We left Mandalay in a minivan that took about 3 hours to Monywa. We no longer had our guidebook since it had been stolen with the motorbike, so we put our trust in a taxi driver and asked for a ride to a cheap hotel. We ended up at a basic place in a pretty great location: we were near at least four temples, a town square, and a bustling night market. Here is the sunrise out of our window:
We found the hotels a little pricier than those in Mandalay, but we were able to get a three-bed room to save some. Breakfast was included but it was not so good here- cold eggs and toast, powdered coffee. What we loved was a restaurant across the street, where we went at least once a day. One of the owners spoke English very well, and happened to be an animal lover who fed street dogs every day. We went out with her that night as she did her rounds feeding the dogs. Also, the food we had at the restaurant was tremendous! Here is our friend from the restaurant and their card:
At our first lunch there, we had no less than 15 small plates of vegetarian dishes and a decent sized rice cooker full of rice. In addition, there were several large bowls of soup, a plate of fresh vegetables like lettuce and eggplant, fruit, and desserts like peanut brittle and a fudge-like sweet made of palm sugar. We ate there as much as possible.
One day we went with a taxi to a couple of sights. First was a massive Buddha statue, the second largest statue in the world!
It is, perhaps more accurately, a Buddha-shaped building that you can walk inside and up many flights of stairs. At each floor are shrines and Buddhist artwork, some of which show startling scenes of punishment for wrong doing. Who knew the Buddhists could have such gory imagery?
The massive Buddha exists due to the ambitions and fund raising of a monk from the area. This blog has a great description of the place and its history. Nearby are several other large Buddhist structures, some still under construction, including a massive reclining Buddha, a large seated Buddha, and a Paya.
We next visited a temple famous for its large number of Buddha statues. In contrast to the giant Buddha, many of these are smaller than my hand. There was a tower with a spiraling staircase only open to males, a diorama of a Buddhist story of sin and punishment, and many other things to see on the grounds. We were interested to see some visitors from the hill tribes, noticeable by their woven cotton clothing, all in the same style and color, and women with head wraps. We spent some time walking around then headed back to our favorite restaurant.
Next to our hotel a bunch of ladies worked doing laundry by hand. They loved the kids and wanted to do their hair, thanaka their faces, and take pictures, so we did! They were just so happy playing with the kids’ hair, taking photos with them, and giggling. We passed time this way waiting for the end of the day and the beginning of our long minivan ride to the border.
In the early evening, we said goodbye to the laundry ladies and our friends at the restaurant and went to the bus station.
A strong man in a longyi was busy packing luggage onto the top of the minivan and strapping it on tightly with a net of string. Other vehicles were also being prepared this way. We considered that the trip might be bumpy and hilly. We hung around the station, drawing attention as usual with many requests for photos with the kids. Some women vendors took a break from selling their wares balanced on their heads and made flower garlands for the kids. Many photos were taken. People gave us snacks and water and big smiles. These were not people we had known in Monywa, they were just generous, friendly, and kind people who were seeing us off. We were sad to go from such a pleasant place. Myanmar, with its countless golden temples and big smiles and all of the sweetness it had showered on our family, was hard to leave, especially on a crowded overnight minibus. I felt the sadness of leaving a place, maybe never to return. We waved and waved to people smiling and waving to us as we pulled out of the bus station and past the vegetable sellers and monks and motorbikes and the sun set. We started our journey to the Myanmar-India border.