Surreal. Disorienting. Monywa is just one of many Burmese cities, but it has two special places that will certainly raise your eyebrows: the Thanbodday Pagoda with its 500,000 (!) Buddha images and Bodhi Tataung: two extremely large Buddhas of which one 116-metre (424ft) standing Buddha and one 95 metres (312ft) lying (or: reclining) one. Crazy!
Monywa is defnitely worth a visit if you have enough time to spend in Myanmar; it makes the perfect stop in between Mandalay and Bagan. But the town is hardly visited by tourists…..yet. Myanmar offers so many great places where Monywa most of the time is being skipped in favor of Mandalay, Kalaw and Bagan. Understandable, but let me show you why you should consider Monywa. And don’t worry, two days are enough to enjoy the city and its attractions. Now get ready for lots of pictures!
Arriving in Monywa
Monywa is a 3-hour drive West from Mandalay. Driving out of Mandalay you slowly you move further inland, further back in time.
At the city’s bus station it’s always a pleasurable chaos. You can easily spend one hour just looking around. People packing stuff on top of everything that has wheels. Young novices having fun, temporarily forgetting their restricted destiny of being a Buddhist monk.
Having a short moment of panic when you see the bus schedule….taken away quickly by friendly locals helping you get your ticket.
Monywa is not the touristic hotspot you might expect. Only a few travelers visit the town so it does not have the facilities that a place like Bagan offers. But I am sure you will find your way around, the people in Monywa will be happy to welcome you!
Our first stop is the sight closest to town: the flamboyant Thanbodday Pagoda. Built in 1939 and guarded by a pair of huge white elephants it’s surrealistic and fascinating at the same time. I really loved this place!
The area is a collection of temples (all extensively decorated) where the main one says to hold over 500,000 Buddha images. Every inch of the structure, exterior as well as interior, is covered with these Buddha images. They are not all immediately obvious, but when you start looking more closely you can see the small white statues everywhere.
How does it feel walking around here? Well, honestly speaking it feels like walking in an amusement park! No kidding. Don’t forget to climb the watch tower where you have a great view of the whole site.
Bodhi Tataung – the giant Buddha statues
These two giant Buddha statues are actually not that old. The reclining Buddha was built in 1991, where the standing one dates back only to 2008! While walking around you keep asking yourself: why building a statue 3 times as high as the Empire State Building….in the middle of nowhere?!
Interesting detail: both images are hollow. In the standing one you can climb almost halfway (the rest was not finished yet when we visited). You will pass beautiful colors and paintings when you climb higher and higher…
But mind you, it’s not always a pleasant climb because on some places you will see murals depicting scenes from Buddhist hell and the punishments of those who stay in hell…. Hmmm, not really a pleasant sight, certainly not when traveling with kids. It’s also not possible to look outside through the windows (you cannot reach them), so if you don’t want to climb upstairs just leave it.
There is a lot more to discover close to these giant statues. What about hundreds of smaller Buddha statues in neat rows under Bodhi trees?
Or the nearby Aung Sakkya Pagoda from which you have a perfect view on the giant statues….and where you will again find hundreds (or thousands, I lost count) of Buddha statues.
These two sites in Monywa are fascinating; I have never seen so many Buddha statues in one place. Are they worth a visit? Well, you can decide for yourself now. Monywa is certainly not a big detour, so if you have the time go for it!
If Monywa is one of your first destinations in Myanmar, you should try the typical Burmese lunch. I’m not saying it’s all that tasty, but you just have to try it! Enjoy!
Our hotel in Monywa: Win Unity Resort (with swimming pool).