A Trip to Monywa, Myanmar

 

While I was visiting Mandalay in Myanmar in August 2017, my friends from Mandalay took me to Monywa as a day return visit.

Brief overview of Monywa

It is recorded that Monywa was a large village at the time of Pagan Kingdom and it was called ‘Thalawaddy”. Monywa is situated in the southern part of Sagaing Region on the eastern bank of Chindwin river, 130 km west of Mandalay. Via Chindwin river, you can go up to Homalin which is close to Naga Self-Administration Territory and in rainy season, it is navigable up to Hkamti (Hkamti has an airport). Monywa is linked to Chin State by road and Mandalay-Butalin train passes Monywa and links to Mandalay-Myitkyina line. 

Monywa is located in the dry zone of Central Myanmar and temperature is high most of the time. I am glad that I made the trip during the rainy season when the weather was not too hot. Central Myanmar does not usually have very high rainfall and therefore, travelling to Central Myanmar during the rainy season is good choice.

How to get there

There are buses running to Monywa from Mandalay, Bagan and Pakokku. From Pakokku, you can also take boat along Ayerawaddy River and Chindwin River to Monywa, which is a popular option among locals. From Mandalay, it is 3 hours drive to Monywa and the road is in good shape. The train takes about 5 hours to arrive Monywa from Mandalay and leaves early in the morning. Monywa has an airport but it is not active.

From Yangon, the buses usually go to Monywa via Mandalay. So, it is better to arrange your trip to Monywa as part of the trip to Mandalay or Bagan. You can arrange one or two days return trip from Mandalay or Mandalay-Monywa-Bagan trip with a private car.

Where to visit

I only managed to get to Mohnyin Thanboddhay Pagoda, Bodhi Tataung and Phowintaung. I had been to Alaungdaw Kathapa before. But there are some other interesting places near Monywa. I had listed the other attractions here. I read online about those attractions and wrote this article. So, I gave credit to original uploaders and owners for their valuable information.

1. Mohnyin Thanboddhay Pagoda

Mohnyin Thanboddhay Pagoda is located in Mohnyin Forest Monastery Retreat, 12 km south-east of Monywa. There is a turning point to the pagoda on the highway if you are coming from Mandalay or Bagan. Mohnyin Thanboddhay Pagoda is famous for its unique architecture. The pagoda is decorated with nearly 590,000 small and large Buddha images, bright colours, big pillars and masonry fruits. 

Mohnyin Thanboddhay Pagoda was built by Mohnyin Sayardaw, one of the venerable monks in Myanmar. The construction was started on 20th June 1939 and completed on 2nd March 1952. It was said that Sayardaw was given dreams from Nats (spirits) to build this pagoda and he got this outstanding design of the pagoda from his dreams. This pagoda is the only one with this design in the whole country. This pagoda represents “Thanboddhay Chant”, which is a Buddhist chanting about paying homage to all Buddhas appeared in the past, Dhamma, and Sanga (monks). The number of Buddhas described in this chant is 512,028. That’s why, this pagoda has more than 500,000 Buddha images. The actual number of Buddha images at the pagoda is now nearly 590,000 because people continue to donate the Buddha images at the pagoda. The decorated fruits represents a wish for the region to be prosperous with fruits and vegetables. The statue of Sayadaw can be seen at the monastery. The original monastery was destroyed in WW II.

2. Bodhi Tataung and Laykyun Sekkya Standing Buddha

Bodhi Tataung and Standing Buddha are located 8 km away from Thanboddhay Pagoda on the same raod. Bodhi Tataung actually includes Bodhi tree compounds, the Standing Buddha, the Reclining Buddha and the Sitting Buddha. The Sitting Buddha was under construction when I visited. They are built by Bodhi Tataung Sayardaw, a venerable monk from Monywa.

“Bodhi” means “Bodhi tree”, a kind of banyan tree beneath where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment and “Tataung” means “one thousand”. Since Monywa is the dry area, Sayardaw decided to plant trees with the aim of making the area green. There is a reason Sayardaw chose Bodhi tree. Myanmar people pay a great respect to Bodhi tree as it is related to Gautama Buddha and in Myanmar, destroying things related to Buddha including Bodhi tree is the sin same as destroying Buddha images. By choosing Bodhi trees, people will not destroy those trees and rather, they will protect them. Sayardaw started with one thousand trees. Later, people donated to plant trees and now is more than 9000 trees. Under each tree, there is a sitting Buddha image and all Buddha images face to the Standing Buddha.

