Myanmar backpedals on ban on Bagan temple climbing

Myanmar backpedals on ban on Bagan temple climbing

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar has backpedalled on a ban on climbing temples at the tourist hot spot of Bagan, following fears visitors would no longer be able to enjoy the ancient capital's famed sunsets.

The Ministry of Culture on Monday barred visitors from clambering over the monuments.

But by late Tuesday it had revised the order to let tourists ascend five of the largest pagodas - in a field of more than 3,000 Buddhist structures.

"We would like to replace the statement about banning the climbing of pagodas with an amendment exempting five designated pagodas in Bagan," the ministry said on its Facebook page.

But both statements slammed temple-climbing tourists for "culturally disgraceful" acts "such as wearing inappropriate clothing, dancing and sleeping (on the monuments)".

The sudden ban had surprised tour operators and prompted concern that their businesses would take a hit.

In its updated post the ministry stressed that the regulation was aimed at conserving the Buddhist ruins, many of which are crumbling and overgrown.

The statement also warned that safety was a concern, citing the case of an American tourist who was hospitalised earlier this week after falling from one of the pagodas.

"Bagan's ancient buildings have been there for many years and we are concerned about damaging the pagodas and the danger of hurting people," the ministry said.

Bagan's vast field of temples, built in the 10th and 14th centuries, are worshipped as holy sites in the Buddhist-majority country.

Once considered an off-the-beaten-path destination for intrepid travellers, Bagan's popularity on the tourist circuit has surged since Myanmar opened up its borders in 2011 following decades of isolation under military rule.

Tourism has since taken off, with the number of foreign visitors doubling in the past five years.

Myanmar is eager to see Bagan listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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