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).
Our next destination in Myanmar: Bagan. The place we stayed before Monywa was the city of Mandalay
Really nice blog, inspiring! One question, if you have to choose between Monywa and Kalaw, which was more impressive/nice to visit? We are planning a trip to Myanmar next December and will visit Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon and have some days left to discover other parts of the country. We are also traveling with kids (age 5-9 years). And can you recommend all hotels where you have stayed, did you all book them via Booking and did you that before your trip or during your stay? How many nights were you in each place?
Hi Floor! Thanks for the compliment. I just returned from a short trip but will answer your questions soon via email.
wanted to let you know this blog post was my first exposure to monywa. i researched and planned and decided on a 2-night stay which turned out to be a highlight of my 28-day myanmar trip in 2017. i’m going back again in march and just wanted to say thank you! hope you are well.
Hi Chris. Thank you so much for coming back to my blog for leaving that comment, really appreciated! It’s awesome to hear that you got inspired and decided to go indeed a bit beyond the tourist trail. I read your blog on Monyway and loved it. Great to hear that you will be back again soon. Have a safe trip!
i have plan to visit Monywa too next May, but after searching abt bus..its really hard to find it.
like you said it’s easy from Mandalay..how about from Bagan?
can i take bus from Mandalay to visit Monywa..then after that direct to Bagan, no need stay at Monywa? is it possible? they hv buses from Monywa to Bagan or Mandalay in the night?
Great that you will be visiting Monywa, indeed a bit off the beaten track although not far from Bagan or Mandalay. It’s a small detour actually. It’s not difficult to arrange transport. In Mandalay we asked at the hotel and we ended up at the busstation buying tickets. We were picked up by a so-called shared taxi. With 6 or 8 people we drove to Monywa in 3-4 hours. So it’s very easy to arrange locally. Same goes if you travel from Bagan I assume. No idea about night buses, but as distances are not that far I don’t believe that’s an option.
I would not recommend driving to Monywa, do a quick tour and onwards to Bagan. Stay at least one night, just for the sake of some rest..
thank you for information
i don’t have enough time, wrong to booked ticket..too short 🙁
ok..i try with my plan, if can’t maybe will skip another.
I have planned my vacation to Myanmar in about a month and in the search of information about this country, I stumble into your articles here on actoftraveling. Thank you for sharing your experience and detailed information about the country.
My girlfriend and I are planning to take the same route, we start our journey in Mandalay and move on to Monywe, after that get to Bagan. Unfortunately, there is not many information available online about the bus schedule for inbound and outbound of Monywe. All I could find was there are local buses that takes about 3 hours to get to and from Monywe. Could you tell me more about that. Because I kinda get the same panic feeling looking at the bus schedule posted.
Hi there and thanks for your reaction!
Don’t worry too much, you can easily arrange this while in Myanmar. In Mandalay we asked our hotel about bus tickets. They had someone bring us to the local bus station where we bought our tickets. You can take a local (slow) bus or spend a bit more on a so-called shared taxi. This is a mini-van that picks you up in your hotel. After picking up all the 7-8 passengers at their home, it drives to Monywa. Very efficient!
In Monywa we also went to the local bus station to buy a ticket. Everybody was quite helpful. Just ask someone to bring you to the bus station.
Well Emiel, I’m actually planning to go back to Myanmar sometime next year to see parts of the country I didn’t have time to visit during my first visit. However that plan doesn’t include Monywa (yet). Thanbodday Pagoda looks particularly stunning! But somehow it reminds me a little bit of that theme park in Shrek, called Duloc. Maybe your kids know about it. 🙂 Thanks for introducing to us another worth-to-visit place in Myanmar!
Pleasure Bama! Haha, I looked up Duloc because I didn’t know about it. Funny comparison 🙂
Great to know you will be going back to Myanmar. We are glad to have visited Monywa. One or two days is enough and the great thing is that Monywa is on the road from Manadaly to Bagan.
Wow these builds are impressive !
They really are! It was almost like walking in an amusement park!
Hello! I’ve found your website through Google. Thanks for sharing your impressions about Monywa. Would you recommend one day/night or is that not enough? My plan is to leave from Bagan by 7 PM, sleeping in Monywa. The next day I intend to leave Monywa by 6 PM, heading to Mandalay. What do you think? Where did you stay?
Cheers from Brazil,
Thanks for your comment. One day like you are planning is the bare minimum. You can do this, but I would suggest staying two nights in Monywa. Temperatures are high and having a bit more time to relax would be great. In that case you can leave the next morning rather than the evening before. But of course if you are on a tight schedule, it certainly can be done like you suggested. One day is enough to visit the main attractions. When going back to town from the big Buddhas, ask your driver to take the less-traveled road; you will pass some nice farmer villages and the scenes are lovely. Have fun!