Pyu Ancient Cities, Pyay, Myanmar
Scott is what he calls himself – he wouldn’t tell me his traditional Myanmar name.
Scott does three things around the small city of Pyay, six hours north of Yangon. He teaches English at a local school, he is a motorbike taxi and guide around the Pyu Ancient Cities, and he sells cups of yoghurt from a small stall on a side street.
Scott offered me the second if I would come along to the first with him. In the end, he threw in the third as a bonus.
I first met Scott when I was walking through the streets of Pyay one morning, looking to find another guesthouse I could move to because I didn’t like the one I had ended up in after a late arrival the night before. (It was the kind of place that felt like a prison cell you had been sentenced to for the unforgivable crime of not making a reservation somewhere.)
There are always a few guys who will offer you their taxi services in these small cities… but Scott seemed different.
He stopped and introduced himself and had a bit of a chat before he proposed taking me to see a few sights… and he offered to do it for free if I would come and speak to his schoolchildren in English for a while.
There was no pressure, which was lucky because I had other things on my mind (trying to get early release from the guesthouse gaol) and hadn’t yet thought about my plan for the day.
But Scott told me he’d be at his yoghurt stall if I wanted to do something, he explained where it was, and then he drove off into the ubiquitous Myanmar dust.
As it turned out, after looking at my options, spending the day with Scott seemed like a pretty good one and so I went and found him exactly where he said he would be – surrounded by yoghurt (which, as I would discover, was not the only culture in town. Boom tish.)
Pyu city of Sri Kestra
I had wanted to visit the ancient city of Sri Kestra on the outskirts of Pyay and, to be honest, was the main reason I was here. Scott knew the place well and so I hopped on the back of his bike and we went off to explore.
Sri Kestra was the largest of the cities built by the Pyu people between the first and ninth centuries. Their civilisation once stretched north to south for hundreds of kilometres along the Irrawaddy river, had advanced irrigation techniques and was part of the introduction of Buddhism to Myanmar.
Much of the city is gone today but there are still the ruins of the royal palace, a collection of temples, parts of the walls and gates and the four breast-shapes markers at each of the four corners of the boundary.
Scott was clearly quite well-educated generally but he seemed to have a particular interest in history. He explained the different parts of the ruins… but he did it with a degree of tut-tutting.
You see, he wasn’t at all impressed with the work the local authorities had done over the years to restore the site. New bricks stuck together with cheap concrete, cement used to fill out partially-destroyed ancient Buddhas, and large sections of wall which had been left covered in dirt and bushes.
Scott’s view was that ruins should be left as they are – just tidied up so they’re visible and not hidden by the natural build up of the years.
On topic, later that night I met an Italian woman on the night train who had spent the last couple of months in Pyay working at the Sri Kestra site.
UNESCO is considering including it on the World Heritage List and a team of experts are working with the locals to develop an appropriate restoration plan.
One of the things this woman was most disappointed in was all the use of concrete and cement on the site. She would’ve got on well with Scott.
It was a day of learning – but not just for me. As promised, we visited the school where Scott teaches and I spoke with the students for half an hour or so.
They asked me all the questions they knew in English and I told them several times I was from Australia, that I had been in Myanmar for two weeks and that my name was Michael.
I also told them I liked soccer because, even though I don’t particularly, it just seemed easier. I feel a bit bad about lying to a group of twelve year-old monks-to-be.
In the end, Scott’s tour had taken almost six hours. Even though I had already paid for the petrol and lunch, I gave him some more money as a thank you.
Excited, he pulled out a pile of papers from his yoghurt stall and showed me the books he was making for his students. On each page he had handwritten English grammar rules and exercises.
He told me he would use the money I gave him to photocopy and bind more books for the kids.
Who knows if Scott was telling the truth? I’ve got no reason to doubt him, though.
There are many countries in the world where a story like this would sound like a scam – and probably turn out to be so (students in Beijing wanting to practice their English at a teahouse, anyone?)
But not in Myanmar. I never really doubted Scott’s sincerity and that judgement proved to be correct because I had a great day with him. He even drove me to the train station later that night.
There’s a genuine friendliness and generosity to the people here and they extend it to their foreign guests. It’s heartwarming to find people like this anywhere in the world but especially in a country so poor as Myanmar.
27 thoughts on “Getting off Scott free”
Michael – such a great story. And I have no doubt you are right about Scott and his authenticity – it is a shame that as seasoned travellers we become so sceptical. I have been trying more and more in recent times to lose this sceptisism and trust my intuition a little more. I suppose that means maybe I will get scammed somewhere along the way – but I believe the good will outweigh the bad in the long run. Thanks for sharing.
A lot of the time I think you can quickly get a sense of a person and feel whether they are legitimate or not. Sadly, a lot of the time they are just going to try and make money off you. I have to say that is not the case in Myanmar and I became very trusting of people and it always ended well! Let’s hope that doesn’t change too quickly.
Great post! Heading to Myanmar in a few days and you’ve put Pyay on the map for me. Cheers!
Try to find Scott’s yoghurt stall and ask if he will take you out for the day! From memory, he is on Market Street.
Sounds like a warm hearted industrious fellow to me, I think you are truly fortunate to have found him.
Given the same circumstances, say in Bangkok, you would have reason to be very skeptical and suspicious of such an industrious and obliging fellow.
I’m not sure if it’s just because tourism is not so big in Myanmar yet or if there is actually something different about the nature of the people. But you can really feel the difference in the way the local people treat you (not that the Thais aren’t friendly!)
