Set on the west bank of the Chindwin River, roughly located midway between Monywa to the south and Homalin to the north, Mawleik is an enthralling little village that, while decidedly out of the way, offers simple and affordable accommodation, a decent choice of places to eat and a selection of low key but interesting attractions. If you're looking for a place to put your feet up for two or three days of downtime, Mawleik could be a good option.
While theoretically connected to roads, the Chindwin River remains the main point of access for just about everyone, and with (water levels permitting) multiple boats daily passing in both directions -- to Homalin in the north and to Kalewa and Monywa in the south -- it isn't too difficult to get here or leave. Do bear in mind you're travelling on river time here, and the boat will come when it does and will leave when it will -- don't hold your breath to a timetable.
The centre of the village is wedged between the river and a narrow ribbon of rice fields, which fill the plain between the river and the jagged mountains that rise up to the west. These eventually rise to form the foothills of the international border between Burma and India -- an area that remains largely off limits to foreign visitors.
Back in the village, as with most centres in Burma you'll find a wet and dry market and plenty of tea shops, and there's also a well shaded, and quite scenic, riverfront area. The central part of the village has a number of restaurants along its bank with a Chinese spot screening international football and a couple of Burmese restaurants doing solid fare. Breakfast mohinga is best taken at the tea shop on the northern corner (off the river) of the restaurant "strip".
During Burma's colonial period, Mawleik was an administrative centre for the British for teak extraction and a number of colonial period buildings (and a golf course!) can be visited on a comfortable half-day cycling around the village. Buildings include a two-storey administrative centre and a hospital. The latter was apparently the site of a mass suicide by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Around eight kilometres outside town is an elephant camp where working elephants are kept for logging purposes. While the elephants are not always there, if they are it is possible to visit the camp, but don't expect any hat tips towards animal welfare -- when we visited, there was just a single "retired" elephant on site while the rest were off working and the whole scene was pretty grim.
Further afield, well past the elephant camp, there is a crater lake that is popular with locals as a spot to cool off, but the lake and the road to it were off limits to foreigners when we visited Mawleik in late 2013.
While a trip across the river looks tempting, we were told it was off limits to foreigners. If this changes, this could make for a pleasant half-day diversion.
Mawleik has no ATMs but you may be able to change money in the market. AKZ Guesthouse has an internet cafe on the ground floor, but the connection is glacial -- and when we say glacial, we mean glacial.
By Stuart McDonald.