Things to do to the south of Mawlamyine
A giant BUddha and war history
What we say:
Again, no accommodation is available in this area so you would have to return to Mawlamyine but if you left early enough it would be just possible to do them all in a day. It'd probably be safer, and less of a rush, to split the destinations into two though and do the Mudon sites one day and Thanbyuzayat and Kyaikkami another.
Note the Strand Hotel advertise taxi hire for this day trip for 70,000 kyat including an English-speaking driver, so for two or three people that's actually a very good deal and saves a lot of getting on and off buses. You could also see what tours Breeze are offering. Otherwise you would need to take a Thanbyuzayat-bound bus from Mawlamyine market, which leaves roughly every hour (we said roughly), taking two hours and costing 1,500 kyat. Last return bus is said to depart Thanbyuzayat at 15:00 but double check.
Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha
This is not just any giant Buddha, but the world's largest free-standing Buddha. This 180-metre reclining Buddha statue is situated some 20 kilometres south of Mawlamyine. If you're lucky there may be a cart around to take you up the side road to the Buddha for a few kyats otherwise it's a couple of kilometres to walk along a road lined with non-stop monk statues.
It's odd, but then the entire place is odd – the interior of the Buddha, with the entrance in the pillow, houses an eight-storey monastic building and meditation centre. This is still a work in progress and additional buildings, parkland, walkways and viewpoints are being added. There are plenty of tea shops and curry houses in the car park and we've heard there's a pretty crazy festival that takes place here every year in early February. Note if this is your only destination, any Mudon-bound bus or pick-up will drop you off or pick you up here for 500 kyat.
Kyauktalon Taung Pagoda
A few kilometres south of Win Sein you'll see a sheer limestone outcrop just to the west of the highway. At the summit is the pagoda and a 30-minute climb allows stupendous views over the surrounding countryside. You can't miss the dramatic crag amid the flat farmland and a kilometre or so of dirt track will bring you to the foot of the mount. On the east side of the Mudon highway is a similar outcrop with a Hindu shrine on the summit. This is easily combined with Win Sein Taw Ya Giant Buddha for a half-day trip.
Near the half-way mark, (c. 30 kilometres), between Mawlamyine and Thanbyuzayat is the small town of Mudon which has frequent transport links with the state capital, a lively little market and some tea and curry houses (around 1,000 kyat and 40 to 60 minutes from Mawlamyine). The giant Buddha, lunch and a wander around the market in Mudon with a visit to the Kyauktalon Taung Pagoda on the way back would make a great and easy little day trip.
Around 60 kilometres south is the busy town of Thanbyuzayat, a famous destination since this old tin mining town was the western terminus of the notorious Japanese WW2 'Death Railway' from Kanchanaburi -- though these days there isn't a lot to see.
A kilometre and a half south of the central clocktower you can see an old locomotive on a short preserved section of track while a kilometre to the west is the sobering war cemetery containing nearly 4,000 graves of British, Australian and US POWs. When we visited we had to wait a while to find someone to unlock the gate padlocks to enter the cemetery.
Otherwise the town is bustling with plenty of eateries and coffee shops and good connections for the two-hour drive to Mawlamyine. If you wish to continue to Kyaikkami you will have to change buses here, but watch the time.
Yes it is another eight or so kilometres past Thanbyuzayat but the old seaside town, and even briefly capital of Lower Burma, is well worth a visit.
The quiet town itself isn't much to write home about, though it does boast a few colonial-period buildings, but the Yele Pagoda jutting out into the Bay of Bengal on a rock outcrop is spectacular. The temple is sited on top of a natural rock promontory where apparently a Buddha image had been washed ashore after floating on a raft all the way from Sri Lanka. The main shrine also houses some of Buddha's hairs so it's a site of considerable religious importance for locals and a highly picturesque one for casual visitors.
There's a covered causeway leading out to the temple which is under water at high tide and an adjacent stone walkway across the rocks which allows for great views of the temple. At the foot of the steps leading down the cliff to the start of the causeway are some religious paraphernalia shops plus a few drink stands while at the top of the steps by the car-park and viewpoint are some snack stands.
An attractive cliff-lined beach stretches off to the south, which makes for a good stroll and although it tends to mudflats at low tide at high it looks okay for a swim.
Pick-ups and moto taxis ply the short route between Thanbyuzayat and Kyaikkami; it's a few hundred kyat for the latter, while the former is negotiable but 2,000 should do it.
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