Many people simply pass by Bago on their way to Mandalay, but those who take the time to stop and look around will come across many unique features. Here you will find literally thousands of Buddha images in carved niches in a rocky cavern and an interesting array of pagodas, temples and other buildings.
The site of Bago was founded in 573 AD by two Mon princes and paid an important role in the history of both Mon land and Myanmar before being destroyed by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1757. Although only a few buildings remain as testimony to this interesting period of history, those that do are worth taking the time to investigate.
Bago has a number of large pagodas, of which the Shwemawdaw or Golden Shrine is the most sacred as it is believed to contain a couple of hairs belonging to the Gautama Buddha. As you explore the town you will discover the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha statue and the impressive Kalyani Sima or Hall of Ordination.
There are a number of interesting places to explore on the outskirts of Bago. Just 40 miles to the east is one of Myanmar’s most prominent landmarks. Also know as Golden Rock, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 5.5 meter high pagoda atop a large bolder covered with gold leaf. What makes this site so unusual is that the bolder is balanced on the very edge of a precipice and looks as though it will topple over the edge at any moment.
Bago is situated between the forested Pegu Mountains to the west and the Sittang River to the east. Surrounded by picturesque paddy fields, this is a good area to explore to get a real feel for Myanmar. There are number of places to get a bite to eat around Bagan and a couple of cosy places to stay.
The National Elephant Institute (formerly the Thai Elephant Conservation Center) was founded in 1991 by the Forest Industry Organization and has since provided care for more than one hundred elephants as well as jobs and housing for mahouts and their families who were displaced after the ban on logging in 1989.
The Elephant Hospital at the institute currently cares for 15 elephants. I and my companions had the great fortune of receiving a tour of the hospital by a resident volunteer, Janique von Kanel. Originally from Switzerland, Janique has been living at the Elephant Hospital for over a year and is founder of The Elephant Hospital Society, a non-profit organization. Janique's other passion is working with children who have leprosy in India. Can we call her 'saint' yet?
Janique introduced us to Babar, a baby elephant suffering from paralysis in his hind legs and back due to a fall. The 'little' guy hangs from a sling during the day and sleeps with a volunteer on a bed of stuffed burlap sacks at night. His mother comes to the hospital to feed him and he receives acupuncture treatment.
We also met Councy, a 45-year-old female elephant severely injured by a land mine while being used for illegal logging activities near the Burmese border.
True animal lovers can experience genuine mahout training, complete with stylish baggy pants. The institute offers programs ranging from 3 to 30 days and starting at 4,000 Baht.
Entry to the institute and hospital is free. Nominal fees are charged For elephant rides and show tickets. See how elephant dung paper is made and purchase some cards, paper or photo frames. I quite enjoyed ending my letters with, 'Guess what you are holding...'
The National Elephant Institute:
Highway Chiang Mai-Lampang km 26-28, Amphor Hang Chat, Lampang 52000.
Elephant Hospital Society: firstname.lastname@example.org
Events and activities, Elephant Donation Project:
Elephant dung paper: