Salay and its wonderful little covered bridge plus it’s 103 Bagan era ruins, is a place for explorers, history buffs & photographers rather than the casual tourist looking for easy access majesty. The temples here were funded by common people, not kings, and so lack the overwhelming grandeur of Bagan.
Salay lay twenty-two miles south of Bagan on the Irrawaddy River. The 12th-century village is little visited by tourists and may have more monasteries (50) per capita (7,000) than anywhere in the country other than the holy hills of Sagaing. The main attraction monastery is the very well maintained 19th century wooden gem, Yoke Sone Kyaung, which is a Myanmar Heritage site. Salay is also home to the largest “lacquerware” Buddha in the country. Made in the 13th century, this bamboo beauty can be admired at the Man Paya Pagoda.
As for Bagan-esque pagodas… Just east of Yoke Sone Kyaung is 3-part Thonzu Paya, and several others. Here you can see faded murals inside, with the best preserved being the shrine to the west. Four miles to the southwest on rough roads stands Shinpinsarkyo Pagoda, more easily known and pronounced as “Temple 88!” The temple has been recently “restored” as only the Burmese can, and we will leave it at that. Of note is an original 13th century “Lokanat”. It’s a wooded “guardian spirit” image of the Mahayana Bodhisattva, if that makes anything more clear! But the fun doesn’t stop there… Ever seen 19th century 3D Buddhist murals? Just go to the northern entrance to get more than you bargained for! As long as you’re at Temple 88, then Temple 99 is a must see. If you cannot get your driver to get you there, it’s about a 15 minute walk. The temple itself isn’t much from the exterior, but inside is filled with some wonderful murals – Jataka scenes – (578 in fact!). The final 16 are the “16 Dreams of King Kosala”.
Back in Salay itself… For fans of quirk and literary types, you may want to visit the U Pone Nya Museum. U Pone Nya was a famous 19th-century writer, and the odd little museum tells the tale of Myanmar’s literary heritage.
The town is also home to several British colonial buildings that seem in no hurry to be renovated.
Salay must be a day trip (possibly combined with Mt. Popa) as there are no hotels. Food options are limited, but of course you can always get some wonderful Burmese noodles in the market or other local hole in the wall eateries. If you’d rather not, dining choices are a bit better in the nearby village of Chauk, which is the sweet tamarind flake capitol of the region.
Photo: Kyaw Kyaw Winn