Though there is a lot to see in Bagan (2500 temples...), we made a day-trip with a car to a place called Salay (36 km from Bagan) which is a more important religious centre for the Burmese than Bagan.
The main attraction in Salay are the monasteries - especially an old wooden monastery Younqson Kyaung. The place does not get many visitors, partly as the place is unknown and partly as you need to pay an admission fee of 5 USD. A young intelligent lady Ma Phyo, whose father works as an archeologist at the site and makes the most beautiful drawings of it on dried palm leaves kindly invited us to participate an offering ceremony at the near-by monastery and explained us what was going on.
We also saw another huge lacquer-made Buddha statue in a temple, where you could crawl into the Buddha to see him from inside...what a sight! :-)))). The driver will find the guy with the keys for you.
Salay is a quiet place - time stands still, people will have the time for themselves and for you. There is no tourist accomodation or restaurants there.
On the way you will also pass Chauk, a small town with a lively market. Make a stop there - nobody will try to sell souvenirs to you there...Should you be keen on souvenirs, rather buy the palm leaf drawings from the Younqson Kyaung Monastery - this is real art.
Just one warning - agree already in Bagan with the driver what you are going to see in Salay, our unfriendly driver took us to the monastery and to the big Buddha and refused to show us the town as this was not part of the deal....hmmm.
As you can see Bagan airport is quite "kitschy" but I guess is Ok in context.
Unlike Mandalay and Heho it actually has a shop where you can buy last minute souvenirs etc. I guess this is because it does have a fair bit of traffic going through it.
Many people will include a visit to the Nagayon Guphaya in their itinerary of Bagan, and rightly so (see seperate tip), but if you travel just a couple of hundred yards further on you will come upon this little gem whch seems to be totally devoid of tourists.
Rather prosaically known as temple 1185, alternatively Lay Myet Hnar temple, it is not really remarkable except for the fact that it is only one of eight in the whole complex of thousands of temples that features the five places of importance in Buddha's life depicted around the inside of the builidng.
Tablets outside indicate that the entire place was renovated in 2001 with Korean money. I found it quite relaxing here and there are no vendors. The old chap who looks after the place is friendly enough, although he speaks no English and, indeed, seemed quite surprised to see me. Worth a look.
For me one of the greatest delights of the whole Bagan region is the ease with which you can find yourself totally alone, visiting small temples or groups of them with not another soul in sight.
This small group was a good example of this. Although I was there in high season, and this place is no more than 500 yards away from the justifiably much-visited Upali Thein and Htilimino there was only me and my bicycle there.
Of the history or significance of the complex I can tell you absolutely nothing. An extensive Internet search has failed to turn up anything, there are no explanatory signs at the site, and there was certainly nobody to ask. Indeed, if any readers can shed any light on these temples, I owuld be very grateful. Although probably relatively unimportant, the tranquility of the place and the beautiful foliage (see photo) made it one of my favourite stops on my days journey.
If you want to find them yourself, they are just off the Nyaung U / Bagan road, on the North side about 500 yards past Upali Thein
While the volcanic cone can be climbed by means of a path beginning at the monastery, it should be attempted only by the physically fit. The mountain rises about 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above the surrounding plain, and given the hot, dry climatic conditions that prevail in central Myanmar, the ascent can be arduous. On clear days, however, the view from the top across the vast dry plain is the most beautiful panorama that can be seen in central Myanmar.
Mount Popa, 1,518 meters (4,981 feet high, is located about 50 km (31 miles southeast of Bagan. It's a one hour car trip from Bagan village, or a fatiguing bus trip requiring transfers in Nyaung U and Kyaukpadaung. Overnight visitors can stay at the ancient Popa monastery at the foot of the peak, however. During the month of Nayon (May/June) the annual Festival of the Spirits is held here, and it is said that at that time the abbot of the Popa monastery runs the largest hotel in the whole of Myanmar.
In 442 B.C., a great earthquake roared through central Myanmar - and from out of the barren Myingyan plains rose Mount Popa. Volcanic ash on the mountain slope gradually became fertile soil, and the peak blossomed with flowers of many colors. (Popa is the Sanskrit word for "flower.") For the inhabitants of the surrounding regions, the "sugar-loaf' peak becaml regarded as the home of the gods, the Mount Olympus of Myanmar. Alchemist and occultists made their home on the mountain slopes, and others were con vinced mythical beings lived in the woods and among the flowers. So it was a matter of course when Mount Popa became the focus of national nat worship and the of ficial home of the Mahagiri Nats during the reign in Bagan of King Thinlikyaung.
On the road to Bagan from Mandalay we passed by many small villages, some of them not more than five or six small huts and a livestock pen. What struck me about the villages was that most buildings had rooves thatched with bamboo leaves. Children would often stand by and wave at us and sometimes adults motioned us to stop. The taxi driver said that they sometimes sell food and lodgings. It would have been interesting but we were pressed for time as we needed to reach Bagan before dark.