Monywa and Places of Interest Nearby by U Thaw Kaung
Would you like to visit a typical unspoiled Myanmar town not far from the tourist track?
If you do, you should go to Monywa, a thriving, picturesque town on the Chindwin River, only a three hours drive from Mandalay. Monywa is only 84 miles northwest from Mandalay, across the Ayeyarwady River and lies on the plain between this river and her main tributary, the Chindwin.
The roads are good, and along the way, you can stop at the old capitals of Amarapura and Sagaing, also at a number of interesting villages like Ywa Htaung.
You can easily go from Mandalay, by bus taxi or train.
The name Monywa comes from “Mon” meaning “cake or snack food” and “Ywa” which is in Myanmar word for the village. There is a legend that says that in the old days a Myanmar king fell in love with a seller of cakes from this town and made her his queen. The original name some say is Mon-thema-ywa or “Village of the women cake seller“.
There has been a big village at Monywa from the Bagan Period. The classical name for Monywa is Thalawadi. The chronicles mention that Monywa was one of the places where King Alaungphaya encamped for the night on his campaign to Manipur in 1758.
During the Myanmar king’s time, Monywa remained just a big village as the administrative center for the region was at Ahlon. It was only a year after the Annexation of 1886 that Monywa became the Headquarters of the Lower Chindwin District.
In the last few years with the legalizing of the border trade with India, Monywa has grown into a bustling trading center, second only to Mandalay in Upper Myanmar region.
If you are traveling to Monywa by car you should stop about 12 miles before you reach the town to visit this most unusual Buddhist temple complex on 37 acres of land which is part of the Mohnyin Forest Monastery retreat. The building of the pagoda was started on 20 June 1939 and completed on 2 March 1952. It was the brainchild of the famous Mohnyin Sayadaw whose lifelike effigy can be seen nearby.
Some visitors say that this pagoda reminds them of Borobodur, as it is similar in architectural design. Unlike Borobodur this is the modern place of worship, well maintained, and with interesting samples of modern Buddhist art. There are many different Buddha images, rows and rows in ascending tiers in niches along the walls, the total number is 582,257 an amazing figure!
Unlike most of the pagodas in Myanmar, the entrance is not guarded by Chinthes, the mythical lion, but by statues of a pair of magnificent white elephants which are sacred and auspicious in Buddhist symbolism.
Thanboddhay is the only pagoda with this unique shape in the whole country. The square temple base (each side about 166 feet) which worshippers can enter is topped by receding terraces, with myriads of small stupas (864 in number) surrounding the central golden pagoda, 132 feet in height.
Tourists can study and take photos of the 20 tagundaing, huge decorated pillars, and also big masonry fruits in the shape of bunches of bananas and coconuts, watermelon, mangos, jackfruits, papaya and so on. These fruits are also objects of veneration for the local farmers.
If you can go at the beginning of the Myanmar month of Tazaungmone (usually around November), you can see the annual pagoda festival, which goes on for several days when the villagers from all around come to enjoy the music and dancing, and buy from the various stalls set up by sellers from all over the country.
Bodhi Tahtaung and Po Khaung Taung
From Thanboddhay Pagoda you can go by car about five miles along a good branch road to Po Khaung Taung, a small range of hills in the Monywa area. There you will see more unusual sights not found in other parts of Myanmar.
First, you should stop for a while in the fast-growing forest of one thousand Bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa), this Bo or Pipal tree is sacred to all Buddhists because Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under this tree.
A much venerated Sayadaw, now popularly known as the Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw who can make your wishes come true, first started planting this forest grove about two decades ago. Each tree has a large Buddha image underneath, and many Buddhist pilgrims come to pay obeisance there. It is a pleasant, peaceful place, filled with the song of birds, in a protected environment where nature and men in perfect harmony.
Just beyond Bodhi Tahtaung, a short stroll towards the east will bring you to the Po Khaung Taung, a range of hills where you can see one of the largest reclining Buddha images in the world. Measuring 300 feet in length it is even bigger than the colossal Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha image in Bago which has a length of 180 feet only. The head is 60 feet in height. It was only built in 1991 and up to now, there is still no roof or shelter to protect it.
This huge image has a hollow cave-like structure inside and you can walk from the head to the feet. You will then see inside 9,000 one foot high metal images of the Buddha and his disciples in various postures. There is also the representation of some of the important events in the life of the Buddha.
If you are interested in Buddha footprints you can study the 108 auspicious symbols which are depicted on the soles of this huge image.
Aung Sakkya Pagoda
Near the reclining Buddha image, also on Po Khaung Taung range is the Aung Sakkya Pagoda, 442 feet in height (including the base of 217 feet). This pagoda is a landmark for the area around Monywa as it can be seen from afar. It is surrounded by 1.060 smaller satellite pagodas that shelter over a thousand sacred images of the Buddha.
In Monywa town, there are busy markets, popular restaurants, a university, a Technical High School, and an Institute of Economics, the second after the one in Yangon.
As the town is on the eastern bank of the Chindwin, you can travel by boat across the river to Po Win Taung caves, with over 400,000 ancient Buddha images and statues and murals dating from the 14th to the 16th century. Tame monkeys abound and can be fed by visitors.
The first bridge across the Chindwin River was constructed at Chaung U near Monywa. This rail and road bridge links up with the long Western Highway from Monywa to Pathein in the Ayeyarwady Delta.
Other Places of Interest
Monywa can also be the base for visiting Kyaukka, a town about ten miles to the east, second only to Bagan as a center for the Myanmar lacquerware cottage industry.
The Ledi Kyaung Monastery is also well worth visiting. Built by the famous Ledi Sayadaw, a renowned Pali scholar, there are now 806 stone slab inscriptions which preserve some of the Sayadaw’s writings.
A few hours drive will also bring you to Twin Taung hill, an extinct volcano whose crater now forms a beautiful lake. The surrounding area has lush vegetation, and there are lovely views of the area from the rim of this crater lake.
Visitors are welcome to travel to Monywa and environs, see the interesting places and scenic views, and take back memorable experiences of typical Myanmar warmth and hospitality.