Photo: The world's largest freestanding reclining Buddha.

Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha

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Win Sein Taw Ya is not just any giant reclining Buddha image, but apparently the world’s largest freestanding one. The awe-inspiring 180-metre Buddha statue is situated some 20 kilometres south of Mawlamyine amid a sprawling complex of shrines, statues, stupas and monastic buildings.

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Reflecting the country in general, this is very much a work in progress. Having visited several times, every trip reveals a startling new construction and additional elements scattered across the surrounding hillsides. A mirror image Buddha lies half built on the facing hillside — and it’s not the only half built thing about. The main reclining Buddha itself is far from finished, yet some of the older sections seem already to be well on the way to disrepair. It’s an infinity building site and while you may question the use of temple donations, local builders with jobs for life must be well happy.

The tea shop-lined entrance way. Photo taken in or around Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha, Mawlamyine, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

The tea shop-lined entrance way. Photo: Mark Ord

Many of the larger sites are reinforced concrete and in this climate concrete goes crumbly and iron rusts at alarming speeds. If this was a 1970s shopping mall it would have been condemned, demolished and rebuilt out of glass and stainless steel long ago. The interior of the principal Buddha image, with a staircase leading to an entrance in what is the pillow, houses an eight-floor monastic building and supposed meditation centre. However either because they’re unsafe or incomplete the upper floors are at present off limits. The labyrinthine, almost claustrophobic four floors that are open to the public are already enough. You’ll make your way through dripping, badly lit corridors, up half-built flights of steps — a perfect set for a post-apocalypse movie — and down narrow passages housing brightly coloured, freshly painted life-size dioramas.

Nostrils double as windows. Photo taken in or around Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha, Mawlamyine, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Nostrils double as windows. Photo: Mark Ord

There are demons, gods and mythological and we assume historical scenes created in concrete and plaster where visiting parties of giggling school kids just add to the overall surreality. Passages go the length of Buddha so worshippers can reach his feet in theory but you can only take so much and the thought of six floors of rotten concrete over our heads — not to mention being collared for 100 school party selfies — made us head back to ... Travelfish members only (Around 500 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha
Near Mudon, 24 km south of Mawlamyine.
Admission: Free

Location map for Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha

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