MAWLAMYINE - MOULMEIN

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Mawlamyine Moulmein
& Moattama

Mawlamyine or Moulmein is the capital of Mon State, a seaport and the third largest city in Myanmar. The name Mawlamyine or Moulmein is derived from the words ‘ Mawya Myine’ meaning ‘forest haunt of peacocks.’ Just 70 km south of Thaton by road or rail, it is also linked by air with Yangon- only forty-five minutes flight time, since the road is not as bad it makes some sense to drive there with the car, but not in the night.


Coming from Yangon either by road or rail, the traveler gets off at Moattama (Martaban), the terminus for both, and takes a ferry to Mawlamyine or Moulmain  on the opposite shore.

This city will always be associated with Kipling’s verse reproduced below, which made it known far and wide:

By the old Moulmein pagoda lookin’ lazy at the sea .There’s a Burmese girl a-settin’ and I know she thinks o’ me, for the wind is in the palm trees and the temple bells they say ‘Come you back you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!’

Due to its hilltop location from the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda there is a lovely

views over the city and harbor, the Thanlwin (Salween) River on the West and the Taungnyo hills to the east. Another interesting pagoda has four life-sized figures, three - an old man, a sick man and a dead man- depicting that life is transitory, and a holy ascetic - representing how one must strive to gain freedom from the inevitability of mortal existence. These were the ‘Omens’ that influenced Prince Siddhartha Gautama to seek the path for enlightenment and ultimately succeeding in becoming Gautama Buddha.

Mawlamyine Moulmein Salween river front Myanmar

Mawlamyine or Moulmein at the Salween river front at the Gulf of Martaban or Moattama

Mawlamyine or Moulmein is a beautiful town in south Myanmar

with a relaxed atmosphere and of the oldest former British settlements in Myanmar or Burma. Further to the east is Kanchanaburi across the Myanmar Thailand border, the connection between this 2 cities comes from world war 2 when the Japanese constructed the called "death railway" on the Thai side. Kanchanaburi City is famous for the "River Kwai Bridge" which was part of the "death railway".

Mawlamyine or Moulmein is located at the mouth of the Thanlwin or Salween river, and timber trade is on of the main business. The city is a product of British colonial times.  A place to which old

Mawlamyine Moulmein hilltop mosque Myanmar
Mawlamyine Moulmein hilltop mosque Myanmar

pensioners of the British colonial rule retired when their life's work is done. Mawlamyine or Moulmein had a large colony of resident Europeans in the 19. Century. A friendly and unpretentious environment with temperate climate and cheap living, makes a special appeal to quiet people during colonial times. When Mawlamyine or Moulmein came into British hands, it was scarcely more than jungle. Yet was it not unknown in the great days when Pegu or Bago dazzled the imaginations of men, and Martaban across the water, was a vice-regal city.

" Some of the Peguans," wrote the Jesuit Pimenta, early in the seventeenth century, " in this time had with the Siamese' help brought the Castle of Murmulan into their possession, whom the king besieged a year together. And the Siamese coming on them unexpected, overthrew his army, killed his Horses and Elephants, slew and drowned many, took others, and so became Lords of all that Country.

Many Peguan fled together, wives, children and families, the King after his manner destroyed utterly, with fire sword and water. And thus the whole tract from Bago or Pegu to Martaban and Murmulan was brought to a wilderness." Such incidents were common enough in Burmese golden Myanmar.

When the southern Myanmar or Burma coast became a part of the British Empire, there was some question as to whether its capital should be placed at Amherst or at Moulmein. Military reasons decided in favor of Moulmein, because of its neighborhood to the Burmese fortress at Martaban, and the power it gave the British garrison of defending the left bank of the Thanlwin or Salween river from aggression.

But military reasons have long ceased to have any weight in the councils of Mawlamyine or Moulmein ; the British frontier has advanced seven hundred miles since it was founded, from Martaban to the gates of China, and the last soldier has been withdrawn from its garrison.

