Sometimes you go to the cinema to see a film that has received many awards and rave reviews, you know you are in for something very special and it does not disappoint. Other times, you randomly go and watch a film you have never heard of and you love it. Your appreciation and delight is so much bigger because it was unexpected. Bagan was the grand film that fulfilled all my expectations and Monywa was the surprise. I only came across this town a couple of times on the internet and I only knew that it had a big Buddha statue. For some reason I felt compelled to go and take a look.
After a 4 hour bus ride from Bagan I arrived in town. There were few westerners and for the first time I got the feeling that I was seeing a true Burmese town. Totally unspoilt with simple shops and restaurants but the downside of that is that it had little infrastructure and the hotel I stayed at, top rated by one of the travel sites was in fact, a dump. The town itself has a lovely pagoda and I walked the grounds with all the little kids waving hello.
The main sights are out of town so I hired a taxi and first went to visit the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya temple. Outside it looked like an old amusement park, old pavilions and flower carvings of what were once bright colours now faded by the sun, inside though, it was a different matter. Huge halls filled with hundreds upon thousands of tiny carvings lining entire walls framed by huge golden Buddhas. Yes, I was that woman talking to herself, every few steps saying “wow”…
I also went to see the Bodhi Tataung, the second tallest Buddha in the world. It turns out there was also an enormous laying Buddha, in fact, the biggest in the world. It was quite a sight and you could visit the temple inside it, which you enter via Buddha’s right buttock…make of that what you want. On my way up I had also seen an enormous sitting Buddha and on closer inspection it was surrounded by hundreds of tiny sitting Buddhas. An unbelievable sight. I just can’t understand how this town is not more prominent on the places to visit.
Now, I hate rodents and the next thing on the list is monkeys. Can not stand them. Snakes, no problem, rodents and monkeys…I don’t think so…Once I got to the Hpo Win Daung caves which had taken a slow hour to get to, I realised that it was a hill that you had to walk around and, yes, it was filled with monkeys. There was no way I was going to do this on my own. Every place in Asia I have gone to there have been women begging and I always give something to one of them. I never know who it will be until the moment happens, in Ubud I could not refuse a little toddler who lifted her hand asking, so I gave her mother whatever I had. So when I arrived at the caves, saw the monkeys and this tiny girl with a baby in her arms pulled at my sleeve, I let her be my guide. I was delighted to part with my money an hour later. The caves are quite something, carved into stone, some with elaborate decorations and all housing Buddha statues. It was impressive and I was very glad I had gone there.
I must admit that it was here in Monywa that for the first time in six months I lost my sense of humour and temper. I am not proud of it but there you go. The hotel in town was horrible, everything in the country was overpriced and I was fed up trying to have a conversation while the taxi driver chewed on his betel. Imagine trying to talk while the other person has an orange segment covered in a leaf in his mouth…not only it was most disconcerting to face red/brown teeth but it made comprehension impossible.
So after barely a day I set off to Mandalay, ready to move on. The hotel in Bagan had been very basic, I’d done two long local bus journeys and the hotel in Monywa had been awful. I arrived in my very modest hotel room in Mandalay which not only had a TV but was the first hotel in six months to offer room service. I hesitated, the city was out there waiting for me, I turned the TV on and there was George Clooney, I took that as a sign. I sat in bed eating a grilled cheese sandwich…the simple pleasures in life…