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In Bago travellers can visit the sumptuous reclining Buddha, the Shwethalyaung Buddha. It was built in the 10th Century but lay hidden by jungle for decades before being discovered in 1881 when the building of the Bago-Yangon railway line commenced.
The Shwemawdaw Pagoda looks over Bago, standing at an impressive 114 metres, 14 metres higher than Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. This is an excellent location to celebrate the Bago Pagoda Festival in March / April. There is the Hintah Gon Paya, abundantly decorated with depictions of the mythical birds hamsa, and the Kyaik Pun Paa, which consists of four 30 metre high sitting Buddhas situated upon the sides of one large pillar.
There is also a Snake Monastery just off the central highway, housing a 120 year old Burmese Python. If snoozing in the corner, you will be encouraged to lay a Kyat note on its coils as a donation for good luck.
The remains of the Kanbawzathadi Palace are located in the centre of the town and the Shwe Taung Yoe Paya, situated on a small hilltop, is a sublime spot to watch the sunset.
In Bago today it is possible to visit an elephant camp and there are a smattering of nice hotels offering a respite from Yangon.
Bago was founded in AD 573 by two Mon princes from Thaton who saw a female hamsa standing upon a male hamsa at the centre of a lake. This was thought to be an auspicious sign, in that it displayed the male bird’s compassion in providing an island in the water for his mate. The two princes subsequently decided that this would be an optimum location to found a settlement.
This myth has led to the belief today that the men from Bago are Myanmar’s most chivalrous men. Taking an alternative perspective, it is also said that men who marry women from Bago are the most likely to be henpecked.
The Mon christened the city Hanthawady and it became the capital of the Mon Empire of Ramanadesa from 1287 to 1539. When the Bamar Dynasty of Toungoo defeated the Mon, Hanthawaddy became the seat of power of the great King Bayinnaung, who in the mid-16th century extended his Kingdom to what is now Chaing Mai in northern Thailand as well as east into Laos, rendering it the largest empire in mainland Southeast Asia at the time.
Later on, the town rose to importance as ‘Pegu’, Myanmar’s most important sea port to European travellers. In 1586, the first Briton ever to reach the city described it thus:
‘It is a city very great and populous and is made square and with very fair walls, and a great ditch, round about it full of water, with many crocodiles in it … The streets are the fairest that ever I saw, as straight as a line from one gate to the other, and so broad that ten or twelve men may rid a-front through them.’
When the river changed its course in the 19th century, Bago lost its role as a seaport. Though remaining an important town in the history of Myanmar, Bago today has no further claims to grandeur.