Mawlamyine: An Introduction
Six or so hours drive south-east of Yangon, on the Andaman coast, Mawlamyine - formerly Moulmein, which you may recognise if you know your 20th century English literature - is Burma's third largest city, and the capital of the Mon State. Situated on the Salween river delta as it meets the Andaman sea, the city is flanked by lush countryside and pagoda-dotted hills, and is famous for its excellent cuisine, but is usually considered to be off the trail for most tourists in Burma.
Formerly a busy teak port, not to mention the first administrative capital of British Burma, the city features many faded Colonial buildings amidst its gleaming Buddhist stupas and monasteries - some say it has a stronger sense of post-Colonial decay than rapidly modernizing Yangon and Mandalay. But the city thrives in its own way, with fascinatingly diverse ethnicities including Mon (the majority), Burmese, Kayin, Chinese, Tamil, Indian and others making up its population of 350,000 or so. The Mon State Cultural museum offers much insight into the state's history and people.
There are many Buddhist monuments worth visiting, here, including the enormous and brightly painted reclining Buddha at Win Sein monastery, but there was also a Christian influence in earlier times - the Judson Baptist Church, Burma's first Baptist church, can be found on the corner of Dawei Jetty Road and Upper Main Road. The infamous "death railway", built by Japan (using POWs) to carry troops and supplies into Burma during WWII, passes close to the city - one of the POW cemeteries, paradoxically beautiful, is also near.
As well as being a lovely destination in its own right, Mawlamyine makes a convenient stopping point if you're travelling even further south, to the beautiful Myeik region and its excellent diving.
One of the most picturesque cities in Burma, perhaps South-East Asia. Mawlamyine certainly captures the imagination.