Only 5 hours’ drive from Yangon, Pyay is the ideal weekend getaway. It’s not just home to Myanmar’s other UNESCO world heritage site but a destination in its own right, with many activities beyond the ancient cities. Here are eight highlights worth getting out of the car for.
1Take an elephant ride into history
The 73-acre teak forest near the town entrance on the Pyay–Yangon Road dates from the 1850s and edges onto an elephant camp. The Brits called Pyay ‘Prome’, and there is a lot of colonial architecture still standing, especially around The Strand Road.
Photo-bomb young lovers on Nawade bridge
Named after a poet, this bridge built across the Ayeyarwaddy is the perfect spot to watch the sunset…if you can fit amongst the university students and exercise bunnies. Cross over the bridge and turn right for a popular hiking route to Shwe Bon Dar pagoda. Or go left (and, err, up) to Ngwe Bon Dar pagoda, for another impressive view from among the Neem trees. UPDATE: It was previously stated it was the first built, but “The Nawade Bridge in Pyay is the first Ayeyawady River bridge built by the Tatmadaw Government.” The very first bridge across the Ayeyarwaddy was the Innwa (Ava) bridge, south of Mandalay, in 1934. Thanks to Tobias Esche for pointing this out!
3Venture up Min Gyi hill
This hill is shrouded in stories, including the myth of Baydaryi, a deer-eyed maiden, whose son Duttabaung founded the ancient city Sri Ksetra. The cave she used to fetch water from the river is in the Kalaywa Tawya monastry on the hill. One of the remaining colonial villas was also the setting of classic film Da Pyi Thu Ma Shwe Hta.
4Feed the carp at Mingalar Garden
Even if you’re not staying in one of the bungalows at this gorgeous resort, you can enjoy lunch at their lakeside restaurant. They even sell snacks for the fishies.
5Decide which is better: loads of small Buddhas or one really big Buddha?
Pyay boasts both. Shwe San Daw pagoda has a great view of the adjoining Sehtatgyi Paya, where a huge gold Buddha dominates the horizon. However, Akauktang is an equally (or is it?) impressive sight: hundreds of Buddhas carved into the limestone cliff along the river. Driving from Pyay to Htone Mo (hometown of Thakin Mya) takes about 1.5 hours, and from there a scenic ferry ride is c15,000 per boat. You can climb up to the pagoda, a few shops, and forest trails.
6Balance your inner/outer liquidity
If you feel a little off-kilter, take a dip in the Ayeyarwaddy and follow it up with a beer at one of riverside restaurants, like WISH. I’m not sure this is a genuine spiritual practice but why not give it a try, and see if you don’t feel at peace.
7Let your tastebuds do the travelling
Although neither the word “rice” nor “salad” is especially promising, somehow Pyay combines these in a calorific delight, for which it’s known across Myanmar. Myint Myint Aye make only rice salad, served in a leaf, from morning until they sell out. The Pyay sweet Malai is also renowned. Taw (forest) Lahpet Thot is another must-try. This unique version of tealeaf salad uses a special local leaf. If that wasn’t niche enough, it’s handpicked by nuns.
8Eat some more Pyay rice salad
Presided over by a statue of General Aung San at the central roundabout, Pyay’s night market can meet all your midnight rice salad needs — it’s usually open 24 hours, and has an array of delicious fare.
Of course, the UNESCO site is truly magical
But Pyay/Pyu/Prome has even more to offer visitors than ancient cities and bell pagodas. Just remember, you can’t spell “Pyay” without “yay”! That is…unless you write it in Myanmar, in which case it is actually spelt Pyi. Yeah.