Mawlamyine is a city that sees few visitors, but offers a real insight into Myanmar’s bygone days. Walking the streets with crumbling colonial buildings to your left and right, it’s not hard to imagine yourself as a British police officer during Myanmar’s British rule. Why a police officer? Well a certain police officer named George Orwell was positioned here once upon a time. Explore Mawlamyine’s streets and walk in Orwell’s footsteps as you discover this picturesque mainland port for yourself. Welcome to Mawlamyine.
What Mawlamyine feels like
Mawlamyine is a quiet town, with few cars but many scooters. Strangely it offers you a sense of tranquility within a city. The population of Mawlamyine is fairly low compared to its size, and the buildings really are quite old, thus making you feel like you are in an era far removed from the present.
Many visitors only come to Mawlamyine as a stopover en route to nearby Hpa-an and Dawei. This is a real shame, as they unfortunately miss the hidden gems city has. From the outside, it is just another town, but scratch the surface and look deeper and you’ll soon begin to understand Mawlamyine and how special it is.
1. Sunset over Strand Road
Mawlamyine is a city on the banks of the Thanlwin River. Running alongside the river you’ll fine Strand Road, one of the most popular hangout spots in the city. If you come down straight from Bogyoke Road, you will directly hit the beginning of Strand Road. This is where you can watch beautiful sunset views while admiring the bustling street in front of you.
Walk along the pavement and you will soon realize that it’s not just people who use this road. Seagulls are ever present. There are tons of them, some flying near the edge of the pavement, asking for food, while others swim in the river. These guys are pretty smart. Not content with getting fed once, they’ll circle overhead and come back for more, so keep your dinner close at hand.
Along the pavement you can buy snacks to give to the seagulls. Throw the food in the air and watch the seagulls dive to catch their evening’s dinner in midair. It’s pretty impressive. The seagulls come to Strand Road every evening. You just have to come visit them. Enjoy your dinner and a drink in hand with an audience in front of you as a warm breeze rustles your hair and the sunsets in the distance. A pretty special evening.
2. Kyeik Than Lan Pagoda (on the hill)
If you want to get a good view of Mawlamyine, visit Kyeik Than Lan Pagoda on a hill overlooking the city. It may be hard for you to find by yourself, but don’t worry. Every local knows where it is, just like every New Yorkers know where Time Square is.
Our top tip would be don’t go there in the afternoon. The scorching heat from the sun makes it a tall ask to walk around the sight. We suggest you go there early in the morning or late in the evening and enjoy the fresh breeze. When we went up recently, it was already dark, so alas we weren’t able to take many pictures of the view, just the night lights blinking here and there. The city did not get regular electricity until last year and as a result most of the locals say they go to bed pretty early.
3. Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
For those who want to try a bit of meditation at a peaceful place, or experience what it is like to be a monk, visit the famous Pa-Auk Forest Monastery. Learn how to meditate from a professional mentor and experience tranquility. Currently, there are around 100 foreign meditators from over 20 foreign countries, residing in the monastery.
The monastery serves a free vegetarian meal (served for the whole monastery) and you can also stay at the residences for free. Situated in isolation in the middle of a forest, the environment is incredibly peaceful.
4. Palm Trees Road
Just outside of Mawlamyine is the road to Kyite Ma Yaw Pagoda. Head out from the city and the Palm Trees Road will soon appear in front of you. The trees bend from both sides of the road, welcoming you with the smell of ripe palm fruits scattered on the ground.
Go there before noon and if you are lucky enough to meet the palm tree climbers, you will get to drink some fresh sweet palm juice. The locals believe it is only possible to drink the juice before midday. After that, the juice turns acidic, tasting bittersweet and becomes alcohol (great for the tree climbers who stretch their legs and enjoy a swig or two after a long day climbing trees). We went there around 10 am and luckily, saw the men climbing down from the trees carrying juice in elongated buckets.
Turn on your charm and ask if you can sample it, or take out your money and barter for a bottle of the juice. Fresh palm juice is just awesome! Oh, and don’t forget to bring an empty bottle because the locals don’t sell one unless you ask them to.
5. Eat in Mawlamyine
When it comes to food creativity, Mawlamyine is very famous. One of our favourites is Thingyan Wax Rice. It is a traditional dish in Mon State but a very rare dish in Myanmar.
To enjoy it, you must pour wax-smoked water onto the rice in your bowl. Then, add ice to it. As an extra, you can eat the rice with a mango salad side dish. Since mangos are only available in the summer months, the locals usually eat this dish during the Thingyan Festival in the hot summer period. It’s a great way to eat and cool off during the hot season. Splendid!
There are a fair few complicated steps when it comes to making the wax-smoked water, and as a result the dish is rarely cooked nowadays. Try to make every effort to find a good restaurant or home that can serve you up this special dish if you can.
Durian is one of the main products grown in Mawlamyine. From here, it is transported nationwide and to neighboring countries. The cost varies according to the type and the size. In general, it can cost around 10,000 kyats for one.
Durian gets a bad reputation as a fruit that smells pretty bad. While we can’t deny this, what we can say is if you can make it past the smell, the taste is absolutely worth it. The fruit is oddly creamy and if you get a good one, can satisfy you all day.
On Strand Road, towards the Motta Ma Bridge end, is the Myo Ma Night Market. It has many shops selling different foods from traditional Myanmar foods, to barbeques with fresh fish, and even Indian food. We tried an Indian dish while there which the locals call Pan Thay Noodle. The smell was good but the taste was even better, just the right amount of spice.
There are so many options to choose from. Have some barbequed fish and a beer with the warm breeze blowing in from the sea, while watching the river view. Classic!
The Final Word
Mawlamyine is not just a normal town. Having left the city’s outskirts you realise just how special your time there really was. Myanmar is known as a friendly country, and nowhere is this more the case then in Mawlamyine. From buying juice off the palm tree climbers, to visiting the monks at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery, everyone goes out of their way to welcome you. During your time here we’d recommend you stay at Cinderella Hotel and experience some of the best service in Myanmar.
So, why not visit Mawlamyine and take a closer look?