Prisoners of the Buddha

Trip Start Jan 10, 2011
Trip End Feb 04, 2011

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Flag of Myanmar  , Sagain,
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shwebo - Monywa Bus.
Still feeling wrecked from the previous night's hell ride on rails, we decide to hightail it directly to Monywa by local bus. My guts being in a somewhat unsettled state, I pop an Imodium to ensure a trip devoid of " incidents ". The Highway to Monywa is a fairly pretty tree lined road which I'm however in too much discomfort to appreciate.
After an uncomfortable yet refreshingly uneventful bus ride, It's late morning when we get to Monywa where I'm content to just collapse onto the bed for the rest of the day. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
"Myanmar, it's no vacation!"
 Should be the new slogan for the country's tourist office hoping to attract future visitors.

The next day, we arrange a share taxi to take us around all the sights in one day. A bit pricier than the public transportation, but having only one whole day  in town, it's the smart move as you don't spend an extra night's accommodation etc...
We cross the  Chindwin river and head towards a vast complex of Limestone caves....The Hpo Win Daung caves. A Temple complex of  about 500 caves carved out of the limestone rock featuring about 5000 Buddhas of different shapes inside (also carved out of the same rock for the most part)  and some beautiful cave paintings. A hard to understand guide self-appoints himself to us and shows us around. Spent a great deal of time pointing out the one reclining Buddha facing West (?) that is actually in the dying position, not in the blissful pose, but I could have it mixed up...?
The whole time, we're followed by panhandling gang of monkeys used to handouts, whom Navit obliges more than once.
Pretty place for sure, but after a while every cave resembles itself and it's Buddha overload. Some of the caves differentiate themselves a bit by the fact that they were commissioned  and carved during the British occupation as a few bore the Queen Victoria Crest carved in a baroque style on the entrance arch. Those caves housed Buddhas surrounded by Cherubs and Buddha holding an apple offered by a snake?  All very overt Christian aesthetic overtones. A refreshing change in a perverse way...
The guide having assured us at the start that he wasn't doing this for any amount of money did very much expect a handout at the end of the tour. Which we already suspected and pitched in on without a fuss...hey dude's got mouths to feed! Although he did insist we hand him the dough out of sight, so it had that dope deal vibe to it! Buddha cave Junkies!
 On the drive back, we passed some primitive open pit copper mines as well as 3 hills recently sold to the Chinese to strip mine...take a picture they won't be here at all in 30 years or less...what the fuck, there's plenty of that going on in our own backyard so...
Next stop, we head to Thanbodday Paya. A quite beautiful, colorful and over decorated temple complex.
Another case of Buddha overload, as the Buddhas here number at the staggering count of 600,000! give or take a thousand... Of course the majority of them are the size of a tea cup...still, overwhelming!
Unusual aesthetic to the place, super bright color gingerbread style almost Disney-esque...
Uh oh, the sun is  dangerously nearing the Horizon, our cue to hightail it out to Bodhi Thataung (1000 Bodhi trees).
Our destination is the 30 story tall Gilded Buddha, shimmering in the sunset. We can see him glowing from miles away, quite impressive and beautiful! Of course a Buddha that size is best admired from the outside, but when the option to enter presents itself you jump on the chance! Due to a power outage (no surprise here...) the elevator is out of service... but we can take the stairs, ok...we walk a few flights. The hallways are painted  gold, and decorated with gruesome heavy metal album cover art depicting various forms of torture reserved for evil doers ( it struck me as a sort of protest against the regime as some of the victims were clearly in uniform)  Unfortunately as often before, my camera batteries are dead at the end of the day so...aaaaaaargh! Must be a government plot!
Knowing it was closing time we didn't venture too far up the Buddha, so we stopped below his gonads ( actually just above the ankles is when we turned back). Good thing too as we discovered to our distress as we were trying to exit, that we'd been locked inside!
The combination of Blissful looking Buddhas and death metal style Torture art gave me the creeps. I do NOT want to spend the night in here....We had to holler out a few windows until some guard came back (laughing under his breath) to liberate us. Guess they couldn't resist playing a practical joke on us! Good fun! the Burmese do possess a keen sense of humor, as we witnessed a guy on the platform below mimicking or mocking a penitent going through the motion of doing the pious crawl (a slow and arduous form of religious fervor...)
Back to town in the evening rush. Boy, Monywa revealed itself to be a much more populous place than I'd envisioned. Busy foot traffic, scooter traffic, cars, Trishaws, and most of all... Dust! My throat  was sore from it at this point. Hack,hack!
Spent the evening at the Hotel terrace, smoking cheroots and drinking beer and whiskey with our taxi guy and his pal, the car smuggler. They were getting ready to hit the town's "KTV" or (Bad) Karaoke.T.V club, a local euphemism for a bordello.
The set up is like this, a poor young country gal (I'm only  guessing...) goes up and sings (this I've seen more than once, usually stiffly and badly...-fact!) a song, after which a gentlemen in the crowd  hopefully shows his approval/interest by  forking out cash for a "lei" which a club attendant (or the client himself) affixes (like a noose) around the singer's neck. What happens as the evening progresses is usually  a series of table dates which eventually culminate in some sort of $exual rendez-vous. Meat market!
 -A propos this, our taxi driver was complaining about the local clubs, where brawls usually erupted over different jealous patrons attempting to court a same gal etc...and in contrast how in Mandalay clubs were so much classier and civilized etc...This night, being taxi guy's one night free from the spouse, he intended to make the best of it and they departed gleefully without even a hint of inviting Emil and I... Hey, what are they implying?
To be cont.

more pics below+ click on pics for captions etc.

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