We took to the road from Mandalay to Bagan with an overnight stop in Monywa. Driving through the countryside and villages, one can see that life has remained pretty much the same for many decades with one major exception: cell phones – everyone has them from monks to watermelon sellers! Also, since 2010 it has become easier for people to purchase cars, therefore, there are more private vehicles on the road, but still the motorcycle rules, and in rural areas buffalo carts aren’t uncommon.
This is an agrarian society, and they are blessed with fertile soil, much of which is flooded during the rainy season. Everything seems to grow here: almonds, potatoes, melons, papaya, beans, rice – you name it!
As in many other countries, it fascinates me how sections of towns or villages are designated to produce one specific thing, ie. gold leaf hammering in one section on Mandalay (for the entire country); silk weaving; lacquer work; pottery, engine repair, and on it goes. I can’t quite get a grasp on how it is all distributed throughout the country, as everything seems very haphazard, but obviously it works in some fashion.
Monywa is a pleasing Burmese town situated on the eastern banks of the Chindwin River. Our hotel, of which I had low expectations, turned out to be lovely. We had a little chalet overlooking a serene lake and the grounds were immaculate.
On the way to Monywa we stopped at Thanboddhay Pagoda, an enormous Buddhist temple that is covered with more than 500,000 images of Buddha.
We also stopped at a site that is building several new buddhas, one of which is already completed, a standing buddha of 135 meters! We viewed these huge buddhas, situated on a hillside, from a tower. What impressed me the most, were the hundreds?? maybe thousands of buddhas with umbrellas surrounding the area.
In the heat of the afternoon we crossed the Chindwin River on a very dilapidated boat to visit Po Win Taung. I have to say, I could have easily passed up on this particular excursion! We were to drive to the caves by jeep!!! No thanks! a 45-minute drive, but luckily there was a car available. We drove to a couple of hills/mountains that contain what is considered to be the best gathering of mural paintings and Buddhist statues in Southeast Asia.
We left Monywa and drove country roads with a couple of stops in some small villages for photo ops! Ending up in the riverside market town of Pakkoku where we had lunch in a very Burmese restaurant and then boarded our boat for for a relaxed, two-hour journey downriver (Ayeyarwaddy) to Bagan.
On the way we stopped at the 12th c. Kyauk Gu U Min temple with stone carvings depicting religious figures and flowers. The temple itself is built into the side of cliff and behind the main hall of the temple is access to a cave. Legend has it that the cave was built during the 13th century for the locals to hide from the invading Mongols.
We arrived to the beautiful silhouetted skyline of Old Bagan.