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The ancient Buddhist kingdom of Bagan in central Burma has been named the second greatest city in the world by the readers of Wanderlust Travel Magazine.
The famous complex of 2,000 temples and pagodas, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, lost out narrowly to the Laotian World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang in the “Best City” category of this year’s Wanderlust Travel Awards. Swedish capital Stockholm was placed third with Kyoto fourth, ahead of Vietnam’s Hoi An.
In the “Top Country” category, Burma was ranked ninth, ahead of Thailand, India and Vietnam. New Zealand came first, pipping Namibia, Ethiopia and Bhutan.
In November, backpackers’ bible The Lonely Planet accorded the site this romantic moniker: “The world’s most likely time and place to get a ‘Yes’ to a wedding proposal is during sunrise at Bagan”. The site was chosen as the most enticing place on earth to get down on one knee – ahead of Trolltunga in Norway, and New York City.
Reaching the apex of its power in the 1050s and 1060s under King Anawrahta, the Kingdom of Bagan absorbed all communities throughout the Irrawaddy valley; its influence extended from the present Chinese border in the north to the Malayan peninsular in the south; and from at least the Salween River in the east to the Arakan and Chin hills in the west. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Bagan, or Pagan, was one of two main empires in mainland Southeast Asia, alongside the Khmer kingdom.
Between the 11th and 13th centuries, more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
The site has not achieved UNESCO World Heritage site status, largely thought to be because of poor restoration work undertaken by the military junta in the 1990s.
In March 2014, the Burmese government announced that all new hotel construction has been halted in Bagan, although it could not renege on construction agreements signed by the previous government.
A month later, the Japan International Cooperation Association signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, pledging technical assistance for development in the ancient city and archeological zone until 2017.