Critics Say Proposed Viewing Tower in Bagan Will Damage Cultural Landscape

By Yan Paing 9 May 2018

YANGON — A Korea-based company has inquired the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture about building a 100-meter sunset viewing tower in Bagan.

Sky Dream Co Ltd of Korea has proposed building a viewing tower south of the hotel zone in Bagan, according to sources at the Department of Archaeology and National Museum.

The company also proposed building a recreational park along with the tower. U Aung Aung Kyaw, the director of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum (Bagan branch), denied that the department had given the go-ahead.

“The company only asked our opinion about the project,” he said. He would not comment on the background or ownership of the company.

The department suggested conducting a heritage impact assessment for the viewing tower.

“I am not at ease with this proposal. I also heard that a theme park would be built. Theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios do not fit with Bagan. Generally speaking, a viewing tower does not even belong here,” said Daw Ohmar Myo, in-charge of the UNESCO World Heritage bid for Bagan.

Though the company said that the proposed viewing site is outside the Bagan Archaeological Zone, it is relatively close and will negatively impact the plan to build a greater heritage region,” said Daw Ohmar Myo, discussing a regional heritage plan and the effect of a tall viewing tower on the cultural landscape.

The tower will be reportedly modeled after the Menara Taming Sari, a 110-meter viewing tower near old Malacca, a UNESCO World Heritage city in Malaysia, which attracts many visitors.

Previously, five temples were open to visitors to view the sunset in Bagan, but after hundreds of pagodas were damaged by a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake in August last year, authorities have banned climbing on all pagodas in consideration of their durability.

Bagan has stupas, temples and other Buddhist religious buildings constructed from the 9th to 11th centuries—a period in which 55 Buddhist kings ruled the Pagan Dynasty. There are more than 3,000 stupas and temples in the area that covers 16 square miles.

Myanmar’s initial application for UNESCO recognition of Bagan as a World Heritage Site came in 1996, but it was rejected due to poor management plans and legal frameworks under previous governments.

However, UNESCO has accepted Bagan as a mixed cultural heritage zone, which means that there is no need to relocate villages, hotels or guesthouses in the area.

Bagan’s nomination will be brought up for deliberation at UNESCO’s 2019 World Heritage Site convention, according to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.