Thaton This fairly nondescript provincial town lies approximately halfway between Kyaiktiyo and Mawlamyine at the junction of Route 85 to Hpa-An and the main north-south highway #8.
Thaton is one of the oldest towns in Southeast Asia and was an important entrepot on the China-India trade route at least as long as 1,500 years ago. The area between the Sittang and Salween rivers corresponds to the ancient Western Mon part of the Dvaravati kingdom, and Thaton may have been the site of the capital – it's difficult to say for sure since not very extensive archaeological research has been carried out and the new town lies directly over the top of the old.
Consequently these days there is little to see and the main attraction for visitors would be the large and animated market. Thaton also has curry houses and coffee shops particularly around the market area plus frequent transport connections to Yangon, Hpa-An and Mawlamyine.
More spectacular Mon ruins can be found in the village of Zhotoke (several spellings exist) near the town of Bilin north of Thaton on the main highway.
Bilin itself is a small market town on the main highway, while Zhotoke village is situated a dozen or so kilometres to the west. (Incidentally don't be surprised to see Pa-O women in Bilin market since there are some Pa-O villages in the hills to the east of town). The village is home to two sites of interest, though the entire area is littered with brick and laterite remains and must correspond to an important and substantial ancient settlement. (Some locals would say this is the site of the semi-mythological city of Savarnabhumi; others locate it in Thaton while certain historians place it further south in modern Malaysia.)
Firstly check-out the uber-sacred Kyaikh Tee Saung Pagoda – so sacred you can't even set foot on the principal stupa and would need a special dispensation from the abbot just to take photos of it. The golden stupa is constructed atop an ancient looking laterite base and set in an extensive monastic complex and gardens and you are free to wander around the rest of the area. While you can't set foot on the stupa, don't miss the amazing collection of ancient carvings that have obviously been found in the vicinity and is now arranged around the pagoda's base. As with many Burmese stupas the 'restoration' makes it look modern but this is probably well over 1,000 years old.
A couple of kilometres of dirt track through the village takes you to a non-restored and highly unusual second site – a long laterite, presumably temple base lined with some weird and wonderful carvings. Some excavation has been done, revealing several steps or layers, and we're guessing that the base would have supported a wooden construction in earlier times and was perhaps surrounded by water basins. The carvings include mythical beasts, real animals and figures from mythology including an impressive ogre. We were informed it was probably ninth century but we doubt anyone knows for sure.
These sites are out of the way and we're not really suggesting them as options from Mawlamyine but if you were travelling by taxi for instance this would make a worthwhile and interesting stop.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 5th November, 2013.