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MAWLAMYINE CITY

mawlamyine
Mawlamyine is the third largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and Mandalay situated 165 kilometers east of the nation's capital across the Gulf of Mottama at the mouth of the Thanlwin river. It is the capital of Mon State with a population of almost 300,000 people. Formerly known as Moulmein, it was once a thriving teak port and the administrative capital of British Lower Burma. The town's signature landmark is Kyaikthanlan pagoda built in 875 AD and  thought to be the site from where Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem, 'The Road to Mandalay'. It's unlikely that Kipling was referring to Mandalay Ward located at the base of Kyaikthanlan pagoda, but rather the 'Mandalay' in central Myanmar.

The Thanlwin bridge, the longest road and rail bridge in Myanmar is the most prominent landmark in the area. It stretches a distance of 11,000 feet over the Thanlwin river connecting the country's south eastern region with its capital, Yangon.

Mawlamyine is generally considered to be off the main tourist trail for most travellers to Myanmar but the town does have a charm of its own with its rich history, buildings with colonial style architecture, World War II era wooden buses, and its close proximity to the infamous Siam-Burma "death railway", making it a fascinating place to visit!
HOW TO GET THERE ?
Most travellers to Mawlamyine arrive by overnight bus. It's the cheapest option with tickets ranging from 2200 kyat for a standard non aircon bus to 7600 kyat for the "spacious" service offered by some operators.
 
Catching the train to Mawlamyine is so much easier now with the completion of the new Mawlamyine train station at Myay Ni Gone quarter in February 2006. Direct services over the Thanlwin Bridge now completes the journey with much convenience and safety. Prior to the bridge's completion in early 2005, train travellers were required to terminate at Mottama on the west bank of the Thanlwin river and catch ferries or long tail boats across the river to the central market at Zeigyi. Those days are now long gone. Currently two train services operate between Yangon and Mawlamyine including an air-conditioned car with dining facilities. There is also a daily train service from the nation's capital, Nay Pyi Daw to Mawlamyine.
 
Air services between Yangon and Mawlamyine is provided once a week on Fridays on the government carrier, Myanma Airways. The journey takes only 40 minutes using a tired Fokker Friendship F-27 aircraft from yesteryear. Be sure to check the latest dates and times from the Myanmar Airways office as the flight schedule changes without much prior notice, and may not operate to Mawlamyine when demand is low.
WHAT TO SEE ?
Kyaikthanlan Phayar pagoda
Kyaikthanlan Phayar (Pagoda) is the highest structure in Mawlamyine and stands 150 feet tall on the ridge overlooking the town centre. It can be seen for miles especially at night where its lighted brilliance dominates the skyline. From the top of the pagoda grounds, an excellent 360 degree panoramic view of the whole of the city can be seen. From this vantage point, Mawlamyine's British built prison strikes you immediately as you look westwards towards the Thanlwin river and the Gulf of Mottoma. Out to the east, you'll see the Dai Wun Kwin quarter and well as the construction site of the new Mawlamyine train and bus terminus in the Myay Ni Gone quarter.
 
Kyaikthanlan Pagoda was built in 875 AD and enshrines the Tripitaka Buddhist manuscripts as well as a hair relic from the Buddha. The circumference at its base is 450 feet and is surrounded by 34 smaller Zediyan pagodas. It is thought to be the site where Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem, Mandalay. Incidently, the Mandalay ward of Mawlamyine is located just north of the Kyaikthanlan pagoda so this may have been his inspiration for writing the poem "Mandalay".
 
Getting to the pagoda can be easily done by foot from Lower Main Rd via two different routes. If you're coming from the Breeze Rest House on Strand Rd, walk northwards until you get to the first street on the right which is Kyaikthanlan St. Unfortunately, there may not be any street signs indicating this, but the landmark to look for is the cinema on the corner of this street. Turn right here and continue walking eastbound for about 1.5 kilometers until you eventually reach Baho St (which is sign posted). Continue walking along Kyaikthanlan St and cross Upper Main Rd. At the end of Kyaikthanlan St are a set of stairs which will lead you up to the pagoda.

