When you travel in Asia you will for sure meet Buddhist monks. A lot of them!
Yes, you easily recognise these guys: in orange or red robes they walk around town and meditate in temples and pagodas. Some also teach and others run clinics or orphanages.
Everywhere in Asia you will find not only monks, but also novices (young boys learning to become a monk) and nuns. And never have we seen so many as in Myanmar!
This post is a collection of 3 buddhist places that you should try to visit in Myanmar. But I must warn you, this is not a collection of the well-known (and very popular) places like the Golden Rock or the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon. What I do want to show you are small monasteries and schools. Unexpected but really cool!
1. Nyaung Shwe – Dhamma Yaung Chi Nunney School
I have written about our stay at Inle Lake. Most visitors stay in the adjoining city of Nyaung Shwe, the tourist hub for visiting the lake. But when you visit please don’t focus on the lake only…
One day our family were crossing the city by bike. Just looking around, stopping here and there at shops, markets and bakeries. Suddenly we saw young nuns passing by. They were chatting cheerfully but walked with great determination; it was clear they needed to be somewhere… on time.
We have seen monks and nuns all over Myanmar, but this time we decided to just go and follow them. Our kids loved the game of not letting them out of sight. Around every corner we had the fear of losing them, but luckily we always managed to trace their pink clothing.
Serendipity is fine, but sometimes you have to create memorable experiences more pro-actively!
And after a nice pursuit we ended up at what turned out to be the Dhamma Yaung Chi Nunney School. Once we parked our bikes we headed over to the Nunney school. Young girls appeared from all over the place. I encouraged our kids to start a conversation….they are old enough now to create their own experiences right?
Very soon the girls were accompanied by their Mother (who was somewhat reluctant to smile while her picture was taken). Luckily she turned out to be very nice of course; she invited us to come in to learn more about the school.
What we experienced inside the Nunnery school was something we will not easily forget. 45 minutes of chanting and 10 minutes of complete meditative silence… The nuns do this twice a day and we felt honored to sit in the same room and watch. They even brought us some tea and cookies…probably they were afraid we might leave after the first 10 minutes or so!
But of course we didn’t leave early and even returned for another visit two days later. On our way back to the hotel (continuously repeating that chanting melody!) we passed the school for monks (or novices). They were chopping some wood for the fire. We didn’t stop for long though….having had enough religious Buddhist input for the day!
2. Nyaung Shwe – Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery
There is another place in Nyaung Shwe really worth a visit: the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery. Not necessary to book a tour or take a taxi. Just rent a bike and head out North of the city. It’s a fascinating wooden Monastery built in the early 19th century. It has big, beautiful oval windows.
I read that this monastery is one that houses poor boys out of the region, who might consider a life as a Buddhist monk. We went inside their dormitory just to see that the boys indeed don’t have much possessions outside a sleeping mat, books and some personal belongings.
During our visit suddenly rain started to pour down, soaking some little novices to the bone!
Close to the monastery you will find another pagoda. Do go inside! The walkways are full of small niches with buddha statues from people who have donated to the monastery.
3. Kalaw – Thein Taung Hpaya Monastery
Two hours drive from Inle Lake you find the small mountain village of Kalaw. For many travelers Kalaw is the starting point of a hiking trip all the way down to Inle Lake. For us it was merely a relaxing three days walking around town and enjoying the cool weather after the sweltering heat of the Bagan plains.
In the village of Kalaw there is not really much to do (and maybe that’s the charm of it!). Hanging around at the main intersection, trying some of the local delicacies being prepared for you on the street, having a drink and watch people passing by on their way to the market. This can be so relaxing!
But there is one place in Kalaw that you should really visit: the Thein Taung Phaya monastery.
First of all: how to get there? From the main Pyi Taung Su Road, north of the main market, take the steps uphill to Thein Taung Hpaya. It’s a steep climb but definitely worth the effort! The place offers great views of Kalaw and its surrounding hills. But there is more.
On top of the hill there is a modest monastery housing some friendly monks. We arrived during one of their chanting sessions. After spending minutes watching the monks through the windows, we were allowed to enter the main meditation hall and watch them from close-by. Great stuff!
Outside again we got in conversation with the leader of the monastery: a friendly monk who invited us to go further uphill to visit his house…how cool is that!
Further and further we went. We walked for 20 minutes and where the monk talked extensively about his life and the history of the monastery. Luckily we had nowhere to go that day so we followed the monk without any hesitation. We were curious where this trip would bring us!
We arrived at his little house where he offered us tea and bananas (his last ones actually). Inside he showed us where he prays couple of times day: sitting inside a mosquito net he makes sure not to get disturbed by annoying insects!
This visit was again a moment that our family will not easily forget. I think locals (including monks!) just feel when you are not in a hurry; when you want to take time to find the soul of a place. Next time, take it slow too…
I have written a lot about Myanmar lately: Mandalay (U-Bein bridge!), Monywa, Bagan and Inle Lake. It indeed took me some time to share all our stories and pictures. There is one story left: about the most famous building in the country, the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.
Hotel Pine Breeze
In Kalaw we stayed at a great hotel:Pine Breeze hotel. It’s situated on top of a small hill, so the views are excellent. Rooms are clean. Wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one!