The sprawling archeological park of Thayekhittaya sits around eight kilometres east of Pyay and is well worth the half day or so that it will take you to fully explore.
Also known as Sri Ksetra, Thayekhittaya was the capital of a Pyu kingdom from the fifth to ninth centuries and was eventually sacked by a Bagan king in the 11th century. As with Bagan, the ruins are in a pretty parlous state with reconstructions leaving it a little difficult to imagine what the original monuments actually looked like.
Comparisons with Bagan are unavoidable but not really fair. This site is far smaller, with only a dozen monuments garnering the attention of most visitors, though the site is still vast, and, especially if explored on foot, exhausting. As with Bagan, Thayekhittaya encompasses not just ancient history, but modern too. There are small villages and working farms throughout the central area, and for the non-archaeologically minded, these may actually prove to be more interesting than yet another “old temple”.
Upon arrival you’ll be deposited at an attached museum which has a $5 admission fee, with the actual park costing another $5 to see — it’s a bit of a rip-off as the museum is nowhere near as interesting as the park, but it’s still worth a look as it displays a number of relics and statues removed from the park for safekeeping. Once you’re done with the museum, the pathway to the left (when facing it) of the museum leads into the archaeological park.
While there is some signposting, and you could explore it on foot, to walk all the highlights of the park would take a good part of the day — and walking around this largely shadeless plain in the midday heat (or wet) isn’t recommended. After walking about 500 metres, we bike-jacked a young boy’s bicycle and doubled him around the park, slipping him a few thousand for the favour. It was a fun way to see all the attractions and we got the feeling it wasn’t the first time he’d had his bicycle grabbed — he could probably rustle up a few more if you needed it.
Upon entering the grounds you’ll first reach a modern pagoda to your right then a long stretch of what was originally the palace wall and just before it turns right you can clamber over it to see the palace foundations. This wall was actively being excavated and rebuilt with clearly new bricks when we visited, highlighting the odd approach to monument care in Burma.
After the wall you’ll pass by the excavated mound of a gate and eventually reach Rahanta Cave Pagoda, which you can enter through a small entrance to see a series of Buddha images carved into niches. Highlighting that this remains an active religious site, when we visited there were offerings by the statues and even a cannonball flower in the lap of one. The statues face towards the palace, though the middle one is missing — we assume looted.
From here it’s a pleasant bike ride past a large lotus-filled pond to the largest standing monument in Thayekhittaya, the cylindrical Baw Baw Gyi Pagoda. Believed to date to the fifth century and built entirely of brick, Baw Baw Gyi’s surface would once have been smooth stucco but today it is very rough and ready, with plants growing out of its surface and pigeons roosting in the larger crevices. Elevated on the far side you’ll see a locked entrance from where there is apparently a tunnel to the upper levels, but casual visitors are not permitted to enter. At the rear of the monument you’ll find an old rusted finial laying to waste — a new one now tops the monument.
Next up is Bei Bei Pagoda, a far smaller affair that is signposted as dating to the 10th century, which struck us as odd as that is after the decline of Thayekhittaya begun. Still it’s an interesting, compact site with niched Buddhas within with an oddly placed Buddha head to the side.
The second to last monument we visited was Lay Myet Hna where we sprung a guy who had been sleeping on the roof. A completely brick monument, the lower structure has been reinforced with metal framework to keep it from collapsing.
Last of all was the Royal Cemetery, where a half-dozen sandstone urns were found, leaving archaeologists to conclude this was once a cemetery for royalty, though there is little to see here anymore.