One of Myanmar’s many old capitals, Pyay (pronounced ‘Pyee’ and known in colonial times as Prome) is a quiet, stupa-studded Irrawaddy riverside town, around 290 kilometres north of Yangon. The hilltop Shwesandaw Pagoda, in the centre of town, is one of Myanmar’s biggest pilgrimage sites and offers panoramic views of the river and lush surroundings. Also to be found nearby are the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient Pyu capital of Sri Ksetra and the unique Akauk Taung (Customs Hill) Buddha cliff carvings, set on the Irrawaddy river.Another point of interest in the area is the Shwe Myet Man Paya or Buddha with Golden Spectacles. Located on the road to Yangon in the town of Shwedaung, this temple is a unique and odd curiosity; it is said that the praying to this Buddha image can cure diseases, especially – and unsurprisingly – those linked to the eyes.
Just east of Pyay lie the ancient ruins of Sri Ksetra, meaning ‘City of Splendour’ in Sanskrit. Also known as Thayekhittaya, it provides a glimpse of an even older civilisation than those of Bagan or Mrauk U – that of the Pyu, who built this huge city between the 5th and 9th centuries. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2014, the site is centred on the remains of the royal palace and, although not much remains of the original city, there are a number of tombs, palaces, pagodas and other religious sites to explore – including the huge, cylindrical, brick-built Baw Baw Gyi Pagoda, said to be the oldest Buddhist monument in Myanmar; the Rahanta Cave Pagoda; the Lay Myet Hna monument; and the royal cemetery. To get to Sri Ksetra, you will need to take a bicycle, motorbike or taxi from the centre of Pyay. The turn off is marked on the main road heading 8 kilometres east of Pyay, and you can see the ancient city walls from the road. Head first to the museum at the centre of the site (K5000 entry), which contains a number of items and relics from the wider site that are safely preserved there – with useful background information in English. There is a further K5000 fee for entry to the site itself.