Scott sounds like a truly genuine person. What a wonderful way for you to see more of Myanmar and such a great experience to have met him! I am sure those children were grateful for you to come speak with them in English and will be thrilled to receive their books.
They were so great to chat with. Their English wasn’t that good so they just kept asking me the same questions over and over. But they had quite clear pronunciation! I’m not sure how many foreigners they get coming through the school (I imagine Scott finds a few willing participants each week) but it seemed quite exciting for them to have me stop by.
Good to hear you had such a nice time with “Scott”, even though I’m a bit sad for you since you probably ruined your karma for centuries to come by lying to monks-to-be. Football. Really? Apart from that, it breaks my heart a little when you say you gave Scott a tip and he immediately thought of his students and their progress. Spending more time in “poor” countries would benefit MY karma, I conclude…
I would like to talk to some more people about this, over the coming months, but I would like to know whether growing up in such a strong Buddhist culture makes you a nicer person, as a general rule. The whole idea of the religion is that you should do good things to people and animals to improve your chances in the next life. So if you’re taught that from a very young age, maybe it just becomes a part of who you are.
I feel like people are friendlier and more sincere in less touristy places. When they smile, they mean it, not because they want your money. People are curious about foreigners, about people who look different from them. I always have mixed feelings seeing a beautiful place gradually changes because of tourism. However there will always be good people, even though at some points we encounter those who are only interested in your money.
It probably helps that tourists are still a bit of a novelty in some of the smaller places in Myanmar – so the locals get as much enjoyment out of talking to us as we do out of talking to them! I guess once a place gets too touristy, we just become annoying! 🙂
Scott sounds like the perfect guide and a wonderful person to meet. Her certainly has many strings to his bow.
If you ever get to Pyay, look him up! 🙂
Great story. So many good memories come from random encounters with locals.
I think all my best memories from Myanmar will be about the people – and particularly the ones who spent a lot of time with me and went out of their way to show me their area.
I recently met Scott in Pyay and as well as recommending a better guesthouse, I took him for a meal and chat. What an amazing guy, quite selfless in helping others, whether it is school kids, novice monks or lost travelers.
If you come to Pyay, look him up. 09 – 452335255 is his phone number.
He can organise vehicles for trips to Sri Kshetra and around Pyay.
Oh, fantastic! I’m so glad you met Scott as well. He really is a lovely guy and I hope many other tourists get to experience his good nature. Definitely look him up if you’re passing through Pyay and want to see some of the history and culture in the region.
I’m very proud of my native land ( Pyay ) when you all talking about that . If you want and need to something , you all can contact to me with my Email or my number
( +95 9427606869 ) .
Thanking you very much, Slow Burma Travel & Micheal.. I just read abt Scott’s story after getting back from Sri Kestra. I was not satisfied about my trip due to less time frame. I will plan to go there again soon n definitely looking for Scott’s help to learn more about Ancient Pyu and keen to meet with his students as well..
Yes.I agree with it.Scotty is my sidekick.He is very kind and sociable to others.He always wears sweet smile on his face whenever he is with foreigners.He is really a kind-hearted guy.Before he had got Regional Tour Guide License,he had been working as a volunteer tour guide for free.Every foreigner who decides to come visit Pyay, shouldn’t miss him as a guide.
Scott is one of my best friends here in Pyay.
This guy is really helpfull and kind. We were together for many years as we studied English from the same teacher.i am really glad to read above recommendations concerning with him.
what I want to comment on him is you all can trust him 100% as a guide. he will help you with whatever you want.
That’s great to hear, Max. I thought he was a great guy too and I’m pleased to hear that is the case. I hope Scott is getting some good guiding jobs now. I would certainly recommend that everyone try to find him and get him to show you around a bit!
Hello dear blogger or tourist, My name is Roberta and I am currently about to finish my master’s degree in Geography. Regarding my master’s thesis concerning tourism in Pyay and its surroundings, I am conducting a survey made of questionnaires, place-based observations and interviews in order to gather the needed information to complete my knowledge. I have been searching for travel blogs or online narrations about your trip in order to assess your view of the city of Pyay. I would like to ask you if you would like to help me for my research by answering my questionnaire about your trip in Pyay/ Prome. It would be extremely precious to me, as I would like to assess as many pieces of information concerning tourism in Pyay as possible. I would use these information only anonymously and only for my master thesis. If you are interested in getting more information about my research, or in answering my survey, please tell me. I would be very happy 🙂 Thank you very much for reading! Roberta
Hi Roberta. I hope you got my email. Happy to have helped.
Hi Michael, I’m still trying to squeeze a Sri Kestra stopover in my Myanmar itinerary. Two reasons – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and among the three Ancient Pyu cities, it’s the most accessible in my opinion. Do you think it’s possible to do it as a daytrip from Yangon or should I hop on a sleeper bus, spend a full day there before hopping on the next bus to Bagan. I know there’s a lot to see and do at Sri Kestra but we are quite pressed for time, so I don’t we can stay an evening there. Any advise?
It’s not really practical to do it as a daytrip from Yangon – and there’s just too much that could go wrong with the transport to risk not being able to get back. I got a train quite late in the evening to Bagan from Pyay which was convenient and would recommend that. So then you could choose between travelling from Yangon to Pyay the day before (arriving in the evening, staying the night, exploring the next day) or doing an overnight trip on the train or bus.