Bagan’s most famous sunset-viewing spot, Shwesandaw is a graceful white pyramid-style pagoda with steps leading past five terraces to the circular stupa top, with good 360-degree views. At the time of research it was forbidden to climb up onto the terrace.
Shwesandaw means ‘golden holy hair’: legend has it that the stupa enshrines a Buddha hair relic presented to King Anawrahta by the king of Ussa Bago (Pegu) in thanks for his assistance in repelling an invasion by the Khmer. The terraces once bore terracotta plaques showing scenes from the Jataka, but traces of these, and of other sculptures, were covered by rather heavy-handed renovations. The now-gilded zedi (stupa) bell rises from two octagonal bases, which top the five square terraces. This was the first Bagan monument to feature stairways leading from the square terraces to the round base of the stupa.
The original hti, toppled by the 1975 earthquake, can still be seen lying on the south side of the paya compound. A new one was fitted soon after the quake.
About 500ft north stands Lawkahteikpan Pahto, a small but interesting middle-period gu containing excellent frescoes and inscriptions in both Old Burmese and Mon.