The search for a perfect weekend getaway may be over for those prepared to endure two overnight buses and a sleep-deprived Monday at the office. Mawlamyine, the Mon State capital and a former colonial capital and bustling port, boasts many attractions, including weathered Victorian architecture, hilltops crowned with pagodas and a waterfront worth exploring on foot. It’s a great place to unwind and to discover.
Take in a 360-degree view from the spectacular Kyaik Than Ian Pagoda on a ridge overlooking the city centre or wander its market-lined streets. There is no Shwedagon Pagoda, no monastery filled with cats. The main attraction is the need to be nowhere at all.
The sleepy city made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Road to Mandalay has not changed much since his brief visit in 1899. Horse-drawn car- riages carrying vegetables and meat are a regular sight, striking because of their rarity elsewhere. Wooden boats dotting the Thanlwin River also hark back to the slower pace of days past. After arriving at 4am and a nap at the hotel, we rose early to wander, heading for the river but with no firm plan.
Mawlamyine residents say their pomelos are the best in Myanmar and the only way to confirm this claim was to consume as many as possible. There are many restaurants to choose from on the Strand Road. If you are tired of Asian-fusion fare try the South Indian restaurant known locally as May, opposite the jetty for boats bound for Hpa-an on the Thanlwin. The chicken byirani and curries are delicious and not as greasy of those at the cafeteria-style Indian chains in Yangon.
After lunch we made the ascent to the Mahar Muni Pagoda, one of Mawlamy- ine’s hilltop pagodas connected by ex- tensive crumbling tunnels. Give yourself at least a few hours to explore the stupas and enjoy the views – just remember where you left your shoes.
Excited to practice our Myanmar we chatted with a friendly family spending a Saturday morning retouching the gold trim of the Mahar Muni Pagoda’s heart- shaped tiles. There is always something to fix, said the family matriarch, and giving back is a Buddhist tradition to earn merit. There is at least one must-see attraction in Mawlamyine. It is what’s said to be world’s largest reclining Buddha image at Win Sein Tawya temple in Mudon Township, about a 30-minute drive from the city. Work on the impressive structure, which is about 590 feet long and 98 feet high, began in 1995 and is yet to be completed.
Ambitiously, a larger reclining Buddha is being built directly across from the Win Sein Tawya image. A nearby crag rises dramatically from paddy fields and climbing to the Kyauk Ta Lone Taung Pagoda on its summit for a panoramic sunset view is a perfect way to finish your trip. Sunset in Mawlamyine from a riverside restaurant and the Kyaik Than Ian Pagoda would be just as enjoya- ble. That’s the beauty of a visit to Mawlamyine: you can’t go wrong.