In the late 19th century, Prome, on the Ayeyarwady’s east bank, was founded as the head quar- ters of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, whose paddle steamers served as the main link between Yangon and Mandalay from 1865 to the 1940s. Today known as Pyay, the town is a bit of a backwater, and the trickle of foreign trav- elers who stop off each year usually do so en route to other destinations along the river. However, the place is full of Burmese atmosphere, with a lively riverside market and one of the country’s most spec- tacular stupas.
The magnifi cent gilded Shwesandaw Pagoda crowns a low hill on the southeast side of town. Said to be a full meter taller than Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, the stupa looks espe- cially dra matic around sunset, when its gilded surfaces glow beau tifully against the backdrop of the distant Ayeyarwady. A series of inscriptions housed inside a brick tazaung in the pagoda complex record that the zedi (stupa) was orig inally sited here in 589 BC, but sub- stantially enlarged during the reign of Kyanzittha of Bagan in 1083. However, it was King Alaungpaya, founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, who gilded the monument and added its distinctive double hti, or finial, which he intended as a symbol of Burmese unity after his bloody military campaigns of the mid18th century. One of the best views of the Shwesandaw Pagoda is to be had from the terrace encircling the giant Sehtatgyi Buddha (literally “TenStory Buddha”), a short walk to the east, whose head rises above the treeline to almost the same height. Access to the statue is via a covered walkway on its western side. The ruins of the ancient city of Sri Ksetra , capital of the Pyu kings, lie about 5 miles (8 km) to the east of Pyay and, by staying overnight in the town, it is possible to explore them on a day trip.