A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area which is chosen to be legally protected by international treaties by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In order to make the list, the chosen property needs to be considered to have great cultural, historical or scientific significance. These protected sites can now be found all over the world, and Myanmar is no different.
Among the popular sights and attractions in Myanmar are two certified cultural UNESCO heritage sites: the Bagan sacred landscape located close to the city of Mandalay, and the Pyu Ancient cities of Beikthano, Halin, and Sri Kestra.
Both sites reflect the rich cultural and archaeological legacy of early Buddhism in Myanmar, and contain a range of impressive monuments to the past. There are also a number of sites in Myanmar on the tentative UNESCO list which are expected to be officially confirmed in the near future.
How Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites Are in Myanmar?
There are currently only 2 properties inscribed on the list of UNESCO heritage sites in Myanmar. Both are cultural UNESCO sites, and represent ancient civilizations which helped to shape the history of the country:
- Pyu Ancient Cities – Declared a Myanmar UNESCO site in 2014, the Pyu Ancient Cities comprise the ruins of 3 brick-walled settlements surrounded by moats, and are located in the Ayeyarwady River basin in the center of the country. The partly excavated archaeological sites represent the last remains of the Pyu Kingdoms which prospered for over 1,000 years between 200 BC and AD 900, and mark the emergence of the first recorded Buddhist civilization in Southeast Asia. Remains include ancient palace citadels, burial grounds, and brick ritual structures which remain an important site of religious pilgrimage to this day.
- Bagan UNESCO World Heritage Site – Only recently added to the UNESCO list in Myanmar, in July 2019, this sacred landscape is also located along the Ayeyarwady River, and boasts a range of well-preserved Buddhist art and architecture. The Bagan landscape is composed of 7 separate sites which include a range of stunning temples and monasteries, as well as important archeological remains, sculptures, and frescoes. The capital of a regional empire between the 11th-13th centuries CE, the site at Bagan includes over 3,595 recorded monuments to explore.
The distance between Bagan and the southernmost Ancient City of Pyu, Sri Ksetra, is approximately 341 kilometres by road and 259 kilometres by ferry along the Ayeyarwady River.
Although it is possible to rent a car and drive, many travelers may find the road conditions in Myanmar difficult to navigate. Taking a ferry is often the fastest and cheapest way to travel between the 2 UNESCO sites.
List of Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Myanmar
Besides the pagodas and temples of Bagan and the Ancient cities of Pyu, there are a number of historic monuments and unique natural landscapes which are on the list of tentative Myanmar UNESCO sites. The tentative list contains properties which the government has considered for nomination for long-term preservation, and includes:
- Ancient cities of Upper Myanmar – The 5 cities of Amarapura, Innwa, Mandalay, Mingun, and Sagaing have been considered as UNESCO sites in Myanmar since 1996. Located within 30 kilometres of each other on the banks of the Ayeyawady, the cities have all served as royal residences during the long history of the country and contain the remains of a number of important places, religious monuments, temples, and monasteries. The royal place in Mandalay is particularly impressive and a popular tourist destination.
- Padah-Lin Caves – A limestone cave system located in the Nwalabo mountains in Taunggyi District in central Myanmar, Padah-Lin is notable for containing striking examples of ancient cave paintings and rock carvings. A range of prehistoric tools and implements have also been uncovered in the caves, and the caverns also contain a number of Buddhist shrines.
- Myauk-U Archaeological Area and Monuments – An important archaeological site in northeastern Myanmar, Myauk-U was the capital of the powerful Rakhine kingdom which ruled the area from 1430 to 1785. The remains of the city contain over 200 Buddhist monuments and several well-preserved temples and are also an excellent example of the use of natural features for purposes of fortification.
- Shwedagon Pagoda – One of the the most recently proposed UNESCO world heritage sites in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is located on Singuttara Hill in central Yangon, the capital of the country. The structure is over 90 meters tall and is considered the most sacred Buddhist stupa (monument) in Myanmar. According to legend, the Pagoda was built over 2,600 years ago and contains the relics of four prominent historical Buddhas.
- Wooden Monasteries of the Konbaung Period – All located in the area between Bagan and Mandalay, these 6 historic buildings were mostly constructed between the 18th and 19th centuries and contain a rich collection of unique wood carvings, paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts. The best preserved example is the monastery at Sale, which also doubles as a museum.
Before planning to visit the Myanmar UNESCO sites, travelers should familiarize themselves with local laws you should know as a tourist, and check whether or not they require a visa to Myanmar to enter the country before departing for their trip.