Some things have not changed since Kipling came to Malwamyine (then Moulmein) in 1889 to see the old pagoda by the sea. You’ll still find fishing boats zipping along the waterfront, merchants trading spices. Colonial era villas stand next to temples, mosques and markets.
‘By the old Moulmein pagoda lookin’ lazy at the sea’, begins the famous poem Mandalay, by Rudyard Kipling. He only spent three days in Burma in 1889, but his short visit to Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein) left a strong impression. If you fancy following in his footsteps, a couple of unhurried days wandering Mawlamyine’s markets and pagodas won’t disappoint.
Kipling was not the only famous British visitor to Mawlamyine. George Orwell served here as a policeman from 1922 to 1927. Back then, Mawlamyine was the capital of British Lower Burma. Now it’s Myanmar’s fourth largest city, although it’s more like a large town, sandwiched between the sea and the hills.
Mawlamyine is something of a time capsule, not much has changed since the British were here. Chants echo from pagodas, minaret speakers sing calls to prayer, and Catholic church bells ring out. Along the waterfront, fishing boats and river taxis zip about carrying produce and people to tea houses and markets. Crumbling colonial mansions give way to leafy gardens and tree-lined streets. The scent of Indian spices linger in the air.
60km south is Thanbyuzayat, the terminus of the Myanmar-Thailand Japanese death railway. There’s not a whole lot here to be honest; a modest museum, a repaired section of track and a large Allied war cemetery. But if you want to pay your respects to the prisoners of war who lost their lives or suffered here, it’s worth the somber trip.