As many adventures begin, we started our trip to Mawlamyine Myanmar in true ignorance but with the best of intentions. The Lonely Planet said that over the “first couple days of February” there was a big festival commemorating the birthday of a certain monk who made it his life work to make the Largest Reclining Buddha in the world, Win Sein Taw Ya. The festival was to be at said enormous Reclining Buddha, attended by thousands of monks and pilgrims and mucho festivities would occur, in particular a Thai boxing tournament. So all of this sounds all right, so off we went.
From Yangon to Mawlamyine Bus
Lizzie, Mat, Jess, and I all left Yangon on a bus, which thrilled us. This bus was a VIP bus, chairs reclined well and blankets and travel pillows were provided. Air con was turned up to full power, of course. After Lizzie and I satiated our need to take pictures of us in travel pillows with different filters on our cameras, we settled in. 7 hours later we arrived in Mawlamyine, a small town heading down the southern tail of Burma, the tail that runs along the Thai peninsula.
Mawlamyine Myanmar – Home of the World’s Largest Reclining Buddha
Mawlamyine was hot. But we got to the hostel, to be promptly told that the festival had happened two weeks previous….but what about the monks birthday? Is it like the ‘Queens Birthday’ and fluctuates regardless of the current royal on the throne? Doesn’t seem right. But alas, right or not, fact was, this year’s festival was now in the past. Oh well! Let’s see the big Buddha anyways!
The four of us got a tuk tuk, which in Burma is a pickup truck with two benches going down the length of the bed and a cover over it, to take us out to the Buddha, Win Sein Taw Ya. We knew we were close when we started driving past statue upon statue of saffron robed monk. They were probably on time and at the festival, so they got statues. Each one was different, some more in need of Botox than others.
The Buddha itself is gigantic. It’s 560feet long and wide enough to make that proportionate. The recline posture, the Buddha lying on his side, is a representation of Buddha during the time of his 6 year fast, when he was too fatigued to sit or stand to receive visitors wanting his advice. Umm, yeah, so the guy hasn’t eaten in 6 years and people are still hassling him. Give the guy some peace!! If I go more than six hours without food I not only need to lay down, but am pretty cranky about it all! I guess that’s the main difference between me and Buddha.
Inside the Buddha is an interesting…sight, let’s call it. Not being able to read Burmese was a true hindrance, but inside the Buddha you walk through salons of different, and increasingly grotesque, life sized dioramas with life sized mannequins. It starts nice, kind of, and then all of sudden you’re looking at the devil of some kind impaling people and a shark attacking someone with it’s chainsaw. I know. Huh? Lizzie and I were confused at best, terrified at worst. We thought it was the Buddha story depicted, and then it all went sideways. We really liked the spiral staircase we found at one point, but really the whole inside experience made us want to drink. All in a days travel…
Bilu Kyun, Ogre Island Mawlamyine Myanmar
After a night sleeping in the loudest hostel room I have ever had (Grand Central Station came to mind, as did crying out in agony), we all headed to the ferry dock, on the river bank, to catch a ride over the Bilu Kyun, or in English, Ogre Island. I don’t know about the name as there are no ogres that I saw, but it’s definitely a cool place to visit in Myanmar. The ferry to get to Ogre Island was an adventure in itself, as it was definitely not a tourist ferry. Laden with people and goods of all kind, the boat trip was what I think travel is all about. Loud, smelly, dirty, and full of things to look at! We arrived after an hour and a half, hired a tuk tuk to drive us around for a few hours, and off we went.
You can take tours to Ogre Island, through the Breeze Inn, but they are all day tours, and we just mainly didn’t want to get up that early. But our ‘tour’ was just fine. We got driven around parts of the island and through a few villages. We saw bamboo conical hats as well as chalk boards, being made. Lizzie bought a chalk board, because who doesn’t need a chalk board made on a place called Ogre Island?
The island was gorgeous. It is home to the Mon people, one of the many ethnic groups in Burma. The people were very smiley. Every time we drove past a group of kids, even just a couple of kids, their hellos and shouts would actually drown out the sound of the motor that was powering the tuk tuk, which says something, trust me! Each village on the island had it’s own craft speciality, keeping everybody working and busy.
The island is largely self continued, though goods coming from the mainland all come via that lovely ferry. It’s a gorgeous place, with thriving agriculture and very well kept villages. Beautiful place. The boat back to town was both faster and more comfortable, though Classic Emily, I ended up sitting next to the one woman on the boat who was all about expressing herself with bodily functions, noises, and fluids. I may now have TB.
So glad we had gone to the island, but it was time that Lizzie and I went back up north and Mat and Jess continued south. They were heading for the beach, we for the temples of Bagan, since word had it the temples are kind of a big deal. So we hopped on the first of many night buses, a 13 hour jaunt to Mandalay with the option of going directly from Bagan upon arrival, depending on how we felt and how much we hated the Mandalay bus station.
Musings from Mawlamyine Myanmar
We ate Indian food the first night in town. It was amazing. And helped with my quest to put on weight before my PC doctors appointment upon my arrival back in Kyrgyzstan.
The main beer in Myanmar is called Myanmar Beer. It comes in half litre and full litre bottles. Full litre is $2. I like Burma’s style.
After the Buddha we stopped at a mountain and climbed up to watch sunset. I climbed further than the others and came to a fork in the path, one way said “Ladies Don’t Climb”. It looked less steep and less distance to the top. I climbed it anyways. Despite being a member of the delicate sex.
On the boat to the island I discovered how delish boiled peanuts are. Also, quail eggs. Little nuggets of protein!
Women in Burma wear this stuff on their face, it’s from the bark or root of a tree, and is a white or yellow paste on their skin. It supposedly protects against the sun and heals all kinds of evils. Maybe it also whitens a bit. I don’t know, what I do know is I love seeing little kids with swirls of the stuff on their cheeks.
Assigned seating on buses is a thing in Burma. Assigned seating on buses where people are continually getting on and off has always baffled me. It just makes no logical or sustainable sense! On the bus up to Mandalay, Lizzie and I were seated right beside each other, but there were only two other people on the bus, so I moved over and we both took two seats, in the same row. The bus organizer guy eyed us a few times as he passed by. He did not like that I was not in my assigned seat. He tried to get us to move once, to no avail, and from then after that he walked by, looked at both of us as if we were up to no good, laughed at us, and walked on. We celebrated the small victory. Very small.
Well that’s it from southern Burma, we enjoyed getting out of the heat and hecticness of Yangon, and a little bit off the normal path, but then jumped right back on it to get into Bagan!! It’s what you do! Would have loved to keep going further south to hit some beaches, but alas time was not on our sides. Beach, drool….
Where to stay in Mawlamyine Myanmar
Breeze Inn: double for $16, room was very basic with a fan. Ours was super noisy. Shared bathroom. Good location and staff very friendly and helpful with guidance, bookings etc, but the place itself? Not the best.
Have you explored Myanmar? What was your experience? Are you going travelling to Bagan Burma? Let me know your thoughts!
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