The following morning we explored more of Monywa and its surroundings.
We drove to the Hpo Win Daung Caves – one of the major sites near Monywa. The current Lonely Planet is out of date here – while formerly one needed to take a ferry and then a jeep to the caves, today it’s far easier and quicker in a regular car over the new bridge across the Chindwin River.
The caves are manmade – some are shallow, others deep, and all contain Buddha images or paintings or both. There are a huge number of them and the site is divided into two parts, the old and the new.
The “new” section dates back to colonial times. These are really interesting -it’s as if the cave builders (remember, they are all manmade) let their imaginations go wild – crazy statues, facades that look like British buildings, a huge elephant carved across the front of one cave – and in gaudy colors too. The old section is far more traditional – beautiful carvings and incredible intact Buddhist paintings. This (older area) could be a World Heritage Site in my opinion.
There were lots of monkeys running around, but they were not aggressive at all. Still, after our experience at Mount Popa, the kids were not excited by the idea of more monkeys.
One of the big attractions with the other (local) visitors at the site was our family – everyone wanted their photo taken with us!
After lunch we left for Mandalay. On the outskirts of Mandalay we stopped at Sagaing, a famous hill with a huge number of temples. By now the kids were showing serious signs of “temple fatigue” so we spent most of our time exploring the stalls outside the temples. There were really interesting things on sale – live owls, papier-mache owls, thanaka logs, souvenirs…it was fascinating. We were amazed to meet someone wearing a Justin Bieber T shirt. Anywhere else in the world we’d see this as normal, but not in Myanmar, with no US TV shows, terrible internet service and in many areas a closed, traditional society. The kids were so excited – and Myanmar didn’t seem so different anymore!
By sunset we were in Mandalay, the last royal city of Burma.
(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar – click here for more details).