Laykyun Sekkya Standing Buddha is the second tallest Buddha and statue in the world. The construction was started in 1995 and completed in 2008. It is 116m high and can be seen from far away. It has 31 floors representing 31 realms of existence according to Buddha’s cosmology. The lowest level is ‘Hell’ and the highest is ‘Nirvana’. The walls of each floor are covered with mural paintings featuring Buddha’s teaching. You can climb stairs inside to go up but after third floor, the windows are located higher on the walls and you can’t see any views. Sayardaw built this pagoda to make Monywa an attraction to help its economy. Sayardaw hoped that by having a big Buddha statue, Myanmar people would visit to Monywa as a pilgrimage and also foreigners would visit as a tour attraction. The Reclining Buddha is just front of the Standing Buddha and it is 91m long.

3. Phowintaung Caves

Phowintaung is located 25km west of Monywa on the other side of Chindwin River. You can take a boat to cross Chindwin River and get a van to continue to Phowintaung. Or you can get there by car directly. Then, the distance would be 45km and it takes about 1 hour. Phowintaung was named after U Pho Win, an alchemist or Zawgyi who lived there many years ago. In Burmese, Zawgyi is someone who possess supernatural powers. There are 947 man-made caves with Buddha images inside curved by hand out from sandstone outcrop. There are beautiful mural paintings featuring Jakata stories and geometrical pattern. Some caves have beautiful exteriors and stucco carvings. Most Buddha images date back to 14th century, Inwa era and the mural paintings date back to 17th-18th centuries. Both hand-curved Buddha images and mural paintings are incredible work. You will also sees a troop of macaques waiting for treats and vendors selling treats for macaques. I would suggest to wear flipflop because you will have to take off your shoes very often to enter the caves. I really like this place, interesting and not crowded with visitors.

4. Shwe Ba Taung

1km further down from Phowintaung is Shwe Ba Taung, a 46 cave complexes. It is smaller than Phowintaung but has more stunning caves with deep passageways and staircases. Some caves are newer and made in 19th and 20th centuries. British colonists joined the curving in 20th century. You can see some British designs at the entrance of some caves. Lonely Planet mentions this place as Buddhist Disneyland set in miniature Petra.

5. Ledi Kyaung Tike (Ledi Monastery)

Ledi Kyaung is located north-east of Monywa and it was the monastery of Ledi Sayardaw, a venereal monk, one of the outstanding Buddhist scholars and also the teacher of Mohnyin Sayardaw. The monastery was built in 1886 and it houses 806 stone slabs inscribing some of Sayardaw’s work.

6. Kyaukkar Village

Kyaukkar village is well-known for lacquer ware utensils for everyday use. It is located 12km east from Monywa. This is the second famous place of lacquer ware production after Bagan. There are lacquer ware workshops that visitors can go and learn about production.

7. Shwe Gu Ni Pagoda

Shwe Gu Ni Pagoda is located in Kyaukkar. A large Buddha in Bhumisparsha mudra (earth-toughing, earth-witness), dating back to 14th century is now covered with a thick coat of gold.

8. Twin Taung

Twin Taung is located 6 miles west of Butalin. It is an extinct volcano, 700 ft above the sea level. There is a beautiful lake in its crater where the natural Spirulina algae is found. Since 1987, Spirulina from this lake had been used for commercial production as cosmetic and medical supplement. The factory is at the base of the hill. Spirulina started to disappear in the past few years and now, experts are working on conserving and regrowing of Spirulina. The lake itself is beautiful and the view of the lake with surrounding lush vegetation, from the rim of the crater is stunning.

9. Pon Daung Ponnya

Pon Daung Ponnya mountain range is located south-west of Monywa. That area is well-known for the discovery of primate fossils and also call Pondaung Foundation.

The first discovery of primate fossils in Myanmar dates back to 1914. A jaw fragment in Pondaung Foundation near Mogaung was discovered and the fossil was judged to be about 40 million years old. In the year of 1978, the members from Geology Department of Mandalay University, unearthed two fossils, classified as Pondaugia. When they tried to share their discoveries with international researches, they were arrested and the fossils confiscated by the Burmese Socialist Program Party. Since 1997, a complete primate lower jaw, upper jaw, forehead and femur fragments have been found in Pondaung Foundation, comprising one of the world’s most complete collections and lending support to the theory that simian-like primates flourished in Asia 40 million years ago. Unfortunately, foreign tourists are not allowed to visit that area currently.

10. Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park

Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park is located at around 150 km north-west of Monywa and it takes about 4-5 hours to drive. The road is bumpy and not impassable in rainy season. Alaungdaw Kathapa is a good place to do jungle trekking but for Myanmar people, the trip is mainly a pilgrimage as it is the burial place of the hermit Alaungdaw Kathapa, who was the third of the Buddha’s disciples. The burial place is located at the meeting point of three hills called Way Bu La, Way Va Ya and Gi Za Kote (now they are called Mahu Taung, Khauk Lauk Taung and Pon Daung Ponnya). The Legend said that Ashin (monk) Kathapa came to this point and made a cave in the rock where three hills meet before he passed away and he rested in peace in the cave. He made a wish before he passed away that his body could only be burnt only when Maitreya Buddha appears in this world (the fifth universal Buddha of this world). Kings came to this place to pay homage to the body and donated lots of jewelries but some people dare to steal them. The guardian spirits got angry and closed the cave with three layers of large stone doors. Nowadays, all you can see is a huge stone door covered with gold leaves applied by devotees. There are some debates on who is the real Alaungdaw Kathapa in the cave because there were some famous monks with the same name appeared in history and it caused confusion.

The park is opened from December to May before the rainy season and there are two festival times, one in February and one in March. These are the busiest time and thousands of pilgrims come to pay homage to Alaungdaw Kathapa. This is the time the elephants come to serve the pilgrims from their remote teak forests where they are working for government. There are about 100 elephants. The elephants take the pilgrims from the base camp to the cave uphill. You can also hike and it takes about an hour. While you are visiting there, you can learn how mahouts and their elephants work together. When you hike in the forest, you have to hire a ranger to lead you the way because there is no trails to follow. The accommodation is pretty basic with cold water, and no electricity after 9:30pm. So, no internet, no wifi. Bring warm clothes, torch, insect repellent, mosquito net. If you want to avoid lots of pilgrims, go there before the festival season – Feb and Mar. Or if you want to see how devoted the pilgrims are, go there during that period.

Where to stay in Monywa

There are not many hotels or guest houses in Monywa. You need to book ahead.

Around USD 60-70

  • Jade Royal Hotel
  • Win Unity Resort Hotel

Around USD 40-50

  • Glorious Monywa Hotel
  • Shwe Taung Tan Hotel – Lake View

Around USD 20-30

  • King & Queen Hotel
  • Hotel Chindwin
  • Sein Nan Daw Hotel
  • Nan Htike Yadanar Hotel
  • Hotel Ba Thaung
  • Monywa Hotel
  • Golden Arrow Hotel

Where to eat

Zawe Marn Myanmar Cuisine

  • I had lunch there. You order what you want and you will also get  many small side dishes. Clean and quick service. Taste is not bad. But I think a little bit pricy for Myanmar food.
  • Butar Road, near Yoma Bank, Sulegone Quarter

Chindwin River Restaurant

  • Chinese food
  • Bogyoke Street, Aung Chan Thar Quarter

Eureka Restaurant

  • Chinese, Asian food, also has bakery
  • Yone Gyi Street, near Clock Tower

Pleasant Island

  • Asian, Chinese food
  • Bogyoke Road, opposite of Win Unity

Win Unity Restaurant & Lakeview Terrace

  • European, Asian, Burmese food
  • Bogyoke Road, Yone Gyi Quarter, Kanthayar

Golden Pot

  • Hot Pot, Chinese, Asian, Seafood
  • Pe Pin Kyaung Street

Las Vegas Restaurant

  • more like Beer Station, Asian food
  • Mint Mu Street

Sky View Restaurant

  • Chines, Asian, Seafood
  • Bogyoke Road, near Jade Royal Hotel

Oke Soe Food Garden & BBQ House

  • Thaee Inn Gu Road and Kan Pat Road, Aung Chan Thar Quarter

5 Star Tea Centre

  • Tea Shop
  • Yone Gyi Street, opposite to Shewzigone Pagoda main entrance

Night Market

  • Go and check out for local snacks and dishes. Sets up late afternoon along Bogyoke and spreads around the clocktower roundabout.

How to get around

To go around in the town, rent a bicycle or motorbike, or get a tuk tuk. However, the main attractions are outside the town. You can get a motorbike taxi (carry). When you go out, keep in mind that Monywa has hot and dry weather. The best option would be tuk tuk or if you need air-conditioning, you can get a taxi.

The approximate price –

  • To Bodhi Tataung and Thanboddhay Pagoda – tuk tuk 15000, taxi 30000 (return)
  • To Phowintaung and Shwe Ba Taung – tuk tuk 25000, taxi 40000 (return)

 

Hope this article is helpful. Enjoy your trip and have fun in Monywa!

 

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