Mawlamyine, a charming town, is the capital of Mon state, situated at the mouth of the Thanlwin River (Salween River). It is easily accessible by road and rail from Yangon. The famous Kyaikkhami Pagoda, perched on the rocks by the sea and joined to the land by a covered causeway, is the main attraction. About 34 km. from Mawlamyine is Thanbyuzayat, an Allied War Memorial Cemetery for the prisoners of war who lost their lives in the building of the famous Death Railway across the River Kwai.
Beyond Kyaikhtiyo is Mawlamyine, the third largest city in Myanmar and the capital of Mon State. Once a busy seaport known as Moulmein, it is now a pleasantly quiet town with tree-shaded streets harbouring some of the most elegant examples of colonial architecture in Myanmar. Most strikingly, near the Thanlwin River waterfront are several brilliantly coloured mosques built decades ago for the many Indians who came to the region to work for the British, while a few blocks away from the river can be found the first Baptist church to be established in the country.
Overlooking the town is a leafy ridge topped with a line of Buddhist shrines and monasteries. The tallest structure on the hill is the golden Kyaikthanlan Paya, built in the 9th century AD and thought to have provided inspiration for the opening line of British poet Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “Mandalay” – “By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea”. Indeed, the pagoda provides terrific views of the waterfront and the Thanlwin River as it flows towards the Gulf of Martaban. It is a favourite spot for viewing the sunset and enjoying the evening breeze.
Out on the river itself is Gaungse Kyun (Shampoo Island), named for a ritual dating back hundreds of years to the Ava period when water from a spring on the island was used in a royal hair washing ceremony held once a year. A short boat ride can take visitors to the island, which holds a Buddhist meditation centre as well as Sandawshin Pagoda. Other attractions in Mawlamyine include the busy zeigyo (central market) and the Mon Cultural Museum.
A trip south from Mawlamyine will reveal to travellers a green, hilly landscape with clear mountain streams flowing towards the sea. Less than 30 minutes outside of town, two beautiful limestone outcroppings flank the main road, one topped by a Buddhist shrine named Kyauktalon Taung that requires a steep, 300-foot ascent to reach, and the other crowned by a Hindu temple where hundreds of monkeys roam free. A hundred metres further south is the entrance to the grounds of the 170-metre-long Win Sein Taw Ya reclining Buddha image, one of the biggest such images in the world.
Beyond the town of Mudon lies Thanbyuzayat, the western terminus of the infamous 415-kilometre-long Death Railway built by the Japanese between Thailand and Myanmar during World War II at a cost of tens of thousands of lives, including Australian, Dutch, American and British prisoners of war, as well as labourers from Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. The graves of 3771 POWs who perished during construction of the railway are held at the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, whose immaculately kept grounds are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A memorial has also been built in town at the site where the railway actually ended, complete with a stretch of train track and one of the original locomotives, which has been donated by Japanese authorities.
Not far from Thanbyuzayat is the wide, mellow Setse Beach on the Gulf of Martaban, and the town of Kyaikkami, where waves crash against the base of the seafront YelePaya, said to harbour a Buddha image that floated on a raft all the way from Sri Lanka.