Pyay (most often pronounced Pyi) is a riverside town that forms a convenient spot to break the western route between Yangon and Bagan. Boasting a quite spectacular pagoda, a collection of ancient ruins, some relaxed riverside scenery and, for the more adventurous, a series of impressive cliffside carvings well outside town, Pyay is certainly worth an overnight stay if not two nights for those with the time.
Pyay's most impressive attraction is the Shwesandaw Paya, with a glittering gold-covered stupa at its centre. With four entrances at its cardinal points, we found the best approach was to walk to the western one from the riverbank. The views from the summit are all-encompassing from the bridge over the river to the south across to the northern reaches of town.
Further afield, the ancient ruins at Thayekhittaya have been described by some as "Bagan lite". The ancient site was the capital of a Pyu kingdom from the fifth to ninth centuries (until it was sacked and left in ruins by the Bagan king Anawratha in the 11th century. Today, aside from a small museum on site, the remains are scattered across a sizeable estate that doubles as not only an archeological site but also a living, working farm community. Generally the ruins are less spectacular than at Bagan, but you can easily lose a half-day here.
The third prime-time attraction visited from Pyay is the cliffside carvings at Akauktaung. These can be visited on a long half-day trip from Pyay as the trip involves a two-hour each way motorbike ride followed by a 30-minute boatride along the Ayeyarwady river. The cliff carvings are impressive -- more so than the photos may have you think, and if a trip here fits in your budget and timeline, we'd say it is well worth it. The rural scenery en route to the site is also very rewarding.
Pyay town itself is bustling but perhaps a little boring. There's a pleasing riverside area you can walk along with a couple of bars well placed to take in the sunset, a small night market and a considerably larger morning and wholesale market to the north of town (also along the river), but overall the main reason for staying here is the above mentioned attractions.
While Pyay town is a bit of a sprawl, the centre of the action that will be of interest to foreign travellers is quite compact. East-west running Bogyoke Street bisects the town, through the clocktower and then the Aung San statue, with Lanmadaw being the main north-south throughfare and Strand Road running along the riverfront.
Shwesandaw Paya can be seen frequently from around town, but it sits just to the north of the clocktower. The best approach though is from the river, one block north of Bogyoke Road. All the accommodation options listed are within a 10-15 minute walk of the train station.
We've been advised there are now ATMs in Pyay, including one by the lobby of the Lucky Dragon and at least another one on the main road, somewhere opposite the Pagoda.
Internet cafes are dotted around town and you'll find the post office a block south of the night market, between Lanmadaw Street and Strand Road.