Our favourite tea shop is the well-placed 5 Star Tea Centre on Yone Gyi Road, on the corner opposite the main entrance to Shwezigon Paya. A spacious outdoor terrace makes this a great people watching spot and there’s an array of sweet and savoury snacks to nibble on. The opening hours are vague but roughly dawn to dusk. Keep an eye out for other strategically placed tea shops around the old and new markets, too.
For a real coffee and a selection of baked goods in an air-con setting, Eureka is just up the same road, close to the clocktower roundabout. Aside from their freshly brewed coffees for under $1 and squeezed juices and shakes, they have a wide range of items to eat, with dim sum being the house speciality. Burgers and sandwiches (but don’t expect too much) are priced from around 2,500 kyat, pasta dishes are around 4,000 to 5,000 kyat and Thai and Burmese mains are 3,000 to 6,000 kyat. Although prices are a bit on the high side, Western efforts are nowhere near as bad as you might imagine and Asian dishes are pretty good. Their WiFi also works, though so unfortunately does their muzak.
Lunch and dinner options range wide across the sprawling town but we’ve kept our highlights to those convenient to Monywa’s accommodation. For classic Burmese, try super-friendly Shwe Marn (also written Zawe Marn), just up from the clocktower next door to the bank. Pick your own curry, and side dishes will magically appear. We counted at least 12 dishes and had to beg them to stop, and quality was excellent across the board. Anything we had more than a couple of spoons of they tried to refill and after we couldn’t eat anymore they brought out fried bananas and a tea-leaf salad. The owner spoke reasonable English and attentive waitstaff seemed tickled pink to have a foreign customer. Beers are served and they are open for lunch and dinner; we’d advise not eating for two days before arrival.
Another good spot where they seem to think customers are in need of fattening up is family-run Aung Pan, found towards the Buta Lan end of Yone Gyi Street. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall cafe that won’t win decor awards but has a good reputation among locals. It offers a couple of well–placed tables on a small pavement terrace; you pick your own curry and free side dishes tag along. It’s grubbier looking than Shwe Marn but will fill you up too.
Also popular with locals is a very good and extensive night market, which sets up late afternoon along Bogyoke and spreads around the clocktower roundabout. Just down the start of Yone Gyi, an Indian lad knocks out some great dhosas for a bargain 500 kyat, while the spring roll vendors outside Chindwinare a must. They offer a selection of fried rolls – all with perfectly written English signs – including a variety of local-style fillings. They are eaten Vietnamese fashion with lettuce and herb wraps. It’s the first Vietnamese/Burmese fusion we’ve come across and it’s excellent. Extra-long rolls go for 500 to 1,000 kyat, depending upon filling. They have tables and chairs, too.
Slightly out of the centre, down Bogyoke Road, are a few more very good lunch and dinner options. The in-house restaurant at Win Unity and Pleasant Garden across the road are worth seeking out. The former makes a great lunch stop on a hot day, since you can eat or snack by their fine swimming pool and then also have a swim. It’s the only pool we managed to find in town. The local, plus a few Western efforts, are not the cheapest in town but the garden setting by the lakeside pool is second to none. Service is good with some English spoken. If you’re having a break in town between the western and eastern sights, Unity is perfect.
For dinner or a sundowner, head across the road to Pleasant Garden. This great restaurant is located on its own tiny island in the middle of a scenic lake reached by a photogenic wiggly wooden walkway. (Try saying that after a few of their Myanmars.) Tables are scattered in salas around the water’s edge with some looking out to a small pagoda located on a second, equally small island. Staff are very friendly, there is an English language menu for their Sino-Burmese and Thai offerings, and while we didn’t sample them it all looked very good from peeking at neighbouring tables. Expect to pay between 3,000 to 5,000 for main courses.
Back in town, a couple of rooftop restaurants are also fine spots to end your day. The seventh-floor terrace at Chindwin provides the town’s finest views. Beers and more Sino-Burmese offerings are on the menu and it’s a great spot to watch the sun go down. There’s also a few spirits behind the bar and with luck even some wine available.
Surprisingly good looking is the small rooftop bar/restaurant at the otherwise rundown Shwe Taung Tarn Guesthouse. Their ground floor beer station is generally packed and uninviting, but continue to the rear of the cafe where a staircase takes you up to a delightful rooftop haven. You wouldn’t imagine you were in the same restaurant. Although only on the first floor, so lacking dramatic views, the wooden decking, pot plants and glass tables provide an excellent spot for a dusk beer or early dinner. An English menu has their mainly Chinese listings with good quality mains going for 3,000 to 4,000 kyat and draught beer at 700 kyat. We even got a tomato rose with our sour and spicy pork! What’s more, despite the downstairs area being packed, we had a dedicated waiter to dash up and down the stairs fetching beer refills. Commendable!
Another remarkable spot -- though for different reasons -- is back on the main stretch of Bogyoke between Chindwin and the clocktower. Fantasy must be the most incongruously named eatery in these parts, unless your fantasy involves a beer station set up in a converted underground carpark. With nothing in English apart from the name and not a word of English spoken, we nevertheless managed to get a half-decent fried rice for 2,000 kyat, though obtaining draught Myanmar for 700 kyat was a lot simpler. Open until midnight, this is where Monywa’s drinking crowd go and needless to say it got friendlier and friendlier as the night wore on. Decor on the bare concrete walls is English football teams and Burmese beer ads. Interesting experience.
Aung Pan: Yone Gyi Rd; T: (071) 23718, (092) 5863 7499; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Eureka: Yone Gyi Rd, near the clock tower; T: (097) 9640 8081; open daily 07:30-21:30.
Fantasy: Bogyoke Rd; open daily 09:00-00:00.
Night market: Bogyoke Rd and around clock tower; open around 17:00-21:00.
Pleasant Island Restaurant: Bogyoke Rd, opposite Win Unity Resort; open 08:00-22:00.
Shwe (or Zawe) Marn: Buta Rd, next door to Yoma bank; T: (071) 24027, (092) 230 1422; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Shwe Taung Tar Restaurant: Buta Lan (Station) Rd; open daily 06:00-21:30.
Win Unity Resort Restaurant: Bogyoke Rd; open daily 09:30-21:30.
5 Star Tea Centre: Yone Gyi Rd, opposite main entrance to Shwezigon Paya; open daily around 06:00-18:00.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.