"By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea..." Alright, alright, just about every travel article about Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein) starts with this quotation. But it is hard to resist. Many travelers have bought their first one-way ticket to some remote and beautiful middle-of-nowhere destination, inspired by the poetry of Sir Rudyard Kipling. The romance of colonial times (the last century of true exploration) may be overrated, but what romantic illusion is not? Anyway, this is the specialty of 21st-century Myanmar: you get the same level of authenticity, a sense of discovery, and at the same time - hygiene and safety. Mawlamyine, for example, has its fair share of modernity, but the general lifestyle has not changed much since British times in this time capsule. Great pagodas still tower above the river, although one of them is now equipped with an elevator. Among middle-class Burmese taking selfies, you will see many simpler, rural people "a-sitting and a-smoking of a whacking white cheroot". Follow Sir Kipling's example, and fall in love at will!
The pagoda mentioned in Kipling’s poem is Kyaikthanlan, the tallest Buddhist stupa in Mawlamyine. Among other temples and monasteries, it occupies a forested ridge overlooking the city. An elevator connects the sacred heights with the mundane world down below, and numerous staircases, covered with carved wooden roofs, provide alternative access. The ridge walk is the highlight of any visit to Mawlamyine, best undertaken in the afternoon, both to escape the heat and be in the right spot for sunset. Views are panoramic - east to the riverside and west across the more modern parts of the city to the rural suburbs gradually dissolving in the jungle. Bahaman Pagoda, the main structure on the ridge, contains a large gilded Buddha in its central enclave and lots of other Buddhist imagery in multiple shrines. Seindon Mibaya monastery is worth a look for traditional teakwood architecture, a disappearing specialty of Myanmar. Religious structures continue from here for another one or two km south. Among the last ones is the Taung Pauk monastery, home to a rare Buddha statue woven entirely from bamboo stripes.
Located north of the city, this remote pagoda competes with the famous hanging rock stupa of Kyaiktiyo. Except here, it is not just one rock, but three boulders balanced on top of each other, in a sort of sacred cairn topped, predictably, with a spire. The surrounding landscape is lovely, too – hills, jungle, a few villages, little else. It is definitely a good place for a sunset trip. Come on a weekend to see a crowd of worshipers or in the middle of a week if you prefer solitude.
A modern construction, this is nevertheless another highlight of Mawlamyine: an immense reclining Buddha statue with a diorama of Buddhist fables inside. It is huge, as the size of a grand shopping mall, except the only goods offered here, is good karma. As if this was not enough, another Buddha of a similar size is currently being built opposite the first one. The area in between and the hills around the giant statues is absolutely filled with pagodas, stupas, and rows of cement monk images, lining up to show respect to the great teacher, Sakya Muni. It takes about half a day to explore the area properly, especially if you want to pay due attention to the tortures of hell vividly portrayed inside the hollow thighs of the older statue.
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