The morning we left Dawei, we stopped at the Pagoda to leave some flowers. Our great grandmother was buried in the cemetary somewhere on that site; when the pagoda was built on top they dug up the graves so we don’t truly know if that is where she rests now.
We then continued the drive north, leaving Tanintharyi state and entering Mon state. We stopped off briefly for Mum, Ned and U Htun to have durian. Our first destination in the afternoon was thanbyuzayat, the western end of the ‘Death railway’ where there was a Japanese POW camp for those who worked on the construction. There is also a memorial cemetery for allied forces.
We continued to Kyaikkami, formerly known as Amherst. By the sea is a pagoda, constructed on ocean reefs so some sections are submerged depending on the tide. It was quite busy due to the Full moon of Waso festival, so it was nice to see families out for the day.
Next we made an unplanned stop at a huge seated Buddha in Mudon, not complete yet, but impressive. We continued towards Mawlamyine, just before which we arrived at the site of the largest reclining Buddha image in the world, Win Sein Taw Ya (nearly 600ft long). It lies amidst lush green mountains. Leading up to it you pass a long row of monk statues. Very beautiful. I’ve seen a few reclining Buddha images in my time and this was definitely something special, as it’s not inside a building like some are, and it’s surrounded by gorgeous countryside.
As it was a holiday, there were lots of young people playing in what appeared to be a water slide facility by the Buddha. Bizarre! As daylight was fading we didn’t go inside the Buddha itself, though you can. We then drove up one of the mountains to get a view from above. It was amazing seeing all the endless paddy fields and mountains and this huge Buddha peeking out.
We then arrived at our hotel in Mawlamyine. We headed out for dinner but it was pouring with rain (thank goodness for having a van!) and quite a few places were closing. We eventually found a place called ‘Only Thai Foods’ (have to love the descriptive names here, ‘okay restaurant’ etc). I wouldn’t say it was Thai, but anyway we had a nice meal of fish and chicken.
The next morning we got back into the van and stopped off at St Patrick’s church, which is next door to the school Grandpa went to. Mum met the priest etc.
Next we drove to ZinKyaik (sp?) waterfall. It was very busy with lots of young people in their trendy outfits and heels (perhaps not the best footwear for climbing steep steps). The pagoda is at the top of a waterfall and there were many people playing in the water, seemed a slightly high risk activity. It was a lovely view from above, probably slightly less spiritual due to the large number of partygoers.
We then drove to the base of the mountain range that Nwalobo pagoda is on. This is a Kyaiktiyo like piling of golden rocks. Certainly, Kyaiktiyo memories returned once I saw the truck (narrow benches) under the awning. Fortunately when we got there, enough people wanted to go so the truck could leave (they wait until it’s worth their while). It was not as packed as the truck to Kyaiktiyo and atmosphere more friendly, but the journey was just as rollercoastery. A few minutes into the 40 minute drive it started to rain heavily. We put cagoules on and I tried to protect my backpack with my umbrella, but it was hard not getting wet, as the truck careered all over the place. Some people who weren’t protected got shivery – it was actually cold!
At the top, it was very misty and a bit like our visit to Kyaiktiyo, there was not going to be a brilliant photograph. It was still pretty impressive. We met an 81 year old man up there who was from Mawlamyine and this was his first ever visit. He was so lively and energetic and had actually been walking up the mountain, until the truck came by and he jumped in.
They usually give you 90 minutes at the top but I think most of us were more than satisfied with 30 minutes, so we soon headed back down. The mist had cleared so we got to see some incredible views.
We then returned to Mawlamyine and visited the pagodas in town, including Uzina which is pictured. We headed back to the hotel to get rid of our damp clothes and Ned and I went for a walk around the city as the sun had come out. There are many beautiful but neglected old buildings, in various colours. You can imagine that the Strand was once very beautiful and it’s such a shame the buildings are so dirty and tired and that there’s so much litter in the river. Litter is a huge problem in general that I won’t rant about here – not only is it unsightly, it encourages pests, blocks drains leading to flooding… Anyway I said I wouldn’t rant.
We walked along the Strand to an area where there were lots of BBQ food stalls and people watched. Mum and Amy then joined us and we went to May’s South Indian for dinner. It was really good – chicken, mutton, beans – and fed 5 of us to the brim for less than £5. Even better, U Htun asked them if we could have our durian in there and they said yes – cracking it open for us (well all of us except Amy and me).
The next day we headed towards Hpa-An.