Monywa is in the Sagaing Region west of Mandalay. It is a worthwhile trip for temple enthusiasts but it is also the second biggest town in Upper Myanmar and serves as a major trade center for agricultural produce.
Monywa is situated on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River 136 km northwest of Mandalay along the Mandalay-Budalin branch railway line. Monywa serves as a major trade center for India and Myanmar. There are bus connections with Mandalay and Bagan with the trip taking 3-4 hours.
In Monywa town there are busy markets, popular restaurants, Monywa University and the Computer University, Monywa. Transport around town is by tuk-tuk and some drivers speak English.
Thanboddhay (Thanbokde) is a remarkable modern temple complex a 20 km drive from Monywa. The two towering white elephants that stand at the entrance are only a taste of the spectacular Buddhist architecture within.
Some say Thanbokde’s design is reminiscent of Borobudur in Indonesia but a major difference is that Thanbokde is all gold and white. It is claimed that there are 845 stupas, more than 700 large statues, and an eye-popping 600,000 smaller religious icons. The main pagoda is undoubtedly one of the most ornate and colorful monastery buildings in the country.
There is a central watch tower with an external spiral stairway in the compound, which male visitors can climb in order to take in the majesty from above. Unfortunately, convention dictates that women are not allowed to climb the tower or the terraces for a better view. Don’t leave without taking photos of the twenty tagundaing, huge decorated pillars.
There is an annual pagoda festival in November 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.
While in this area you should also visit the remarkable Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung monastery which is about eight kilometers along a good branch road. It is famous for its Giant Standing Buddha statue, reputedly the second largest in the world, thousands of Buddha images and Bodhi trees, and a Giant Reclining Buddha, also one of the largest in the world.
The Bodhi tree is highly revered because it is the tree under which the Buddha meditated and reached enlightenment. Each tree in the large planted forest has a large Buddha image underneath and many Buddhist come to pay obeisance there. It is a pleasant, peaceful place.
You can walk through the interior of the reclining Buddha in which 9,000 small Buddha images are on display. There are also representations of some of the important events in the life of the Buddha.
Visitors can also climb to near the top of the 31-storey structure while inspecting murals depicting scenes from Buddhist hell and the punishments received by those who stay there. The Aung Sakkya Pagoda is similar to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon but with a height of only 69 m.
The other major attraction in the area is the famous pagoda and a complex of Buddha caves that is located on the banks of the Chindwin River, 25 km to the west of Monywa known as Phowintaung. It is now accessible from Monywa by road over a new bridge.
The 947 caves are filled with artwork and statues that date back mostly to the 17th and 18th centuries with a few from thei4th century. The statues are carved into the sandstone and are mostly in the Inwa-style, and the walls contain murals.
A stairway climbs the hill to the main shrine but there are dozens of caves in the area. There are yellow monkeys at the cave which are said to have been there for hundreds of years.