YANGON, 16 January 2020: The Mekong Tourism Office will unpack its conference goodies earlier this year as the dates for the annual Mekong Tourism Forum in Bagan, Myanmar, move to 28 to 29 April.
Traditionally, the forum adopts a mid -May time slot but this time around the host, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, shifted the event by more than a week to escape the threat of rain.
It wasn’t the only revision for the Mekong region’s top event the other being the decision to relocate the forum venue from Mandalay to Bagan after UNESCO added the ancient town to its World Heritage list.
Mandalay the country’s second-largest city after Yangon is an international aviation gateway, while Bagan famed for its 3,800 ancient temples and pagodas relies entirely on domestic services from Mandalay (a 30-minute flight) and Yangon ( one-hour and 20 minutes).
There is talk of upgrading Bagan’s airport to international status to promote tourism. Still, the country’s airlines fear it could inflict considerable losses on what is a prime revenue-earning route. Bangkok Airways has been associated with moves to gain access to Bagan from its base in Bangkok.
In its favour, Bagan has fascinating transport alternatives to air travel, having a fleet of riverboats that offer overnight cruises from Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River. There is even a daily ferry that departs to Bagan at dawn and drops you off at Bagan’s river jetty on the doorstep of the four-star Aye Yar Riverside Hotel, the official MTF venue, during the late afternoon.
The more than 150 International delegates who annually head for the MTF to network and talk tourism strategies, will need to book direct flights to either Yangon or Mandalay to connect with domestic services to Bagan. It will bump up the cost of attending the MTF by just over USD100 to USD195 roundtrip.
From Mandalay airport, they can transfer to domestic flights on Air KBZ with the lowest roundtrip fare quoted at USD108. Unfortunately, the flight departs Mandalay for Bagan’s Nyaung-U airport at 0700 which mean you have to overnight in Mandalay adding to the hotel bill. A more feasible alternative is to connect with the MAI flight to Nyaung-U that departs at 1800. The fare will set you back USD131 roundtrip.
Travelling via the Yangon gateway encounters the same challenge. The lack of seamless connections between international flights and domestic services to Bagan may force you to stay overnight in Yangon. The late afternoon domestic flight to Bagan could cost as much as USD195 about USD20 more than an early morning departure.
Aye Yar Riverside Hotel serves as the conference hotel, and according to MTCO executive director, Jens Thraenhart construction of the conference hall at the hotel is almost complete.
Bagan may have thousands of fabled pagoda ruins to explore, but this is not a destination with sizeable convention or incentive facilities. With attendance at the MTF estimated at around 250 delegates for the opening session boosted by a troupe of government officials and hangers on, the new Aer Yar meeting hall will be packed to the doors.
Bagan is an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. Its history dates back to the 9th to 13th centuries when the city was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute what we know as Myanmar today. It is famous for the vast riverside plain that is home to 3822 ancient temples and pagodas. The Bagan Archaeological Zone is now a UNESCO world heritage sites and is famed for dawn hot air balloon excursions that provide visitors a bird’s eye view of the pagodas.