Bewildering, awe-inspiring and delightfully kitsch all at once, Monywa is worthy of all the superlatives you can throw at it. Not only is home to the world’s second tallest standing Buddha, the hills surrounding this sleepy riverside town are quite literally crammed with ancient religious monuments and glittering pagodas – not to mention some of Myanmar’s most eccentric temples.
What more, since few visitors make the trip here, you may even have them to yourself. Be sure to give yourself at least two days to explore these must-see sights.
The brightly colored Thanbodday Pagoda is famed for its astonishing number of Buddha images, as well as its Disneyesque exterior complete with candy-striped towers and concrete elephants. The temple’s maze-like interior is just as impressive, with row upon row of glittering Buddha statues.
Time your visit right, and you’ll wander through its passages to the sound of dozens of chanting monks – though take care not to photograph them while they are meditating.
On the road from Thanbodday Pagoda to Bodhi Tataung, be sure stop off at the row of small bamboo stalls selling local snacks. Menu items are limited to dried rabbit and pigeon meat, while the beverage of choice is palm toddy made from sap collected by men who climb high into the trees using narrow bamboo ladders. The toddy tends to be sweeter in the morning, and becomes sharper throughout the day as it ferments.
Anywhere else, the sight of 1,000 Buddhas sitting in a forest of banyan trees would be something to write home about. At Bodhi Tataung, however, they are overshadowed, literally, by the towering Laykyun Sekkya Buddha – the second tallest standing Buddha in the world.
At 424 feet (almost 10 times taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty, and over 13 times taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio), it’s a truly jaw-dropping sight.
Be sure to climb the 31 storeys into the Buddha’s chest, though don’t expect scenic views. Each floor contains galleries of kitschy paintings depicting gruesome visions of hell, in which sinners are tortured by demons in a variety of disturbing ways.
If all that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for giant Buddhas, lower down the hillside lounges an enormous 312-foot reclining Buddha, while a massive seated Buddha is under construction nearby, it’s colossal headless skeleton making for a curious sight.
An hour’s drive from Monywa, this mysterious cave complex of 492 Buddha chambers, carved between the 14th and 18th centuries, makes for a fascinating visit. To get the most out of your trip it’s worth taking a guide who, as well as explaining the history of the site, will likely throw in a few entertaining tales of captured princesses.
After a long day of exploring, complete the kitsch fest with a visit to Las Vegas – a tropical-themed eatery serving a fine mix of Chinese and Thai dishes.
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