The other alternative is to take Maharmyatmuni Phayar St opposite the Sikh Temple. This road leads all the way up to the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda car park. You can catch a lift here up to the temple grounds from where excellent views of the city of Mawlamyine can be seen. There are also Buddhist altars and prayer areas as you'd expect. When walking around the temple, walk in a clockwise direction. Don't forget to take your shoes or slippers off once you're in the temple grounds.
 
Shampoo Island - Gaung Se Kyun
Gaung Se literally means 'head medicine' or shampoo in Myanmar language and 'kyun' means island thus giving rise to its English name of Shampoo Island. It has been given this name from the Ava period when water from a spring on this island was used in the annual royal hair washing ceremony. The island also has a Buddhist meditation centre although these days, with the Thanlwin bridge being built just 50 meters abeam the island, meditation on the island is far more challenging than what it used to be, with vehicle traffic and railway line being literally only a stone's throw away. Sandawshin Pagoda is also located on the island.
 
To get to Gaung Se Kyun, hire a long tail boat from the banks of the Thanlwin river immediately opposite the island, just north of the Mawlamyine Hotel reception. Cost is about 1500 kyat.
 
Mon Cultural Museum
Known to the locals as Mon Pya'-daiq, the Mon Cultural Museum is located on the corner of Baho St and Dawei Jetty Rd. There are no English signs but the Museum is easy enough to find. Look for this large signboard in red at the front of the museum building.
 
The entrance fee to the museum is $2 USD and opens from 9:30am. It may look closed when you get there, but that's because the staff turn off the lights when there are no visitors. Once you've paid your entrance fee, the lights will come on.
 
Zeigyi - Market
Zeigyi literally means big market however in Mawlamyine, Zeigyi is often used to refer to the town's main shopping area located around People's Market No.1 on Lower Main Rd, as well as the bazar of shops and other markets located between Thaton Tadar St and Sin Bin Thar Yar St (see our map of Mawlamyine for reference). Zeigyi is not to be confused with Zeigyo, which is the area located 7 km away near the highway bus station on the way to Mudon.
 
If you'd like to get a snap shot of a microcosm of Mawlamyine, then make your way down to the market early in the morning. People from the all walks of life, from the affluent, to those who struggle for day to day survival, to professional beggars can be found side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder in and around the markets in Mawlamyine.
 
This is a 'dry market' where items for sale include domestic household  goods such as pots and pans, clothes, longyi, soaps and detergents, biscuits, cigarettes, medicines etc. There are two main locations where 'wet market' produce are sold; the first is on Thaton Tadar St immediately outside the northern boundary of People's Market No:1 and second, a much larger area located on the corner of Thaton Tadar St and West Cantonment Rd (the road which parallels Anauk Tat Myay St on the map). Items sold at the wet market include fresh chickens, either dead or alive where you can even slaughter your own, fresh fish caught from the Gulf of Mottama and Andaman Sea, prawns, eels, fruits and vegetables. Some of the fish sold in the market are gigantic in size suggesting that many of Myanmar's waters are untouched by large scale commercial fishing enterprises.
 
Golden Rock - Kyaiktiyo
Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) is Mon State's star attraction for both locals and foreigners alike. It is Myanmar's third most sacred site after Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay. Locals from all walks of life, from doctors and university professors to seikah (trishaw) drivers and farmers make their pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo on auspicious occasions such as New Years day and full moon days.
 
Although the general area consists of many pagodas and places of worship, the main attraction is the Golden Rock, a boulder of about 20 metres in height with a 7 metre high stupa on top covered with gold leaf giving it is golden appearance. It is thought that the boulder maintains its balance on the edge of the ridge where it sits due to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa.
 
Placing a gold leaf on the surface of the rock will ensure a prosperous future but this can only be done by men who get to access the rock from a short causeway across from the temple grounds. Gold leaves can be purchased from the booths near the telephone kiosk for a few hundred kyats. The busiest time of day for worship is during sunrise and sunset. During this time, you'll find many worshipers kneeling in sight of the rock bowing in prayer and meditation. Many also place candles along the platform over looking the boulder.
 
