Posted by: Gideon | September 22, 2011

Myanmar / Burma with Kids: From Monywa to Mandalay – caves, monkeys and Justin Bieber!

Giant Elephant Cave

The following morning we explored more of Monywa and its surroundings.

Crazy carvings at "new" Hpo Win Daung

We drove to the Hpo Win Daung Caves – one of the major sites near Monywa. The current Lonely Planet is out of date here – while formerly one needed to take a ferry and then a jeep to the caves, today it’s far easier and quicker in a regular car over the new bridge across the Chindwin River.

The caves are manmade – some are shallow, others deep, and all contain Buddha images or paintings or both. There are a huge number of them and the site is divided into two parts, the old and the new.

The “new” section dates back to colonial times. These are really interesting -it’s as if the cave builders (remember, they are all manmade) let their imaginations go wild – crazy statues, facades that look like British buildings, a huge elephant carved across the front of one cave – and in gaudy colors too. The old section is far more traditional – beautiful carvings and incredible intact Buddhist paintings. This (older area) could be a World Heritage Site in my opinion.

There were lots of monkeys running around, but they were not aggressive at all.  Still, after our experience at Mount Popa, the kids were not excited by the idea of more monkeys.

One of the big attractions with the other (local) visitors at the site was our family – everyone wanted their photo taken with us!


After lunch we left for Mandalay. On the outskirts of Mandalay we stopped at Sagaing, a famous hill with a huge number of temples. By now the kids were showing serious signs of “temple fatigue” so we spent most of our time exploring the stalls outside the temples. There were really interesting things on sale – live owls, papier-mache owls, thanaka logs, souvenirs…it was fascinating. We were amazed to meet someone wearing a Justin Bieber T shirt. Anywhere else in the world we’d see this as normal, but not in Myanmar, with no US TV shows, terrible internet service and in many areas a closed, traditional society. The kids were so excited – and Myanmar didn’t seem so different anymore!


By sunset we were in Mandalay, the last royal city of Burma.

(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar – click here for more details).

No mirrors here, just Buddhas! - Sagaing

Exploring Old Hpo Win Daung

Cave Painting, Hpo Win Daung

Monk, Hpo Win Daung



  1. I love your blog.Best wishes.

  2. Hi Gideon,
    Enjoying your blog. We were in Myanmar a couple of months before you in March and had the same experience with locals finding us a huge attraction. We travelled with our daughters, 8 and 1 year olds. The little one has fair skin and blonde curly hair so you can imagine! Huge crowd around us at Shwedagon, taking turns to have their photo taken with us etc. I was slightly embarrased that we were the main attraction for a time at such an amazing place.
    Wherever we ate the girls would be whisked away to be fawned over and shown off, usually returning with a banana in one hand and a lollypop in the other. The youngest got quite used to waving at strangers and getting a reaction and was very confused when this tactic no longer worked when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur.
    Heading back there this March, can’t wait . Just hoping mass tourism doesn’t spoil this gorgeous place but not feeling too optimistic unfortunately.

    • Hi Jackie

      Awesome – I know exactly what you mean. I am afraid that things will change – perhaps very quickly – Myanmar has been listed as one of the top places to visit in 2012 by at least 5 huge websites/newspapers. Excellent for anyyone in Myanmar who is likely to benefit from any huge inflow of tourists – from cab drivers to restaurants to souvenir sellers to hotels etc…but sooner or later travelers will be seen primarily as a source of $ (much like in so many other countries), and then it’ll be different. Still, it won’t happen overnight – I think we have a good few years to go still.
      Enjoy your trip in March – it’ll be great!

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