Myanmar - Getting to know Mawlamyine & Hpa An
Six or so hours’ drive south-east of Yangon, on the Andaman coast, sits Mawlamyine - formerly Moulmein - Myanmar's third largest city, and the capital of the Mon State. Situated on the Salween river delta where it meets the Andaman sea, flanked by lush countryside and pagoda-filled hills, this hidden gem of a city is famed for its distinctive cuisine full of sour and spicy flavours.
Formerly a busy teak port, not to mention the first administrative capital of British Myanmar, the city features many faded colonial buildings among its gleaming Buddhist stupas and monasteries, but is often considered a little too far off the trail for most visitors. There are hints of post-colonial decay, but the city continues to thrive in its own way, with diverse communities including Mon (the majority), Myanmese, Kayin, Chinese, Tamil, Indian and others making up its 350,000-strong population.
Four or five hours inland from Mawlamyine, up the Thanlwin River, is Hpa An, a contrastingly quiet town flourishing with greenery in the tropical climate. With more of a relaxed, backpacker feel, Hpa An is even further off the main tourist radar, making it a relaxed base for exploring modern, day-to-day Burmese life.
What to do in Mawlamyine & Hpa An
- The Mon State Cultural museum offers fascinating insight into the state's history and people.
- Visit the many Buddhist monuments surrounding Mawlamyine, including the enormous and brightly painted reclining Buddha at Win Sein monastery, and see a Christian influence from earlier times at the Judson Baptist Church, Myanmar's first Baptist church, on the corner of Dawei Jetty Road and Upper Main Road.
- Head north from Mawlamyine to discover the much-photographed Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also known as Golden Rock: an incredible temple perched in a precarious-looking position atop a granite boulder, completely covered in gold leaf by visiting devotees. It’s definitely sturdier than it looks though, as it’s been there for couple of thousand years!
- The infamous "death railway", built by Japan (using POWs) to carry troops and supplies into Myanmar during WWII, passes close to the city. One of the POW cemeteries, paradoxically beautiful, is also near.
- Travel up the river to Hpa An to explore the areas winding, decorated caves, head out onto picturesque Kan Thar Yar Lake, and wander through the gently bustling morning market.
As well as being a lovely destination in its own right, Mawlamyine is a convenient stopping point if you're travelling further south to the beautiful Myeik region, with a small selection of exlusive island resorts and the eastuary-side, bustling town of Kawthaung at its southern tip.
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A perfect combination
Whilst you can connect between the two by road, those prefering a more sedate pace of travel will prefer a cruise up the Thanlwin River, passing villages and rural panoramas.