Bagan hotels

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A view from the pool at the Aureum Palace Hotel in Bagan looking across the pond to the temples. Photo by David Lansing.

They say the best hotel in Bagan is the Aureum Palace so yesterday afternoon I stopped by to have a look. The resort sprawls across 27 acres and includes a sushi bar, spa, and 72 villas, including the thousand-dollar-a-night Island Villa with its own lap pool, sun deck, and a personal valet.

The Island Villa was vacant (but very beautiful) as were most of the other villas and guest rooms. In fact, on an hour-long tour of the property I think I only saw two or three guests, and they were sitting in the lobby drinking tea. No one at the pool. No one at the spa. No one walking around the extravagant five-star property. So what gives?

Well, the hotel is owned by Tay Za, reportedly the richest man in Burma and a close associate of one of its former military dictators, Gen. Than Shwe. And Mr. Tay Za has been described by the United States Department of the Treasury as a “notorious henchman and arms dealer.”

According to a recent story in the New York Times, after the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when the junta killed dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators and arrested thousands more, “the Bush administration froze his assets and blocked him and his family from traveling to the United States.”

Does that explain why there are few guests? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s because of the weather. We are coming to the end of the intense monsoons here in Burma when daily temps in Bagan often eclipse 100°F. So maybe it has nothing to do with tourist’s feelings about Tay Za at all.

Then again, our hotel, Tharabar Gate, seems to be completely full.

For $1,000 a night you can rent the Island Villa at the Aureum Palace Hotel which comes with its own lap pool and valet–if you don’t mind the company you keep.

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The pool at the Tharabar Gate Hotel

Elephants line the pool at the Tharabar Gate Hotel in Bagan, Myanmar. Photo by David Lansing.

There may be over 2,200 temples, pagodas, and monasteries on the dusty red plains of Bagan but all I wanted to do today was sleep on a lounge shaded by a red umbrella beside the jade green pool lined with little clay elephants at the Tharabar Gate Hotel. “I cannot look at temples this afternoon,” I confessed to my young guide, Sai, when he suggested an afternoon visit to the Shwezigon Pagoda.



He looked at me quizzically. “Perhaps you are not feeling well?”

“I feel fine. Just tired.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “It has been a lot.”

“Yes,” I said. “It has been a lot. I’m sorry. I know Bagan is one of the most amazing places in the world. And I am very much looking forward to seeing its temples. But not today. Today I want to nap by the pool.”

Sai smiled. “Okay,” he said. “No problem. Tomorrow we go to Shwezigon?”

“Tomorrow. Yes.”

And so, with more than a little bit of guilt, I took the afternoon off. I walked from one end of the pale green pool to the other. I ordered a tropical cocktail. And I fell asleep on my lounge chair while reading Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar once again. It was the perfect afternoon.

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Day one in Burma

So how do you know when you’re no longer in Thailand? When the concierge at your hotel in Burma looks like this.

Tharabar Gate Hotel, Bagan. Photo by David Lansing.

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