Reclining Buddha - Win Sein Taw Ya
The largest reclining Buddha image in the world, Win Sein Taw Ya, is situated about 20 km south of Mawlamyine on the main road to Mudon. It can be clearly seen for miles as you leave Mudon for Mawlamyine on the right side of the road in amongst the hills almost directly opposite the hill top Buddhist shrine of Kyauktalon Taung. The reclining Buddha is 180 meters in length, and 30 meters in height. Inside there are numerous rooms with dioramas of the teachings of Buddhism, similar to Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens) of Singapore. There is also a Buddhist shrine in one of the rooms, and being a place of worhship, you should remove your shoes or slippers before entering the premises. Construction is expected to be completed in 2008, however, the site is currently open to the public and attracts many visitors throughout the day. Be aware however, that it is still a construction site so your decision to enter the reclining Buddha is done at your own risk.
 
Death Railway Museum 
Thanbyuzayat was the end of the line for the infamous Burma-Siam railway linking Thailand with Myanmar during the Japanese occupation in World War II. It was known as the Death Railway due to the many prisoners of war who died constructing the 415 km long line for the Japanese Imperial Army. The line started from Nong Pladuk in Thailand, over the Mae Klong river (which was later renamed River Kwai in 1960) 5 km north of Kanchanaburi, through Payathounzu (Three Pagoda Pass) on the Thailand-Myanmar border and then headed northwest to Thanbyuzayat over rough and rugged terrain. Only 112 km of line ran within the boundaries of Burma.
 
An estimated 100,000 people died constructing the railway, including Australian, Dutch, American and British prisoners of war, as well as labourers from Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
 
A Death Railway Museum has been established about a kilometre from Thanbyuzayat's main town center. The museum contains amongst other things, a piece of track from the original death railway line that was found by the former Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, Mr Trevor Wilson. Unfortunately, the main building of the museum is often locked and entry into the building will require prior permission from the Thanbyuzayat's town administrator. In the grounds of the museum, however, a memorial has been established complete with train track, a plaque and one of the original locomotives donated by the Japanese authorities from a museum in Yokohama.
 
Getting there: Thanbyuzayat is 60 kilometers south of Mawlamyine on the way to Setse and Kyaikkami.
 
Thanbyuzayat War Cemetry
The magnificent grounds of the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetry is located 1km from Thanbyuzayat's main town center on the road to Kyaikkami and Setse, and approximately 60 kilometers south of Mawlamyine. It is established on land that was donated by the Burmese people to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to honour those who died in the construction of the Burma-Siam "Death Railway" in World War II. ANZAC day services are held here in April and although not as popular as Gallipoli, a fair number of Australians do make the pilgrimage here during this time. The layout and design of the war cemetry is reminiscent of other Commonwealth War memorials around the world, and the well kept grounds make you feel as though you're at the Shrine of Rememberence in Melbourne, Australia, rather than in Thanbyuzayat, Myanmar once you enter the grounds of the cemetry.
 
Hundreds of thousands of people worked on the Burma-Siam railway for 13 months at a cost of 80,000 Asian, 6,540 British, 2,830 Dutch, 2,710 Australian and 356 American lives. Some were prisoners of war; others were labourers from Myanmar and regional countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Not all who died were actually burried here, of course. Many were burried where they last stood along the railway line however their ID tag with name, age, rank, and battalion have been used to mark out the plaques in the war cemetry in their rememberence. Since only 112 km or 25% of the total length of the Death Railway was built within the boundaries of Myanmar (Burma) not all who died working on the railway can be found here. A similar war graves memorial has also been established in neighbouring Thailand for those who were burried there.
 
The main entrance to the cemetry is often locked but you'll find another entrance at the side gate near the caretaker, Mr Thet Mon's, residence. Mr Thet Mon speaks very good English as well as Thai and can give you some insights into the history of the Burma-Siam railway.
 

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