Mawlamyine may be Myanmar’s fourth largest city but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The charming riverside town served as the capital of Lower Myanmar during the British Colonial era and it seems, at times, that little has changed since that time. Lovely colonial buildings and leafy palm trees line the streets with glittering temple spires popping up in between. Thanks to its proximity to Yangon and this distinctly different atmosphere, Mawlamyine is slowly making its way onto the tourist map. It is also one of Myanmar Diaries favorite destinations. Read on to learn why!
A journey back in time
Although Yangon and Mawlamyine are two of Myanmar’s largest cities, they are vastly different and the journey between the two is like a journey through time. Whether you opt to travel by car or by slow-moving train, you will watch as the scenery transitions from busy city streets to quiet countryside. Pass by farms growing seasonal crops and catch glimpses of rural communities where life moves at a slower pace. Then, after a 5-6 hour drive, the glimmering waters of the Thanlwin River come into view and the gilded Kyaik Than Lan pagoda in the distance, signaling your arrival into Mawlamyine.
Sites and Scenery of Mawlamyine
After dropping your bags at the hotel, it’s time to stretch your legs with an introductory tour of Mawlamyine. The town is full of architectural wonders, from colonial-style government buildings to beautiful houses of worship. Among the highlights are St Matthew’s Church and the colorful Soorti Sunni Jamai Mosque. As the day comes to a close, head to the hilltop Kyaik Than Lan pagoda, a large gilded stupa built in the 9th century. Enjoy the sound of the tinkling of bells from the 34 smaller stupas in the area and watch the sun dip low into the sky. Then head down to Strand Road for a stroll. All along the road, which runs alongside the Thanlwin River, you will find street stalls selling fresh seafood and barbeque as well as more colonial-era buildings.
Mon Villages and River Islands
Start the second day of your Mawlamyine tour with a visit to the town’s fresh market. See piles of fish and fresh produce on sale while walking through the maze of stalls. Continue to the riverside where you will board a local ferry boat and cross the Thanlwin River to Bilu Kyun for a half-day tour. This sprawling river island, which means Ogre Island in Myanmar language, is home to more than 60 villages inhabited by the Mon people. Spend the day crisscrossing the island in a pick-up truck, stopping to see cottage industries such as wood carving, bamboo weaving and more. Along the way you will learn more about the Mon culture and what their daily lives are like, passing by farms and small neighborhoods. You may even forget that you are on an island!
At lunch we suggest to try Mon specialties. After all, the saying goes ‘Mandalay for the speaking, Yangon for the bragging and Mawlamyine for the eating’. Traditional dishes are spicy and sour, relying on local ingredients such as lemongrass and banana flowers to add additional flavor and crunch.
An Island unlike any other
Returning to town you may still have a few hours until the sunsets so continue to Mawlamyine’s northern jetty for a short excursion to Shampoo Island. This tiny landmass in the quiet waters of the Thanlwin River was made famous in the Ava era when the annual royal hair washing ceremony would take place at the island’s spring. These days the island has a few simple pagodas and statues but it is a pleasant place to walk around in the early evening.
A darker side of Myanmar History
If you have another day to spare and a keen interest in history, you can take day trip to Thanbyuzayat, where the infamous ‘Death Railway’ terminated. After a 1.5 hour drive south of Mawlamyine, start your Thanbyuzayat tour with a visit to the Death Railways Museum. The Museum is small but contains some interesting information about the history of the railway and the stories of the Prisoners of War involved in its construction. Then continue on to the sprawling Allied War Cemetery, a somber site with more than 4000 headstones marking the graves of soldiers who died in the construction of the railway.
After these intense historical visits, you may be in the mood for something a bit lighter. Head west to the coastal town of Kyaikkhame where the lovely Yele Pagoda is located. Stretching out on an isthmus to the sea, Yele becomes partly submerged at high tide. It is a popular place for Buddhist pilgrims yet few foreigners visit so it is likely, especially on the weekends, that you will be asked to pose for photos with the locals!
Once the pages of your Myanmar Diaries are filled with tales of pagodas, islands, colonial vestiges and historical monuments, it’s time to bid farewell to Mawlamyine. If you are not in a rush, you are in luck as there are plenty of other great places to explore in the area! If you travel south you will pass through the sleepy seaside town of Ye and the atmospheric city of Dawei. Heading back toward Yangon, you can veer off into Hpa An’s limestone hills or the sacred Golden Rock.
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- Discovering the unique traditions and culture of the Mon people
- Sampling barbeque along Mawlamyine’s Strand Road
- Watching the sunset from the hill top Kyaik Than Lan Pagoda
- Enjoying scenic views of the Thanlwyin River
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
- From October to April
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