The most likely reason you'll find yourself in Monywa is to visit one of the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. Or perhaps you're planning a boat trip up the Chindwin River. Or perhaps you're just looking for somewhere a little off the beaten track to break the trip between Bagan and Mandalay. All are good reasons for at least an overnight stay in this sprawling riverside town.
At its heart, Monywa (pronounced with two syllables mon - ywa, not three mon - ee - wa) is just another bustling medium-sized Burmese town. The shaded riverfront is pretty, but as is often the case there's been precious little effort made to make it a particularly comfortable area to hang out on -- yes, no bars or cafes! It does make for a pleasant enough stroll of an afternoon, and it is along here you'll find the various agencies flogging boat tickets north up the Chindwin River.
Back off the river you'll find the central market, Shwezigon Paya and the clocktower, behind which are a couple of hotels, a few morning tea shops, and, in the evening, a small streetside night market. Wandering the back alleys and sidestreets, note the remaining traditional shopfront buildings -- one hopes some of these are retained and well looked after, but with Monywa so far off the tourist's main trail, don't hold your breath.
Aside from onward travel, the main reasons for visiting Monyway though, are two religious sites, both out of town and conveniently, both to the east: Thanboddhay Paya and Bodhi Tataung. The latter was, for a period, the tallest standing Buddha in the world. These are best visited by chartering a tuk tuk from downtown Monywa to take you there and back. This will easily fill an afternoon, meaning if you were in a real rush you could arrive on a morning bus from Mandalay, visit these sites in the afternoon, and then push on the next day either upriver to the north or by bus south to Bagan.
The bus station is a couple of kilometres to the south of town -- around 10 minutes by tuk tuk. If you're planning on catching a boat upriver, note the boats leave very early (around 04:00) in the morning, and you're expected to buy your ticket at least the day before.
By Stuart McDonald.