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The South of Myanmar

MAWLAMYINE (MOULMEIN)

Global Mark : 14.25 

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
5 4 3 3 2 3 3 3 1 12.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
2 100% 100% 100% 15 to 18 16.50


Description :
A small tropical town by the river full of old colonial buildings, churches, mosques and hilly temples.

Comments : This charming hospitable place, which receives few visitors, makes you travel back in time by a few years...

What to do ? 
- In town : Watch locals climbing coconuts trees / Walk from one religion to another / Board a boat to Gaun Say "Head washing" Island (K20 one way after big negotiation) / Tour the island barefoot while learning about its "wonders" : it houses 3 sacred hairs of Lord Buddha but no poisonous snakes, fruits are much bigger here, holy (but unfortunately) invisible person come here for meditation, etc. / Drink water from the divine well, it never dries up ! / Scare kids / Ride old converted trucks / Feed pigeons / Get fresh air as well as great panorama from the top of Mahamuni Paya / Visit more or less old, charming and abandoned temples / Have a nice promenade along the hill toward U Zina Paya / Makes lots of photos / Watch sunset by the river
- In the surroundings : pay respect to POW who perished while building the death railway, visit an original temple on stilts, get dry in the sun like coconuts, share the life of fishermen, relax on the beach and check the progress of the construction of the biggest reclining Buddha in the world !

What you may not like ? The lack of cheap guesthouses / The ugly, dirty & noisy market area / Being the attraction of the town and in particular of the pedicabs drivers / The poor English of the locals / Answering too many times where you are going to & where you are coming from / The scared barking dogs / The foreigner's prices for the boat crossing / The disappointing kitschy temples on tiny "Shampoo" Island (another of its name) / If married, not being able to live on the "Ruby" Island as you will face trouble... / Not being allowed to travel south very far by bus / Some very slow transports on your way south / The 2,732 POW who died for the railway / The rather ugly temple / The lack of time for the beach (but it is probably not a great miss)

How long ? One day in town plus one day touring the south


Where to stay ? Only two "cheap" places in town :

  • Breeze "Lay Hnyin Tha" GH (032-21450), No6 Strand Rd / Basic Sgl w. fan $5, Dbl $10, room w. cold shower $7(1) or $14(2) / Breakfast / Go there for (unfortunately) the cheapest price in town, the complementary breakfast when checking in, the little extra (water, luxury soap), the map of town, the spotless locked foreigners' bathroom / What you may not like : the basic rooms with bad noise isolation (fellow guests, street or classroom)
  • Aurora GH (22785), No277 Lower Main Rd, near the above / Room w. fan $6(1) or $10(2), w. AC & cold shower $15(1) or $20(2) / No breakfast / Go there if you need AC and for the slightly bigger & fresher rooms / What you may not like : the noise from the lobby TV & the street plus the higher cost without food nor extra.
  • If you feel depressed by the GH and just won at the local lottery, Mawlamyne Hotel has got luxury rooms starting at $36(1) or $48(2). Local people pay 6 times less...


Where to eat ? There are plenty of food stalls & small restaurants near the market. For dinner, Ruby was recommended as the best Chinese restaurant and my dish indeed turned out well served & tasty. For dessert, try the fried little squared snacks made of rice (K25 for a plate) on the river front.

 << Discover a few sights


A rush day in the south ?

The objectives were clear : cover Thanbyuzayat (war cemetery as it is where the death railway started), Setse beach, Kyaikkami (Temple plus fishing village) and Win Sein Taw Ya (the future biggest Buddha) in one day (foreigners are not allowed to sleep outside Mawlamyne) and come back in one piece... Big Constraint : the last bus from Kyaikkami was at 14:30

So I woke up early, speeded the guesthouse breakfast and rushed toward the market area for a bus to Thanbyuzayat. I found one easily : it cost K75 but it was from the prehistorically type and therefore slow & uncomfortable. Leaving at 7:15, we reached destination at 9:45, just after everyone got off for the too-usual passport / ID control. The scenery was nice as inside trees plantations, with a few temples as extra on the left side.

From Thanbyuzayat's clock tower, the good but sad looking cemetery was 10mn walk away in the direction of Kyaikkami. After the visit to the heroes, I walked a bit while waiting for a bus onward. I was however soon approached by a friendly local on a motorbike who, after telling me it was too bad he had no time to drive me there (too bad indeed !), insisted to give me a ride toward the bus station. I was wondering why I could not wait were I was but trusted his expertise anyway. I was wrong : the pick-up he found me was crowded (usual) and damn slow (unusual) with stops every two minutes to get merchandises & passengers in & out (usual). And from my roof position, what do I see two minutes after departing ? A speedy bus with seats available of course ! 

