Myanmar earthquake update

Bagan, Burma

In the wake of Burma's earthquake last week, we're sure many of you are wondering about the damage and what's being done to put it right. If you're travelling to Burma in the near future, you will of course be wondering how it will affect your travel plans too.

Here, we hope to answer a few of these questions and assuage any lingering worries about safety in the country.

What happened?

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck at a depth of 84 kilometres, around 30 kilometres south of Bagan and was felt as far south as Yangon and across into India, however the area affected by the earthquake was very small - and there have been four reported fatalities.

Some sources claim up to 400 pagodas have been damaged, with 180 of these being in the Bagan central monument zone. Some of the most famous temples in this area have been damaged, including Sulamani, however none have collapsed.

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Most temples have only received minor damage, such as losing ceramic tiles or brick turrets from their highest points. At the moment, most pagodas in Bagan are closed to enable the authorities to assess the damage caused – a process predicted to take around two weeks. This is not the first time an earthquake has struck the area and once the situation has been assessed, the restoration projects will begin.

A blessing in disguise for Bagan's temples?

Most of Bagan's 2,000+ temples have stood for at least 700 years, some of them close to a millennium. Why were so many affected this time?

Bagan is famous for its failure to gain UNESCO status despite many applications. The reason is that the temples have often undergone shoddy repairs, which have damaged the integrity of the structures and discouraged UNESCO from supporting their upkeep. There has been some speculation that the temples now suffering the worst damage are the ones that received slapdash repairs in the late 20th century - and that the original structures are unharmed.

UNESCO is currently assessing the situation in Bagan, and Aung San Suu Kyi has called for a cessation of clean-up efforts until further notice. (Until that point, misguided helpers had been sweeping 1,000-year-old "rubble" into bin bags.)

Some commentators have suggested that this earthquake damage could herald a clean slate for Bagan, with lacklustre building work swept away and World Heritage protection awarded. Only time will tell if this comes to pass.

I'm travelling to Burma soon, how will this affect me?

The area of Bagan remains accessible and safe to travel in. No hotels have reported damage and your trip will still go ahead as planned. Depending on how far in the future you're travelling and the extent of the restoration that needs to be carried out, you may find that the exact temples as per itineraries will be adjusted, instead visiting some of the other 2,500 in the area that are more accessible at the time - but no major changes or route adjustments will be necessary.

It may be announced that the six temples which were previously open to be climbed for sunset are now no longer climbable, but don't worry - there are plenty of other places that are just as beautiful to watch the sunset.

If you'd like more information about the situation in Burma, or are worried about your upcoming trip, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us to find out more.

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