Mawlamyine is an important seaport as well as the capital of Mon State. The city is lush and green with trees. A unique feature of the city is that it lies at the confluence of three rivers. In the eastern part of the city is a ridge of stupa-capped hills, along which a stroll gives you an unforgettable experience. There is a fascinating range of sights in and around the city. From Mawlamyine you can make a half day trip to Win Sein Taw Ya, the world's biggest reclining Buddha Image measuring about 180 m in length. Bilu Kyun, the big island of Mon villages, is a worthwhile day trip to study the rural way of life.
The Mahamuni Pagoda stands at the northern end of the sacred ridge and is considered the largest pagoda complex of Mawlamyine. Mahamyatmuni means "Exalted Sage" and the Buddha statue inside of the pagoda is quite similar to the one in the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay, only without the thick gold plating. The Buddha statue sits on a pedestal in the position so-called Bhumisparsa where the right hand touches the earth. The pagoda is built in the typical Mon style, in which covered brick walkways connect several shrines.
The pagoda is situated on a range of hills and offers a breathtaking view of the city, nearby islands, Gulf of Martaban, surrounding rivers and the limestone mountains. It was built in 875 AD during the reign of Mon King Mutpi Raja. It was originally 17 meters high and was raised by successive kings to 46 meters. After the British occupied southern Myanmar in 1824, it was only a ruin. It was then rebuilt by government commissioner Maung Htaw Lay with donations from the people.
Next to the Kyaik Than Lan Pagoda is Yadanar Bon Myint monastery which was donated in 1885 by one of King Mindon's wives by the name of Seindone. After the death of her husband, she moved back to her hometown Mawlamyine to lead a religious life far from the palace intrigues. Baroque brickwork, thick teakwood beams, colorful mosaic windows, glass tiles with sunken flower ornaments and gilded wood carvings add a special flair to this structure, which was founded in the mid-19th century by a wife of King Mindon.
The pagoda was built in 1935 by the hermit U Khanti, who spent some time on this hill. At the center of the pagoda is a large Buddha statue which was cast in bronze and iron. U Khanti became a hermit in 1900 and he was known for his work on Buddhist pagodas and other religious buildings in Myanmar. His work was not only recognized by the Burmese people but also the colonial British government, which gave him and his followers special privileges such as free travel certificates and work permits.
This pagoda stands at the southern end of the ridge. It is believed to have been built in the 3rd century BC. The pagoda is named after a man called U Zina who lived in a nearby village. He is said to have found a pot of gold at this point while collecting sprouts. The pagoda was renovated about 130 years ago and has been raised to the current height of 34 m. It houses a reclining Buddha statue and four life-size carved figures. They depict the old, the sick, the dead and the monk who is free from all worldly cares.
Kyaiktiyo (also known as Golden Rock) is worth visiting for the gravity-defying boulder itself and the breathtaking views in its surrounding area. Lying over 1000 m above sea level, the Kyaiktiyo pagoda is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists. The small stupa stands on a massive gold-leafed boulder delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff at the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo. You can feast your eyes on a panoramic view over tree-capped mountains around you all the time as Mt Kyaiktiyo is higher than all the others.
The old Mon capital of Thaton is on the way from Bago to Mawlamyine, about 250 km from Yangon. In the 3rd century BC, the missionaries were sent to Thaton in order to propagate the Buddhist faith. In 1057 King Anawrahta conquered the Mon kingdom and brought King Manuha of Thaton along with 30,000 prisoners of war to Bagan. The old Thaton was surrounded by a city wall, of which only remnants can be seen today. In the center of the city stands the glittering Shwezayan Pagoda surrounded by many smaller pagodas. Legend has it that it was founded over 2000 years ago, but in its present form it comes from later times.
Bilugyun is a large island at the mouth of the Thanlwin River in the township of Chaungzon in Mon State, west of Mawlamyine. The population of the Bilugzun Island is over 200,000 and its inhabitants live in about 80 villages. By ferry one drove to Bilugyun until a relatively new bridge now connects the Mawlamyine with the island. Most of the islanders are Mon people who live on rice cultivation and fishing. In several family businesses you can visit the production of colorful rubber bands, wooden pens, small slates, walking sticks and pipes.
The town of Kyaikmaraw is located about 20 km southeast of Mawlamyine on the banks of the Attaran River, which flows into the Thanlwin. The Mon-queen Shin Saw Pu had the idyllic Kyaikmaraw Pagoda built near a small lake in 1455 AD. Inside the main shrine there is an impressive sitting Buddha statue along with other statues of varying sizes and body gestures. The exterior walls of the shrine are decorated with stained-glass windows and painted reliefs, and inside are columns decorated with beautiful inlaid marble tiles and glass mosaics.
The graceful-looking monastery was founded in 1902 by the businessman U Nar Auk, who rose from the cowherd to the steamship tycoon. U Nar Auk came from a poor family and became very rich by launching the timber business during the days of the British Colonial period. The monastery impresses with woodcarving and relief art with detailed, scenic depictions. It is worth a visit because of its beautiful carvings on the balustrades and eaves, but also because of the particularly pleasant, quiet atmosphere.
On the slope of a hill, about 24 km south of Mawlamyine, is Win Sein Taw Ya, the largest reclining Buddha figure in the world. It was built by the Mon monk Badanda U Kay Tara with the help of numerous volunteers, private donors and hundreds of workers. Hundreds of monk figures are lined up on the access road to the figure of the Buddha. Using a bridge construction, you can get inside the Buddha. The interior of the gigantic figure is used as a place of exhibitions with 182 rooms on 8 floors. In the rooms, statues, reliefs and paintings depict the development and significance of Buddhism.
During the Second World War, about 16,000 Allied prisoners of war and forced laborers had to build the 415 km long, strategic track from Kanchanaburi in Thailand through rugged mountains and deep jungles to Thanbyuzayat in Burma for the Japanese Imperial Army, and about 16,000 prisoners of war and more than 100,000 Asian forced laborers lost their lives. The track was later destroyed by the Allies. The War Graves Memorial, with 3,771 graves of Allied prisoners of war who lost their lives in railroad construction, is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Kyaikkhami is two hours drive from Mawlamyine and was a popular seaside resort during colonial times. The place is famous for the sea temple Yele Paya, which stands on a rock by the sea. At high tide, the temple transforms into an island connected by a bridge to the mainland, but miraculously, the water never touches the base of the temple. According to legend, many centuries ago the Buddha statue in this temple is said to have been washed ashore on a raft from Sri Lanka and stranded on this rocky ridge.
The town of Ye is located about 160 km south of Mawlamyine. Parallel to the railway line, which is closer to the coast, an asphalt road leads through rubber plantations and villages of Mawlamyine south to Ye as the main traffic artery. The Ye River flowing through the city gives a beautiful, scenic panorama. About 10 km north of the city stands Ko Yin Lay Kyaung, the Banana Mountain, which has a reclining Buddha and a structure with four giant Buddhas. From the top of the latter you can see the wonderful view of the surrounding hills.