Kyaukse is 30 miles (50 km) to the south of Mandalay,
surrounded by rice paddies. The town is particularly famous for its annual elephant festival with the elephant dance, which is held in October.
For this reason there are two white plaster elephants at the entrance to the village to greet visitors. Legend has it that King Anawrahta pitched camp near Kyaukse as he was traveling back from China.
The ruler had brought various relics back form China with him, and he wanted to build a pagoda in a place worthy of them. He thus strapped the relics to the back of his elephant and let him go with the injunction that he guides him to a suitable location for the construction of the pagoda.
The elephant went straight towards the hill east of Kyaukse and knelt down there, so King Anawrahta built the Shwe-tha-lyaung Pagoda, a shrine commemorating the Buddha’s death, on this spot.
In honor of that elephant, the inhabitants of Kyaukse celebrate Hsin-pwe,
the “Elephant Festival”, with the elephant dance, each year. Elephant costumes are fashioned from bamboo, cloth and paper, and two men climb inside each one to perform an elephant dance.
Halfway up to the Shwe-tha-lyaung Pagoda, at the top of the mountain of the same name, there’s a meditation monastery built in the shape of a ship.