The town of Sagaing in Myanmar made headlines on August 8, 1988. It was the site of a number of demonstrations that turned bloody. More than 300 civilians were massacred and killed. Today, however, the town is more than that, as the country moves away from its infamous military past and moves on to establish a rich and stable economy and society. Myanmar has now opened its doors to international tourism and the scenic, laidback town of Sagaing is one of its leading tourist draws.
The main features in town that continue to amaze local and foreign visitors are the numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries, which play an important role not only in tourism but also the people’s daily religious activities. Located about 20 kilometers to the southwest of Mandalay (a major Myanmar city), the town is the monastic center of the entire Sagaing province and regarded by many as the living center of Buddhism in all of Myanmar. About 600 monasteries and pagodas occupy the hills that run parallel the famous Ayeyarwady River. From the river, tourists can see some of the bigger pagodas that are taller than the surrounding trees. All of these pagodas are connected by a network of covered staircases to the main and central pagoda, Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, which is situated on top of a 240-meter hill. There are also a monastic hospital, nunneries, temples, stupas, caves and colonnades that are dedicated to Buddhism and of housing important Buddhist relics. About 5,000 monks are now occupying the monasteries. The town’s tourism activities are good only for day-trip tours since it is yet to have a major hotel to house its guests and visitors. Its most notable modern facilities are the Institute of Education and Education College.
Some of the most intriguing pagodas in the area are called the Kaunghmudaw Pagodas or “Work of Great Merit” Pagodas. They are large whitewashed structures found near the city limits. Another unique structure is the Tupayon Pagoda, which is a stupa with three circular floors that are ringed by arched niches.
Other places of interest within town are the Nyaung-gan archaeological site, where Bronze-age culture and centuries-old relics have surfaced; the natural twin-daung lake; Inwa Bridge, which is the oldest bridge that run across the Ayeyarwady River, made by British engineers in 1934; and the Mingun Bell, which is refutably the world’s largest ringing bell.
The town also played an important part in the country’s history. It used to be the capital of the Shan Kingdom from 1315 to 1364, after the fall of Bagan, and again as the royal capital from 1760 to 1764. During the Ava Period from 1364 to 1555, it was a popular feudal land for the prince and princes. Not anymore a place of political power, Sagaing is today best known as an important religious tourist destination and the center for Buddhist meditation where thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from all over Myanmar come to worship and lay their offerings. The busiest months are October and November, when hordes of pilgrims come during the full moon of Tazaungmon to pay their respects and offer robes to the resident monks.