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There are two Monywa pagoda complexes: Shwezigon Paya and Su Taung Pye Zedi. An exploration of these followed by refreshments in one of the charming little restaurants or a stroll through the market is a highly enjoyable way to spend a morning or afternoon.
Beyond Monywa city there is much to visit. There is the Bodhi Tah Taung forest, meaning ‘Forest of a Thousand Bo Trees’, where two famous Monywa Buddhas are situated.
The first is a 130 metre Standing Buddha, the second tallest statue in the world. It is three times the size of Nelson’s Column in London, outdone only by the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan, China. You can enter the hollow statue, towards the bottom of which there are horrifically gory depictions of Buddhist Hell. However as you make your way up the images become more exulted, until you reach the 16th floor, around the Buddha’s belly button, still far short of Nirvana.
The other Monywa Buddha, a 95 metre long and hollow Reclining Buddha, is situated just next to the first. You can similarly enter and are welcome to sit and meditate or simply soak up the tranquil ambience. A third Buddha, this one seated, is under construction, and will complete, as Lonely Planet aptly put it, this ‘kitschy trifecta.’
Also of interest are the Powun and Sheba mountains where you can visit a plethora of stone carvings dating back to the 11th Century.
On your way either to or from Monywa city, it is worth stopping off at the Thanboddhay Pagoda just 12 miles outside of the town. Reminiscent of the Borobudur in Indonesia, the construction of the much more flamboyant Thanboddhay was actually only completed in 1952.
It is the only pagoda of this shape in Myanmar, with a square hollow base topped by receding terraces and small stupas encircling the central zedi. Even more than the Shwedagon in Yangon, the Thanboddhay Pagoda complex has the ambience of a funfair, with the multicoloured towers and brightly-painted spiral staircases.
If staying the night in Monywa it is highly recommended that you visit the night market taking place between the clocktower and the statue of Bogyoke Aung San astride a horse on Bogyoke Road.
When the sun sets this street becomes a hectic cacophony of headlights and motorbikes, the latter parked in rows encroaching towards the centre of the wide road. Walking down the street is a thrilling if slightly nerve-wracking experience. Silhouettes of bikes laden with friends and family members appear in a constant stream as locals head to the pop-up restaurants and tea houses of the market for supper.
Join them on the large tables laid out on the street while you watch your food being cooked and enjoy the charged ambiance of Monywa at night.