11 March 2015

Meandering in Myanmar: Kanbawzathadi Palace in Bago

A few hundred meters away from Shwemawdaw Paya is the reconstructed Kanbawzathadi Palace. Both sites are actually part of the Bago Archaeological Zone, and therefore they have a joint ticket system where the entrance for one of the sites is also valid for the other. So I figured I might as well see it since so far I have been checking out Buddhist temples for the most part, and not non-religious sites. So I asked around for directions, and a few minutes later I found this place.

From afar, it is definitely very stunning. Quite captivating, I must say. And architecturally very different from the religious buildings I have seen so far. Basically, there seems to be nothing round here, unlike the Buddhist temples. Everything seems to be pointy, and something that you probably wouldn't want to parachute into. But yes, gold still features heavily in this palace.

The original palace was built for King Bayinnaung in 1556. He was supposedly the most powerful king in the region back in the 16th century. Before this trip, I didn't know a lot about the history of the area, and I had no knowledge whatsoever of the kings and dynasties that were in place in the area. Basically, all of my knowledge about Myanmar started from the British Era. Anyway, this was apparently the location of King Bayinnaung's palace, consisting of 76 different halls. It was said to have burned in 1599. The structure that one sees at the present day is a reconstruction done by the Myanma government in the 1990s.

Remember earlier I said that it was stunning from afar? Well, when you come close-up, then it is not so much. This was a reconstruction, but the reconstruction efforts of the Myanma government isn't the best. Ever wondered why now (2015) there's only one site in Myanmar that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? It's because the Myanma government's reconstruction efforts are sub-par, and therefore results more in a Disney-fication of the site, rather than an authentic replica. Heck, even the Plains of Bagan (which I will blog about in a few days) are reconstructed for the most part. The Myanma government seems not to care about following traditional building processes, substituting materials for other things, and therefore while it does look pretty, it is not authentic. Hence UNESCO has been very picky and won't bestow the World Heritage title. Not to mention that maintenance is also an issue, and Myanmar doesn't do a good job of it. For example, while this palace looks nice from a distance, its nooks and crannies are a little dirty and in need of a major spring cleaning.

It was a thought-provoking visit, for me at least. It made me think about the politics of sight-seeing. That being said, I still enjoyed my visit.


  1. It looks huge!

    (and now that I read my comment again, I must add "quite phallic too, with all these poles" :-D)

    1. Zhu,

      Hahaha, why is it that you always have sexual associations with these buildings? LOL!