can be rough on the body.
For our two-night stay in Bago, our hotel only provided a limited breakfast and unbearable coffee, we ate at the nearby restaurant and drank at a local roadside bar; where the entertainment was provided by a trailer load of restless pigs.
Being lovers of good coffee, we searched out for the one place – Unity Coffee Bar – that offers fine café latte or expresso. It’s located in the Icon Shopping Centre, and in addition to coffee, serves Chinese egg tarts and other treats or a more substantial breakfast or lunch.
Visiting Bago as a day trip from Yangon by car is often how tourists see this city, as it is 1 ½ hours to 2 hours by hired taxi and the major Buddhist sites in Bago are within a short drive of each other. If you want to explore Bago, and not as a day-trip from Yangon, buses from Yangon leave from Saw Bwar Gyi Gone Bus Station, near the airport.
Bago is located 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Yangon and is a railway stop on the Mandalay line and the line that travels south to Dawei, so that there are around 9 trains a day Yangon Central Railway Station, the fare to Bago of 1,000 MKK (USD 65 ¢). Myanmar Railways may have old carriages, however Yangon to Bago by train is recommended for the leisurely 2 to 2 1/2 hours journey, which gives the opportunity to watch and photograph the passing landscape. For train travel in Myanmar, including buying tickets at Yangon Central Railway Station – see our article on The joy of slow travel by train in Myanmar.
Bago can also be a destination before going on to Kinpun village, the starting point for buses at Kyaikhtiyo base station, which go up to the Golden-Rock (Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda). This pagoda is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma after the Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda near Mandalay.
Taxi trucks depart from Bago railway station to Kinpun village, which is 2 hours away from Bago (105 km or 64 miles). Alternatively, a seat on a Yangon to Kinpun bus may be found at the Bago bus station.
The Bago Region has 2 wildlife reserves, the Kyaikhtiyo Wildlife Sanctuary provides walking tracks, including ascending to the Golden-Rock; and the Moe Yun Gyi Wildlife Sanctuary, which is close to Bago, hosts migratory birds from October to March, as well as species that are resident year-round.
Access for disabled travelers to pagodas can be an issue, with steps to the pagoda platform; however, as the city is flat, most sites have reasonable access. While Bago is on the coastal plain, the Golden-Rock is perched on the edge of a plateau, so that it can provide access challenges for the disabled as there stairs to navigate in order to reach the pagoda platform. For any traveler, the wet season, or following rain at other times, the tiled platforms of the Golden-Rock pagoda will provide a slip risk – See our article on the Golden-Rock (Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda).
While other destinations in Myanmar may have better hotels or restaurants or be more picturesque locations, Bago provides a diverse range of pagodas and monasteries, as well as being a city from which to experience Golden-Rock (Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda) or the wildlife and nature reserves of the Bago Region.