"By the old Moulmein pagoda lookin' lazy at the sea…," wrote Rudyard Kipling on his 1889 visit and we reckon probably not a lot has changed since in this very sleepy, yet absolutely charming town. Moulmein, officially renamed Mawlamyine, was in former times the British capital of Lower Burma, and is now capital of Burma's Mon State and even officially weighs in these days as the country's fourth largest city (after Yangon, Mandalay and Nyapitaw), though it seems to be barely a city and certainly not large.
Yes, there is the occasional newer concrete construction, notably a truly hideous line of shophouses along the waterfront, but there's few buildings over three or four storeys high, a plethora of Victorian period architecture, a couple of the country's most venerable mosques and of course all Kipling's splendid old pagodas.
The waterfront is lively, with fishing boats and passenger ferries departing and arriving from all points, and a couple of great markets, but otherwise it's a delight to just wander the quiet, tree-lined streets wondering which buildings would have been around when George Orwell was part of Mawlamyine's police force.
Mawlamyine is situated some 300 kilometres southeast of Yangon on the southern side of the mighty Salween, overlooking the river's scenic estuary and Gulf of Martaban. It's very much the gateway to the long narrow ribbon of southern, peninsular Burma wedged between the Tenassarim Ranges to the east forming the Thai border and the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean to the west.
There's a great feel to this cosmopolitan little town. Watch the world go by from market tea shops, check out the sunsets from waterfront cafes, look lazy at the sea from ancient hill-top pagodas and meet what we reckon are some of the friendliest of the country's inhabitants; this can easily keep most visitors happy for a couple of days plus quite a few visit-worthy sites are located within easy striking range of town.
We found enough good and varied cafes and eateries to keep you going for a few days too but nowhere's perfect -- and Mawlamyine's downside is a rather pitiful accommodation choice.
The layout of this town of some 300,000 people reflects the country's geography in these parts, which is to say long and thin, and stretching north-south along the coastline. The sea -- the Gulf of Martaban -- forms the western limits and the Salween River (spanned by the spectacular Than-Lwin Bridge) prevents Mawlamyine expanding northwards, with the central and oldest part of the town being sandwiched between the sea and a range of low wooded hills atop which sit the string of famous old pagodas.
Strand Road runs along the busy waterfront with three more parallel roads behind it: Lower Main Road, Baho Street and Upper main Road. Much of the commercial and market areas are concentrated along Lower Main Road while the Upper version already has a suburban feel to it, with larger old villas and colonial period administrative buildings set among trees and with lanes leading off upwards to access the hilltop pagodas.
Behind these low hills spreads the newer part of town, which includes the train and bus stations. At present it's still limited in size but development is afoot, with new industrial zones and shopping malls planned. Beyond the Rangoon-Dawei railway line paddy and rubber plantations stretch off to the eastern horizon, where the spectacular limestone hills of Hpa-an can be seen.
Mawlamyine certainly stretches a long way down the coast to the south, but the central district which contains most of the sites visitors would be likely to visit is relatively compact and much can be done on foot. The town's low on traffic, high on greenery, has plenty of old buildings scattered about and makes for a very agreeable spot for a wander.
Text and/or map last updated on 2nd October, 2013.
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Things to do around Mawlamyine
Mawlamyine and region around has plenty of places to visit, rented motorcycle or car is very recomended.
First things everebody goes for here is big reclining Budha, the biggest in the world. Budha is around 180 meters long so it is really impressive to see it. Inside is kind of museum with lot of painted scenes-statues of Buddha life. It is about 25km from Malawmyime.
Kyaikhami Pagoda lies around 80 kilometers south, so it is long trip, specially if you going with motorcycle as we did, but it is still reachable and very worth of visit. Place resembles me Saint Michel in France. It is also monastery surrounded by sea, which is hardly accesible during high tide. There are many fish very used to feeding by visitors and it is always spectacular occasion, sometimes it looks like sea water is boiling, as so many of them is such pressed together to get the best positions for their snack :)
Set Se Beach is not far away from that place, so it is possible to visit Kyaikhami Pagoda and the beach in one day. It is also possible to stay in Set Se overnight.
There is also mini version of Golden rock in Kiakkami, where most of the tourist are heading for in Myanmar. We have found this one much more better than big one. No crowds, just calm place and superb scenery around. On the top of the mountain you can walk (around two hours) or you can use public truck (2000Ks return ticket). Be sure you are there at 11 am when truck leaves.
Ask in Breeze Guesthouse for more advices. One of the Breeze employees is Anton. He is in his seventies bust still very energetic, optimistic and handsome man, acting is tour guide around the city. He is collecting all postcards and letters he received from his happy clients and he have really a lot of them. We are happy we could spend few evenings chatting with him and to participate to his collection also.
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By buchtys (dabbler)
Written on 12th December, 2013 after a visit to Mawlamyine in November, 2013
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