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The main street through the village of Hanlin.

The main street through the village of Hanlin.

Ancient sites are a big reason of why I love to travel.  Unfortunately, in SE Asia, while there are plenty of old sites, there are not too many ancient sites.  Most of the ruins of Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia are contemporary with Medieval to Renaissance Europe.  So that rare time I do happen upon a truly ancient cultural site, I try my best to get to it.

About 2 hours north of Mandalay, Myanmar is the insignificant town of Shwebo.  About 20 km SE of there by way of dirt roads is the even smaller village of Hanlin.This was one of several centers of the Pyu culture, one of the first Buddhist cultures in central Myanmar, beginning around 2000 years ago.

Looking at the village today, not a lot seems to have changed with the exception of power lines running through.  Thatch huts dot the bumpy dirt road through town.  Crumbling stupas from another era pop out of the surrounding fields.  And much of the town is employed in preserving the rare ruins left over from the days of Hanlin’s part in the Pyu sphere of influence.

Some remaining structures with old stupas in the background.

Some remaining structures with old stupas in the background.

The base of one of the old city gates.

The base of one of the old city gates.

The pride of the modern town: newly constructed baths to make used of the local hot springs.

The pride of the modern town: newly constructed baths to make use of the local hot springs.

Benjamin Williams

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 11 years, I’ve been living and travelling between Asia, Europe, and North America, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at


  • Glad parts of the ancient stupas still remain. Nice photos.

  • Ese' s Voice says:

    For me, who has never been in that part of the world, it was really interesting to be taken along on your travel. Wonderful captures!

    • Ben says:

      Thanks. It was an interesting site. Unfortunately there were 2 larger Pyu sites, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra, that I didn’t have the time to get to.

  • We don’t know what happened in the past, as so many histories are hidden by the regimes and politically deleted parts which were disadvantageous for them.

    • Ben says:

      Yes and no. You are right that many times throughout history records of the past have been destroyed to “start history anew” as was famously done by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the ‘first’ emperor of China, so that history would begin with him.

      But there are also countless instances where the records and achievements of prior cultures are absorbed into and revered by the newer culture. One in particular that comes to mind is the way old Angkor-Hindu temples in Thailand have almost all been made into active Buddhist sanctuaries today.

      And there is a lot more left over from the past than most people think that archaeologists use to piece culture together. Burials and monuments are helpful. Writings are extremely helpful. But, believe it or not, archaeologists actually learn most about ancient cultures by looking at their trash, something generally left in abundance by any human culture.

      • It reminds me to Gunung Padang site in Cianjur, West Java. The archaeological site there is considered much older than ancient Egyptian and I think there are still more and more will be found sooner or later.

        History depends on the regime and sometimes many real important historical documents have been destroyed as they’re considered dangerous for theirs.

      • Ben says:

        That one in particular is very interesting and I agree it is almost certainly older than the common assumption. I’ll be in Java soon and look forward to seeing it.

        But just as archaeologists might prematurely support a more recent date for an archaeological site, that assumption is always based on the most complete evidence available. To go to a different conclusion of an earlier date or of other cultures influencing it only because of one or two curious items or only a romanticized version of how great the civilisation could have been is much more premature and usually proves to be incorrect.

      • And also…about Atlantis itself. 🙂
        I also wanna visit Gunung Padang if I have much time. Historical places are always parts of my interests and trying to visit as many as possible then.

        If archaeologist support it prematurely, should we use time machine first? or…Doraemon? or..Dora The Explorer? *kidding*.

What are your thoughts?

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