Housed in an absurd, out-of-place, 19th-century-style temple, the government-run Archaeological Museum (Bagan-Ctiauk Rd; admission $5; S9am-4.30pm) was .built in 1996 by the same people who redid the Mandalay Palace. It features many fine pieces from Bagan (reclining buddhas, original images, inscribed stones and mural re-creations) and an un-expected room of modern-art renderings of the temples.
Near Tharabar Gate, the unnecessary Palace Site is a recent remake of a 'Bagan-style' pal-ace. The red-walled compound is run by the government. At research time, it wasn't open to the public, but word is that it'll be acces-sible for $5.
Designed as a copy of the Crown Prince House in Mandalay, and built from 1882 to 1892, the huge wooden monastery is the best place to start a visit in Salay.
Along two of its exterior sides are detailed original carvings displaying lyth-ccnlury court life and scenes from the fataka (stories of the Buddha's past lives) and Ramayana (one of India's best known legends); sadly another side's pieces were looted in the 1980s. Inside, the 17lh- to 19th-century pieces are behind glass cases, while the Hagan-era woodcarvings (including a massive throne backdrop) stand in open view.
The monastery was renovated twice in the 1990s and the government's Department of Archaeology runs the site; on-site staff can point you to other nearby sites in and outside town. Eor general information, try "B 40221.
Little of the history of Salay's 103 ruins is known outside a small circle ot Myanmar archaeologists working with limited funds. It is said that most ot the monuments in Salay weren't royally sponsored but were built by the lower nobility or commoners - thus there are no structures on the grand scale of liagan's biggest ones.
In the pagoda-filled area across from the Youqson Kyaung, you can see Payathoniu (Temples 18, 19 and 20), about 110yd east, which is a small trio of brick shrines with sikluirit (Indian-style corncob-like temple finial) and some faded murals inside. The westernmost one (to the left it you come from the museum) has the most visible murals and also a narrow set of stairs leading to a small terrace. If it's locked, ask at Youqson Kyaung.
A more interesting feature is the modern makeover of the Bagan era Shinpinsarkyo Paya (Temple 88), about I miles southwest of town via a dodgy road (and a couple of dodgy bridges). Inside the glass- and tile-filled pagoda, you'll find an original 13th-century wood Lokanat (Mahayana Bodhisattva guardian spirit).
The nearby northern entrance passageway features interesting 19th-century 3-D murals (some torture to see). Original woodcarvings abound, some of which are painted afresh in original design.
Another mile or so south (most taxis won't drive it, but it's an easy 15-minule walk) is Temple 99, an unassuming 13th-century shrine that features 578 painted Jataka scenes inside. The last 16 paintings to the left as you enter represent the '16 Dreams of King Kosala'.
One of the most interesting aspects of Salay is the faded colonial buildings around town, many of which still feature the Royal Crown (look around the market area, about 220yd west of the museum). This is especially worth visiting as few buildings in Myanmar still sport the lion-guarded crown.
In the complex across from the museum (west of the Payathon/u), the Nan Paya (aka the Mann Paya) is a modern pagoda housing a 20ft gold bucldha made of straw lacquer. As the story goes, the buddha image was originally located near Monywa and was washed downstream during an 1888 monsoon - all the way to Salay. Ask for a peek inside from the latched door out the back.
Just north of the Payathonzu, the monastery and meditation centre of Sasanayaunggyi Kyaung (a bit of a stop-off point for day-trippers) features a lovely 19th-century glass armoire with Jataka-painted panels and 400-year-old scripture in Pali inside. The monks are chatty and friendly, and will ask for a donation for their on-site school.
In town there's little in the way of attractions. About 1 7 miles northeast, on the way to Monywa, are the remains of Pakhangyi. a 19th-century wooden monastery. About 3 miles east (via the road behind the big modern pagoda) is the destroyed frame of Pakhanngeh Kyaung, which was once the country's largest wooden monastery, with 332 teak pillars. Many still stand, and the area - near the fork of the Ayeyarwady and Kaladan Rivers - makes tor interesting exploration. A motorcycle taxi here from Pakokku is about $15.
If time is limited, you might get more out of Pakokku by seeing its market or just wandering its picturesquely decrepit, slightly tropical side streets, with old homes backing onto the Ayeyarwady.
One of the town's biggest pwc festivals, Thihoshin, is held during Nayon (May/June).
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