Pyay: Payas, pilgrims and Pyu civilisation ruins
Unlike the ‘Road to Mandalay’ the ‘Road to Pyay’ or Prome as it was known, is less well travelled by those on the tourist trail. For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Yangon, stupa-studded Pyay – on the Ayeyarwady River about 177 miles (245km) by road from the commercial capital – is big enough for an interesting weekend getaway, yet small enough to make it an easy destination to unwind.
The hilltop Shwesandaw Pago- da, which is about a yard higher than Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, is one of the nation’s most revered pilgrimage destinations. It affords panoramic views of 64 smaller pagodas throughout the city and is a perfect vantage point to watch the sun rising over a huge seated Buddha image nearby. Because of its height the image is known as the Sehtagyi Paya, which means “big ten-storey”.
For even older religiosity, about five miles (eight kilometres) outside Pyay are the ruins of the ancient Pyu civilisation city of Sri Ksetra, which means “City of Splendour” in Sanskrit and is known in Myanmar as Thayekhittaya. This archeological site covering about 5.5 square miles features three stupas that in June last year became the first sites in Myanmar to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, as the “Pyu Ancient Cities”.
Sri Ksetra peaked in importance between the 5th and 9th centuries but the site has fewer pagodas than the tem- ple-studded plain at Bagan. It’s possible to hire bicycles to explore the site, although the sandy, bumpy roads make pedalling hard work. A tuk-tuk hired from Pyay to tour the site costs about K15,000 and the first stop will be at the information centre to buy your K5,000 entry ticket. You also have the option of visiting the Sri Ksetra Museum for an extra K5,000.
Beyond the ancient sites, Pyay affords a number of opportunities to relax, soak in a little street culture or simply sit and watch the world go by. The night market bustles with activity but is noticeably quieter than those in Yangon, with much less honking of horns. The nearby riverfront is comparatively clean and a pleasant place for an enjoyable stroll. Walking through the riverside park and taking time out at one of the teashops while enjoying the breeze off the Ayeryarwady is a thoroughly recommended way to relax for an hour or two.