On the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy River, roughly and hour and a half south of Bagan, Salay is small, somewhat sleepy monastic town perfect for getting off the tourist track. The main street is lined with faded colonial buildings that stand as remnants of the British presence - it was the old home of the Burma Oil Company from 1886 - but historic sites in this town stretch back much further than this.
There are 12th century pagodas, 50 active Buddhist monasteries and the famous 20-ft gold Mann Paya Buddha (the largest lacquerware Buddha in the country), supposedly rescued in the late 1880s having been spotted floating downstream. It now lives in a modern pagoda, but the Buddha itself is thought to date back to the 13th century.
Yoke-Sone-Kyaung monastery with its elaborate teak carvings of folkloric tales is also well worth a visit; monks lived there for a century before it became a museum in 1996 and it now houses artifacts that are up to 800 years old.
The two-storey colonial property, Salay House, is a great place to pitch up for a fresh and authentic lunch.