I took the 2 hour train ride to Bago for the day. Bago is to the Northeast of Yangon and is the capital of the Bago Region of Myanmar. The date of first civilizations of Bago is highly debated, but the city began to have the largest population of the Mon Kingdom in the 13th century. King Binnya U made Bago the capital of the kingdom in 1369, and in 1471, a Buddhist Monk (Theravada Buddhism), Dhammazedi, became king. The city was later the capital of the Toungoo Empire housing the famous Burmese king, King Bayinnaung, in the Kanbawzathadi Palace during the 16th century. Because the city was the capital of two empires and a monk had reined as king, the city has many pagodas and buddha figures. However, the pagodas and buddha statues were destroyed and forgotten when Siam (Thailand) captured the city during the Burmese-Siamese War (1594-1605), so the religious sites have been since been rediscovered and reconstructed.
The Train Ride
I live a ten minute walk from the Yangon Central Train Station, so I have easy access to the train. The train is run by the state and is infamous for its generally poor conditions of the cars and tracks. The British, during colonization, introduced the trains and little updates have happened since. Given that, the train isn’t as dangerous as you may imagine and is irresistibly cheap. I paid 2,300 kyat (less than $2) for my roundtrip. I had to buy the tickets at the individual train stations and nothing is electronic. I bought upper class tickets, which means I had an assigned seat that was cushioned. Ordinary class ticket holders sit on wooden benches and the cars tend to get packed, especially on a Sunday evening into Yangon.
On my way to Bago, I got showered with dead bugs that kept falling from a cobweb above me every time the train shook. The ride is a bumpy one, but that’s expected given the age and conditions of the tracks. When returning to Yangon, I struggled to find my seat so a police officer on board led me to my seat. It turns out it was next to a monk, so he had a man switch with me so that the monk did not have to sit next to a woman on the train. Overall, I was lucky because there were little delays and the journey went smoothly.
Often referred to as the Golden God Pagoda, this pagoda is the tallest pagoda in Myanmar (that’s right, it’s taller than Shwedagon). The pagoda was originally built in the 10th century, but has gotten destroyed in multiple earthquakes and has since been rebuilt. While I was visiting, there was a procession of women carrying buddha statues around the stupa.
Hintha Gon Pagoda
Walking from Shwemawdaw Pagoda through a buddhist monastery complex, you will end up at Hintha Gon Pagoda. I passed by many monks who waved, said high, and laughed as they saw me walking by. At the pagoda, there were musicians playing traditional instruments and music.
On the way from Shwemawdaw Pagoda to the snake pagoda, it’s definitely worth stopping at Shwetaungyoe Pagoda. The pagoda is located on the top of the hill so it offers sights of Bago.
The snake pagoda houses a 17 foot long and 1 foot wide uncaged python, one of the largest pythons in the world. The snake is 125 years old and legends are that the snake is a reincarnation of a nat or monk. When I visited, the room with the python was packed with locals paying their respects to it, and the python was hiding underneath a bench so it was difficult to get a good view of it.
This pagoda has been destroyed many times because of earthquakes, and the most recent reconstruction took place in 1950. The pagoda is fairly unique in that the bottom of the stupa is white. Men can climb the pagoda to see views of the city, but women cannot.
The reclining buddha is 180 feet long and was built in the 10th century. The buddha has jewels all around it, and is located inside of a building. When I visited, there were many people sitting near the buddha having snacks and hanging out. There was also a group of monks seated near the head of the buddha.
This reclining buddha is very close to Shwethalyaung and is in the open air. The buddha was built in 2001 and is 269 feet long. It’s massive and not super populated like Shwethalyaung. There are some holes on the back of the buddha. I’m sure from being exposed to the elements.
Four Buddha Image
Located near the two reclining buddas is a smaller statue of four standing buddhas.
Kanbawzathadi Golden Palace
The palace is a reconstruction of King Bayinnaung’s palace during the 16th century. The palace was looted and destroyed by the Siamese, and the reconstruction is based on knowledge and excavations of the original palace. The time when the palace was first built was a wealthy time for Burma. King Bayinnaung is famous for conquering many lands and his military prowess, which resulted in him reigning over the largest kingdom in Southeast Asian history.
Other Pagodas and Buddha Statues