Welcome to Pyay, one of the Pyu ancient cities (Sri Ksetra)
Welcome to Pyay, one of the Pyu ancient cities (Sri Ksetra)
Many of tourists’ itineraries for Myanmar generally include Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle and one of famous beaches such as Ngapali or Ngwe Saung or the islands along the South coast. The thing is there are more than the above listed places that are iconic and breathtaking all over Myanmar. Although it’s understanding that visitors prioritize the popular destinations due to the time constraints, I personally recommend to take a short tour (at most 2 days is enough) to Pyay which is full of historical heritages even earlier than Bagan era.
Pyay is the administrative city of Bago west and on the east bank of Irrawaddy River. It takes only 6 hours of drive from Yangon, and fortunately the city lies in the midway of Yangon to Bagan highway. Escape the noise amid crowed population of Yangon, free yourself into the paddy fields which extend as far as the eyes can reach along the highway, and feel the tranquility of life in remote area.
Things to try out
- Visit the famous Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, located in downtown of Pyay. As the name suggests, within the stupa keeps the hair of the Buddha. Visitors can also pay obeisance to the copied eyetooth of the Buddha. There is one special event held every three years, which a million people from neighboring towns and villages come to participate. Swe Daw Hlae Pwe (the journey of the eyetooth of Buddha around the city) is held in a large scale together with Pwe Zay event. Speaking of Pwe Zay, let me demonstrate about Pwe Zay a little bit. Every year in Thazaungmone (November in Gregorian calendar), normally people from the whole Myanmar visit Pwe Zay in their respective cities (Pwe Zay is roadside stalls that sell local snacks, souvenirs and so on), buy stuff, take a ride in temporary manmade Ferris wheel and pirate ship, and let the children play in the child playground. The interesting thing about Swe Daw Hlae Pwe is lots of parade floats from each city quarter. They go around the city and perform to the audience with both traditional and contemporary music and dance. If you happen to arrive at Myanmar in October and November, then you are lucky because Thadingyut festival which is a highly valued religious festival is held in October, and you can take part and taste various Myanmar snacks in Thazaungdaing festival in November. If you’re lucky enough to bump into Swe Daw festival, then you probably don’t want to just let go of it. Enjoy at your utmost the merry atmosphere and make friends with local people who are happier and warmer to you.
- Take a tour to one of the Pyu ancient cities which have been listed as UNESCO world heritage. The name of that city is Sri Ksetra and it is about half an hour drive from downtown directed to north. Pyu kingdom lasted over 1000 years between 200 BC and AD 900 whereas well-known Bagan was founded only in 9th This shows that Pyu cities are more ancient than Bagan. Most of the buildings in Pyu are made of brick which are large and stiff. You can see bell-like stupas, part of the walls and water management system, all of which are made with those bricks. You can also visit the museum where the cultural heritages dug from the ground and the sample of Pyu alphabets are kept. Because the weather is dry, sunny and little rain there, the streets are dusty and you have to tolerate with the dust coming to you on the way. Having a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen might help you.
- While you’re staying in Pyay, you needn’t worry of appetite problems. Tons of delicious local cuisines will certainly suit your taste buds and satisfy your hungry belly. Treat yourself with rice salad which is specialty of Pyay, yellow tofu salad, steamed sticky rice and Mote Pyit Salat (Myanmar fried snack which uses juice from the ground rice as the base and topped with steamed beans, parsley and egg according to your favor). Some of them are available all day but some are available only in the early morning. Get yourself up early if you want to have them on time, otherwise you will only see the empty pots. If you have a sweet tooth, you probably should consider shopping at the jam shops where a variety of jams made of fresh fruits and many types of malai are sold. The packaging is neat enough to give your loved ones as a gift.
- The journey isn’t over yet. You can even cross the Irrawaddy River with Nawaday Bridge to explore more wonders. Shwe Bondar Muni, one of the Muni Pagodas in Myanmar, is on the west bank of Irrawady River. There you can get fresh fruits and local products with high quality but cheaper price than in Pyay where the products are already very cheap. Back to the main highway, the next destination is Baw Di Tahtaung Pagoda. It can be reached on the way to Kanma town which is the sideroad off the main highway. As soon as you arrive there you will definitely be amazed with hundreds of Buddha images built along the hillside. There are more Buddha images in process to be built, so more are expected. Going up the hill by car, you will gradually figure out the complete nature art from the top view. It is wise to take photos as well for those irreplaceable scenery. After about an hour of drive from Baw Di Tahtaung is Akout Taung Mountain in the town Htone Bo. Hire a boat to go to the foot of the mountain. Don’t forget to take it all in during the boat trip if you don’t want to miss the breathtaking scene of lots of Buddha images put on the wall of the mountain.
Pyay is worth a visit if you are history enthusiast as well as Buddhism explorer. But it has many scenic destinations for a cyclist too. You can join a group of cyclists on the way or if you want to go alone you would better go with a local guide as you might get lost even with Google map. There is no bike hiring shop, so it’s a good idea to take your own bike with you which can also be used in other cycling spots in Myanmar. Happy travelling. Fingers crossed.