Mawlamyine or Moulmein is built at the foot of a ridge of hills, in an arm of the Thanlwin or Salween river. The large island of Bilu Gyun  faces it in the west. At its northern end the Gyaing and the Attaran meet the Thanlwin or Salween river, and forms a beautiful  environment. The actual town of houses strung along its main switchback street and for several miles along the shore, is not delectable. It is a hybrid of different ethnic groups.

Approaching the great stairs up the hillside to the pagodas and monastic buildings Mawlamyine or Moulmein on its summit the sentiment of Myanmar or Burmese life is revived.

On the pagoda platform, where golden pinnacles flame in the sun, and light and shadow lie in bars upon the paved courts, one is liable of a morning to come upon such spectacles as this.

Under the lofty multiple roofs of a tazoung with golden pillars, a company of the people is gathered for purposes of devotion. In the centre under a glass dome, there is exposed for the edification of the pious a relic case of gold and jewels, offered by some ardent seeker after merit as a gift for the Buddhist fraternity of Ceylon.

Above it in the shadowy recesses, sits a figure of the Buddha on a golden throne. Along the walls in its neighborhood the members of the Sacred Order are ranged in a double line, their faces passionless, or bowed in prayer.

Mawlamyine Moulmein hilltop pagoda Myanmar
Mawlamyine Moulmein hilltop pagoda platform Myanmar. Amherst, rice, rubber, sugar cane, coconuts, betel nuts, mangoes.

Before the relic case of the pagoda, a group of aged men in white muslin, with the saintly faces that Barman's or Myanmar's develop in old age, sit in an inner circle, their silver hair and white fillets of muslin conspicuous in the midst of the crowd that fills the rest of the hall.

What a crowd it is ! First the men in white coats and silken tartans and gaungbaungs, never worn before, lustrous in their freshness in colors of the dawn. Then behind them, filling the wide outer circles, women with coils of glossy black hair lit with fresh flowers ; soft silks and velvet thrown over their shoulders, pyramids of diamonds, on their fingers, their small bare feet turned up to the light behind.

A low resonant voice repeats the holy text, and at intervals the whole company, with folded hands, and fluttering paper pennons,. and bowed heads, join in audible devotion. Outside, across the open court of the pagoda platform, boys race and laugh, and no one is worried by their laughter. The old are here to pray and to ponder on the sadness and the illusion of life ; the young to play and laugh in the sunlight. Of them these people are tolerant. For every one, it would seem, there is room. A few paces away, and under the very gleam of the pagoda, large cauldrons are set over a fire, and rice for the assembled company of the religious is being cooked. Overhead the bells tinkle and palm-leaves rustle and murmur together in the wind. The pagoda is built upon the summit of a hill, and the world that expands from it is of rare and great beauty.

From where the people are seated at prayer, there is unfolded between each of the golden pillars and the carved eaves of the tazoung a picture of wide plains yellow with the ripening harvest ; of green villages under the shelter of great trees, of winding rivers and straight highways, and mountains flung in fantastic forms upon the level spaces. From the town below a stream of worshippers flows up and down the steep winding stairs ; old men who laugh at each other for getting blown ; pretty women in silks of delicate hues ;

From the south-west angle of the southernmost pagoda, where a double sphinx looks out across the spaces, there is unfolded a picture of a wide river making its last progress in loops and curves to the sea. Enthusiastic people say that it is as fine as the harbour of Sydney. Since these words were written I have seen Sydney and I think it is finer.

Some distance from the river a long low line of hills runs down on the east, and another, the nucleus of Bilu-Gyun, runs along the west, a rampart for the retreating sun. The river enfolds in its course several large low-lying islands, and at one point, at Mopun, it makes a beautiful curve ending in a headland, where rice and timber mills send their smoke into the air and ships in the harvest season wait for their cargoes to a distant world.


 durians, mangos teens, