Mawlamyine seemed easy; moving around is straightforward, there are long open stretches to run along without having to cross busy roads all the time, and a couple of relatively relaxed places to watch the sunset or enjoy some shade. Relatively, in that honking traffic is not that far away, but the honking is intermittent and I found it easy to ignore.
I ended up staying four nights, as the cast around me in the dorm changed. An American girl barely left her sanctuary in the corner for three days, while a French girl cast around for someone to join her in the taxi ride to the border, as her visa was ending the next day. I joined a Dutchman, JJ, for dinner on Wednesday night. He had spent two months in Bago working on irrigation research – the Netherlands leads the world in agricultural research, something I’d only just read about in National Geographic, producing amazing amounts of food for such a small nation, and they also export the knowledge, leading to JJ being here. I’d caught him on the cusp of some travel, about to head to Thailand before having to write up the data he’d collected from rain gauges and the like. The restaurant we headed to, Bone Gyi, on the front, was good. I learnt that when drinking Myanmar beer from a bottle, you should peel off the inside of the cap, because some of them carry prizes. Perhaps we were particularly lucky, but we had five bottles, won two of them for free and got 500 kyats back.
Almost as fascinating to me as his educational history – as a physicist, he had many options, and picked agriculture rather than, say, investment banking – was that he is one of 10. 10! No, his parents weren’t Catholics. Evangelicals. “Does that mean a lot of kids?” I asked, still pursuing the religious stereotype line, only this time trying to learn something. “In their church, yes.”
The waterfront is the obvious highlight of the town, with a stretch of tree-lined and shaded pavement, a market towards the North (visible to the right if you look as you come into town on the bridge) and colonial buildings to the South. Unlike Bago, at least here something has been made of the waterfront – in Bago there is a river, but all the action ignores it, going along the highstreet. But then, there’s very little tax base for local government to ignite the riverfront into something bigger and better. There are also a couple of nice parks.
One morning I wandered up to the viewpoint. It’s also where the KyikeThanLan pagoda is, but it is known as the viewpoint. I wasn’t sure whether to go up, with a lift seeming lazy, but curiosity got the better of me. Nice ride up. And I would do some serious step action on the way to the railway station on Friday morning.
On the map I’d spotted the tomb of the rebel princess, so I had to see that for the cheap joke potential:
I had no more info, but obviously these days claiming that ‘I no no more’ while writing on an internet-enabled device is a little perverse. So, wikipedia has more about the rebel princess, Myat Phaya Galay. Though not much more – she was called rebel by the British, for demanding the return of their stuff. Once there might have been a reason for the Brits to keep it but now, with a perfectly good and secure national museum, that only some of the royal regalia has been returned is (leaving the national museum to display row of ‘Royal sceptre – replica’), as is so much of Britain’s relations with overseas, a disgrace. Or, in case I am being too gentle and you want to hear my real feelings, a total fucking disgrace. Let’s not get on to locking asylum seekers and their children up in jail while the idiot section of the population continues to claim that ‘we’re a soft touch’ because they’re told no different, eh?
Phew, that might have got political, but I think we’re safe now.
I also went to the Mon State Cultural museum. 5,000 kyats to enter, which seemed a lot – I had by this point slipped into my frugal state, which is affected by the size of banknotes. Given the biggest I have are 10k, with 1k being the most useful, 5k seems a lot. But it’s £2.80.
The museum is nicely curated, with a good variety of exhibits. There are some perfectly readable captions but not that much more in English, so an hour will allow you to see most things. Rather like the National Museum in Yangon, to read people talking about the low lighting might make you think it’s going to be dark, but it’s mostly reasonably well lit. Just not the level of fluorescent lighting to which Westerners have become used.
In general, this was just a nice town to wander about, make use of the quieter spots and to wonder at how it will change over the coming years.
I liked Mawlamyine, though only laziness led to me staying for a fourth night – really, three would do very well, unless you’re touring around the surrounding districts to see other sights. I was happy being able to stretch my legs – I went over both the main bridges out of the city – and sit by the water, reading, but did feel I’d been lazy enough by the 3rd night.