Just before arriving, I was asked to show the money. Feeling that I would be overcharged, I decided to wait until we arrived to start negotiating. Indeed, while the "normal" foreigner price was K50, he asked K80. So I gave him the local price of K25 and walked away. After all, after spending 1 hour under the sun to cover 25km, I was not feeling like negotiating too long...

Kyaikkami Yele Pagoda was what I expected : original for its setting (there is even a temple in the shape of a boat) and Buddha image but rather kitschy & therefore rather unimpressive. 15mn were enough. The fishing village, however, was worth wandering around. But I did not have so much time left... As I was explained, at 1pm, it was already to late to go to Setse beach...

I boarded a bus going back to Mawlamyne (K150 but try to negotiate less if you stop before) at 13:15 : fast & comfortable for those who were lucky enough to have a seat. Only fast for me. Indeed, most of the passengers had used the same bus to come in the morning and had therefore their seat reserved. The new passengers had the alley...
We reached the intersection to the beach in 30 minutes (8km more to it), then Thanbyuzayat 15 mn later. It took however 1.5 hours more to reach Win Sein Taw Ya. Sitting on the right side, it was possible to see the massive Buddha from the road. It was also difficult not to spot the road leading to it, thanks to the very colorful gate. Welcome to kitsch land !

The huge reclining Buddha, still under construction until 2003 or so, was 20mn away, following a road bordered with cement guards. If it does not seem like it will be the prettiest Buddha in the world, it certainly will be very impressive with its planned 180m. Also, it won't be empty : hundreds of real-life statues of men & women but also an elephant, horses or demons are being prepared inside as well. In addition, the surroundings hill are dotted with small white pagodas, giving the site a definite charm.

Also in the area, 10mn walk north the main road, stairs lead to a temple on the top of a massive karst formation. A great panorama in perspective. Unfortunately, I spotted it once in the bus already. It was already 16:30 anyway and I was getting real tired. It took us about 30mn, including 5mn teaching the immigration staff how to decipher my passport, to reach downtown. It cost K50.

And now for some recommendations to avoid a few of my mistakes & visit it all :
- Get up early
- Take a fast bus down to Kyaikkami first (K150, 2.5 hours)
- And come back from there, stopping at Setse Beach (you may probably have to change vehicle at the intersection for the remaining 8km), Thanbyuzayat and Win Sein Taw Ya. 

 << Discover the surroundings



Leaving Mawlamyne ? 

At the time of writing, it was still forbidden for foreigners to travel south of Mudon by bus or train. If it is relaxed one day, buses to Dawei leave at 6am and cost K1500 for an 11 hours trip in a AC bus. There was also a shortage of airplanes to the south : if you wish to go to Dawei, you have to fly from Yangon.

To Yangon, you have the choice between evening buses or two trains, at 9am & 7pm, which are slightly faster (9-10 hours if on time) but much more expensive : $6 ordinary, $17 upper class. Besides, you need to go to Mottama (30mn's ferry crossing, $1 while locals pay K5, but maybe small private boats for K30 only) to catch them...

To Pa-an, the only boat depart at 14 from near the GH. The 2 hours' trip cost K40 for locals but $2 for foreigners. Buses & pick up leave regularly in the morning next to the football field in the north of town for K150.

To Kyaikto, buses depart from Mottama only so it would be better to go to Pa-an first.

 

Bus Schedules : 

To Company Tel Cost Type Time D
Yangon Leo Express 032-22703 1200 AC 17 12
YNT Exp 22693 1000 AC 17 12
Pa-an na na 150 ordi 6,7:30,9,10:30,12,13:30,15 2

Notes : D = duration /  To Pa-an from near the football field


The trip to Pa-an : SSSS / L / K150 / 2 hrs / Ordi bus

I was thinking taking the boat first but, wishing to leave in the morning, ended up with a 7:30 bus. Buses & pick up leave a bit north-east of the market, next to a football field, but then go slowly south via Lower Main Road. 
Soon after leaving, a guy started sending me smoke signals into the noise. I asked him to direct the fume in another direction, then pointed at the non-smoking sign in Chinese & English above his head. He nicely extinguished his cigarette. But half an hour later, he got an idea : taking a black tape, he carefully covered the "no smoking" sign, then lighted up another cigarette. So I showed him the Chinese characters and asked him in Chinese not to smoke. He extinguished his cigarette again. I knew my Chinese skills would be useful one day !

For the rest of the trip, beside an exclusive passport check-up where I did not even have to get off, I concentrated on the superb sceneries. The boat trip is certainly nice but I do not think it can beat the road. Indeed, two bridges' crossings also after a taste of river banks... Both sides where good but the best karsts formations were on the left. 

We arrived at the bus station at 9:40. I started walking toward town but soon realized, with the help of some locals, that it was a bit far away for a morning exercise (around 3km). So when a guy offered me for the third time to give me a lift on his bicycle, I accepted ! Otherwise, it should cost around K30 by pedicabs.


See also the trip from Yangon