What and where is Bagan?

Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Central Myanmar, Mandalay Region. It was the capital city of Pagan, the first Myanmar Kingdom and most of the monuments were built by the rulers of the Pagan Empire and its people. Bagan is one of the must-visit destinations in Myanmar and hosts more than 2,200 stupas, temples, monasteries and other monuments built between the 11th and 13th centuries. Bagan Archaeological Zone covers an area of 104km2 which emcompassess Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. It lies in the dry zone of Myanmar and the weather there is mostly sunny with less rainfall than in other regions. Due to its dry weather, it can be visited all year round and it has a lot of visitors almost every month. 

An ebike in Bagan
Temples in Bagan

Business in Bagan

Almost all residents in Bagan rely on the tourism and hospitality industry for their living since Bagan has been a very popular destination among inbound and local travellers. It is also the center of the Myanmar Lacquerware Industry which is also directly affected by the decline in tourist arrivals. (Lacquerware is made up of bamboo and wood is used as a framework. It takes a lot of making processes to get a fine item and takes four or five months.) Many Bagan residents run guesthouses on their own and have ebike rental businesses. Some families run souvenir shops at the pagodas and temples platform. Consequently, tourism has made a large degree of effect on Bagan’s businesses.

Souvenir Shop (A photo place where you can also take photos with puppets there)
Myanmar Traditional Puppets

Bagan in COVID-19 Period

The first wave of Covid-19 hit Myanmar in the middle of March, 2020. The government of Myanmar set health guidelines and travel restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the international tourist arrival to Myanmar has shut down since then. Since Bagan is mostly reliant on tourism businesses and the local economy have been hit harder than in any other regions by the decline of the tourism industry. 

On Ground Business Situation in Bagan During COVID-19 

U Than has  managed lacquerware as a family business for 40 years since he was young. He has been passing his skills to his two sons but the family business has been forced to shut down following the decline in domestic and foreign visitors because of the Covid-19 since April, 2020. The family used to make popular lacquerware like Soun-aote (alm bowl), La Phat Goke (tea leaf salad box), betel box, cups, plates, boxes, kettles and trays and sell them to a souvenir shop in Bagan. They used to make about 300,000-400,000 kyats per month with their lacquerware business. Due to Covid-19, the family has been selling eggs in the local market to make an alternative living. 

Soun-aote (alm bowl)
Engraving Process in Lacquerware Making
La Phat Goke (tea leaf salad box)

Some people in Bagan used to earn money by renting ebikes to hotels and guesthouses, not directly to the visitors. They put their ebikes in the hotels/ guesthouses and they used to earn 30000-40000 mmk in a day. Now, some of them have been selling homemade dishes and handmade products like crochet on Facebook and deliver to other regions via delivery services or bus. Other people who used to rent horse carts to tourists are now hunting gold particles as Bagan is situated on the bank of Ayeyarwaddy River. Some are working as daily-paid workers for the agricultural farms located on the river bank. 

Horse-cart in Bagan

Bagan during the Coup 

Myanmar has been under the coup government since Feb 1 , 2021. Residents in Bagan also joined the demonstrations and showed their strong protests against the coup. 

Due to the decline in tourism industry, the people of Bagan are very practical and have found ways to make money including being involved in selling lottery tickets (2D/3D) from Thailand.

As an alternative income, number of gambling sites have risen in Bagan and people become more obsessive to gambling and believe to try their luck upon gambling. Some people are selling eggs and other food stuff and some are working in the agricultural fields, some are selling 2D/3D lottery and some are still selling their local products online (Bagan is famous for Black bean paste). Only people like who run big stores and privileged persons are doing well now. Big stores are doing good as they sell daily instant food stuff like instant coffee, milk powder, noodles and others like hand sanitizers, face masks and bird-nest bottles. People are now panic-buying because of COVID-19 and food like eggs and bird-net bottles(which are good for immune systems) are out of stocks and as soon as they are back in stock, people are busy buying them. Some people are solving their financial problems by  pledging their belongings (gold that they saved when they were doing good) for loan.

In July 2021, the COVID-19 cases in Myanmar are increasing again everyday and the military government has established travel restrictions and guidelines and announced the closure of all the shops apart from the pharmacies and essential food services. Therefore, all of the shops are now closed in Bagan and only the local markets are still operating. Most of the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay have been badly affected by the COVID-19 and encountered a lack of medical supplies.

I  hope beautiful Bagan will never be in such a situation and one day soon tourists will again be able to visit and be amazed at this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site.
Bagan in peak season with hot air balloons
Bagan in peak season with hot air balloons
Hot air balloon in Bagan

August 5, 2021