A spot where you can sit for hours, without talking, even without thinking. The voice in your head that normally rattles on turns speechless there, it briefly stops. A spot where you feel a sort of tranquility coming over you, where you are in the present only. Isn’t that a perfect place?
The old Mawlamyine pagode at sunset is such a place. The torturing heat was here broken by a little breeze. The coolness made life easy. The sun left the town beneath us glow. Smoke ascended from the streets, hung like tufts above the tropical oases and gave the air a sweet scent. The reflections in the water as the sun sets in the sea. The pastel colors of the rainbow in the sky. The surrounding pagodes and monastery with its distinct layered rooftops complete this oriental magic.
It can’t be a coincidence that poet Rudyard Kipling was also struck by this magical place. Or were it the beautiful Burmese ladies that made his hart beat faster? In the first line of his famous poem ‘Road to Mandalay‘ he refers to the pagode, and to the girls. The line goes: ‘By the old Moulmein Pagode, looking lazy at the sea. There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;’.
Present day Mawlamyine is probably much the same as when Kipling arrived in Moulmein in 1890. The British colonial forces had named Mawlamyine Moulmein. For a while Imperial Britain even made Moulmein the capital of their occupied Burmese territories. After the Brits concurred all off the land of present day Myanmar they shifted the capital to Rangoon (Yangon). Mawlamyine is still home to many buildings from its colonial era. Walking through the small streets of the friendly neighborhoods you wonder if much has changed here over the last hundred years. Its quite thinkable that Kipling had the same view when he looked down from the old pagode, to the sea.
Although I don’t think Kipling saw shops with exotic names like Vivo, Oredoo and Samsung. Mawlamyine’s main ‘shopping’ street is exploded with phone shops. The market for mobiles has only opened since recently in Myanmar, which has brought an unprecedented growth in mobile connections. In absolute figures Myanmar has the 4th largest growth figure of new mobile users worldwide, after China, India and Brazil. It will explain all the new mobile shops, but you would expect more in a town that is the state capital and the 4th largest city in Myanmar. Off course, there is more, but the buzz didn’t expel the low chanting of monks passing the shops.
Mawlamyine doesn’t seem a gateway to a southern hinterland, or slightly different, the beginning of a ‘gold coast’ (see our previous blog: golden rock) (naam van blog en link). Mawlamyine is the main city of the northern part of Southern Myanmar and important connection between the south and the rest of the country. Busses from Mawlamyine to the south leave at busstation 2. The station for busses that depart northwards leave from busstation 1. Number 2 is located just outside the city on a small plot of land. When we arrived there mid day with a tuk tuk and set foot on the dirt, no one was rushing towards us. This was a new experience. Maybe it was the heat, but no one rushed over to sell us a busticket, a plate of rice or just a bottle of water, which happened most of the times. We wondered if there would even depart a bus. We found one, finally, but it was clear that we are one of the few going southwards.
Mawlamyine is a magical town with a utterly beautiful pagode and pretty surroundings. It tells a nostalgic story of how Myanmar once was. It is a wonderful place to stay for a few days, even more because there are not so many tourists, yet. The buzz is still just a breeze here. Mawlamyine is focused at its direct surroundings, and towards the north more than towards the south. How it will be more southwards we will find out when we travel the Myanmar’s long coastal strip downwards. Will the south determine Mawlamyine’s future? We will see the promising cities of the south soon and if these places develop stormy it might unleash a wind in Mawlamyine.
We stayed at the somewhat affordable Breeze Guesthouse. It has small, not fresh, noisy rooms with shared bathroom for about 7 euro per person. A better option are the rooms with attached bathroom and airco. Per person it is just a little more expensive, but you get much more value. Just outside the guesthouse there is a nice coffee shop. From others we heard that OK hotel is also a okay place, with very friendly staff. The Cinderella hotel is said to be a good place to stay, more expensive, but it was full at our arrival.
The best place for dinner we found at the bbq night market along strand road. Choose your food and they put it on the bbq for you.