In a nutshell
Why go to Monywa
Strangely, Monywa is not well known for its attractions and doesn’t see that many tourists, despite being the home of the second tallest Buddha statue in the world and a monastery with over half a million depictions of Buddha.
It also has a range of temples that differ from many of the traditional temples in Myanmar and are found located inside stunning sandstone caves. Most visitors don’t travel to Myanmar just with the intention of going to Monywa, but if you are in the area, particularly neighbouring Mandalay, then it is worth stopping by just for the monuments alone. As well as statues and temples, it also offers you the chance to enjoy a less crowded and touristy experience away from the crowds.
When to go to Monywa
Generally it is best to visit Myanmar, and by extension Monywa, from November to February. This period sees the best weather in the country as it falls directly after the monsoon season and the weather is not too hot and usually dry.
From February onwards temperatures rise and it can be uncomfortable if you are not used to the heat. You should keep in mind that June to October is the wet season when the dust turns to mud and flooding is common in rural areas. As Monywa doesn’t see as many tourists compared to other parts of the country, there is no real high season that you need to avoid.
Where to stay in Monywa
Monywa is not firmly on the tourist trail and as you would expect accommodation here is rather limited. There are some tours that run overnight trips from Mandalay that usually use the mid range to top end hotels in Monywa which cost from USD50-100.
If you have a flexible budget then the best deals in town can be found in the mid-range hotels where you may get a room or bungalow for USD40 per night. If you are really on a budget then you won’t find much choice expect for the odd guesthouse for around USD20 per night.
Where to eat in Monywa
Somewhat surprisingly considering the fact that it doesn’t see huge numbers of visitors, Monywa has a good range of eateries.
Some of the best of these include the traditional little Burmese teashops where you can get tea, coffee, and freshly pressed juices, usually served with an array of local snacks.
If you are looking for something a little more upscale, then there are plenty of restaurants in town and you will find some great Burmese food including traditional curries and tealeaf salads. Western food is also available in quite a few restaurants dotted around Monywa and you can expect the usual plates like burgers and baguettes. One of the best places to eat if you like street food is the local night market where you can snack on delicious bites like spring rolls and Indian style pancakes.
How to get around Monywa
Monywa is small and easy to walk around so this is one of the best ways to explore the town. You can walk past many of the main sights and also down to the jetty which is an enjoyable way to see everything at a leisurely pace.
The main attractions in Monywa are located about half an hour outside of town, and the easiest way to visit them is to take a tuk-tuk or a motorbike taxi. You can also rent bicycles in Monywa from a guesthouse but some of the attractions are located at the top of rather steep hills so you may prefer to get some sort of motorized transport.
How to get to and from Monywa
Monywa is 3 hours away from Mandalay and in theory it is possible to come here for a day trip although it makes for rather a long day out.
One way to get here from Mandalay is to get the train although the schedules are often subject to change at short notice and are sometimes erratic. There is a train that makes the journey daily between Monywa and Mandalay which leaves at 5.45am and takes around 6 hours via Sagaing. Fares are around USD1 but there are only ordinary class carriages so this is certainly not the most comfortable way to travel to Monywa.
Probably the best option for getting in and out of Monywa is to take the bus. These leave to Mandalay daily at 5am and 4pm and cost USD2. Air-conditioned minibuses leave at 5am and 9.30am and cost USD2.50.
You can also get a bus from Monywa to Pakokku which will then take you on to Bagan. These leave at 6am, 9am, and 12.30pm and also cost USD2 although make sure to check the final destination as some of these only run as far as Pakokku.
If you want to travel onwards to the north of Myanmar then you can also get a boat in the rainy season, although in the dry season when the water level is low there is no guarantee of fixed departures. Boats travel from Monywa to Kalewa, Mawlaik, and Homelin and can take anything from 10 hours to Kalewa up to 24 hours to Homelin. It’s best to check in Monywa for the latest departure times as these change regularly in line with the season although many leave at around 4am. Tickets cost between USD9 and 26 depending on whether you want to travel on a lower or upper seat. This price also includes meals.
Is Monywa safe?
Monywa sits in Sagaing State and used to be known as a region where insurgents with the Burmese Communist Party were still active. Nowadays however there are no travel restrictions in place for Monywa and its surrounding areas although you should check for updates to travel in the area. Violent crime, particularly against foreigners, is very rare in this part of Myanmar.
Malaria and dengue fever are both carried by mosquitoes in Myanmar and there is more chance of getting one of these diseases in rural areas like Monywa. Check with a healthcare professional to decide if you want to take anti-malarial prophylaxis before you travel.
If you get seriously ill or injured in Monywa then know that healthcare is limited and you will need to travel to Mandalay or Yangon for treatment.