The boom in tourism to Angkor Wat has surged to staggering heights this decade, but travellers have been coming to view the temples for yonks as part of what is known as pilgrim tours.
Aye Sapay Phyu, a journalist from The Myanmar Times newspaper who this year worked in the Phnom Penh Post’s Siem Reap bureau for a month as part of a Sasakawa Peace Foundation scholarship, uncovered evidence of pilgrimages from Myanmar at Angkor Wat.
“One example of evidence I found was a Myanmar inscription in one of the pillars of a cruciform cloister, which connected with the outer gallery on the west side of the temple.”
The inscription was dated year 1288, but according to the Myanmar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, so it was really only 83 years ago.
Some of the spelling is quite different from what is currently used and the inscription gave the date that the pilgrims visited, and the city where they had lived.
The names of six people were included in the inscription, as was the relationship between each of them such as wife, son, daughter and niece.
U Maung Maung Myo Thaung, who runs Mandalay Inn guest house near the Old Market in Siem Reap, said there are still many pilgrim tours between Cambodia and Myanmar.
He said that between 400-500 pilgrims from Myanmar stayed in his guest house in 2009. But he added that the pilgrimages are two-way trips.
“Some of my Cambodia friends also want to visit Myanmar as part of a pilgrim tour. I arrange for them to visit Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan, where many glorious pagodas exist, for a week. If they have holidays for 10 days, I also arrange for them to go to places like Kyaikhtiyo in Mon State.”
In November 2003 The Myanmar Times reported that during an Economic Summit in Bagan, authorities from the two countries wanted to establish Bagan and Siem Reap as sister cities by developing an air link and joint tourism promotions.