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At Youk-Soun there are some remarkable wood carvings decorating the outside veranda of a variety of Buddhist and local folklore scenes. You can also see ornamental collections from the Bagan and the Konbaung Dynasties, Myanmar’s first and final empires.
Salay is the birthplace of one of Myanmar’s greatest poets, U Ponnya, and the Youk-Soun Kyaung now has a little museum dedicated to the writer’s life and work. Just a little way north is the Man Paya. Within this paya is a 6-metre golden Buddha figure made of straw lacquer. At the back there is a door where one can enter the hollow image.
Salay is also known in Myanmar for being the source of zi-thi, a local plum. These plums are said to be the most delicious in all of Myanmar and are shipped prodigiously throughout the country. Likely enough you will be granted the chance to try the local fruit outside Youk-Soun or in one of the monasteries.
During the years of the Bagan Empire, Salay (also spelt ‘Sale’) was considered an extension of Bagan city, and therefore you will be able to find a handful of ancient pagodas here in the Bagan style.
Three stand in situ together in the centre of the town. Clambering through brambles to reach them, once inside you will find little more than foliage and perhaps a pair of sandals or an old umbrella left as an offering. Their lack of visitors makes them somewhat eery, as well as the haunt of snakes and scorpions, so do beware.
Step into Salay House for lunch: hotel, restaurant, and museum of curiosities. Flags from Burma under British-rule hang down from the ceiling, there is a large portrait of King Edward VII on the wall, and in every other corner is placed other trinkets and knick-knacks from colonial days.
If you are driving back to Bagan after Salay, you will likely be taken through the vibrant crude-oil distillery town Chauk. Time permitting we would recommend jumping out for a quick wander around.
Just after Chauk is the pleasant and cooler village of Sinku, where in colonial times the British working at the oil refinery resided, so to escape the heat. In the 1930s, Burmese oil-workers from Chauk walked on foot to Rangoon where they joined arms with nationalist students to protest against British rule.
In Chauk there are an array of beautiful colonial buildings. The vast majority of these are now private houses, but if you are lucky, you may be granted the opportunity to poke your nose inside.
There is one in particular on the left side of the main road as you drive towards Bagan, with a grand looping stairway leading down from the front doors. Now amidst a handful of high school classrooms, upon these steps Bogyoke Aung San (the ‘architect of Burmese freedom’ and father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) delivered one of his most famous speeches while touring the company to drum up unity in preparation for independence.