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Travel

Myanmar bans tourists from climbing ancient temples

Visitors to Myanmar's ancient capital Bagan will no longer be able to climb its pagodas for a panoramic view following a government edict railing against "disgraceful" tourist behaviour.

The ban, which starts March 1, will end the daily ritual that sees hundreds of tourists and local pilgrims scaling the ancient structures to watch the sun set over a vast plain dotted with more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments.

"Furthermore, despite warnings, people who climb the pagodas often behave badly, in a way that is culturally disgraceful such as wearing inappropriate clothing, dancing and sleeping (on the monuments)," Myanmar's Ministry of Culture said in a post on its official Facebook page. Built between the 10th and 14th centuries as part of a powerful early kingdom, Bagan's temples are deeply revered in the Buddhist-majority nation and are also one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

After years in the wilderness under an isolationist junta, Myanmar was quickly embraced as a hot choice for holidays after outright military rule ended in 2011.The country began appearing on lists of must-visit destinations, often accompanied by bird's eye view images of Bagan's pagodas scattered across a mist-drenched landscape.

Many tourists make a beeline for Bagan, a trend that is expected to continue despite the new rules. "Bagan can offer other pleasures for tourists," said Naung Naung Han, of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, which represents private tour operators. But he said those not able to climb the structures to see a sunset at Bagan would be missing out.

By late Tuesday it had revised the order to let tourists ascend five of the largest pagodas - in a field of more than 3,000 Buddhist structures.

According to its figures, nearly half a million foreign tourists, including package tourists and independent travellers, arrived through Myanmar's main city gateway Yangon last year, more than double the number in 2011.

at / is (afpe)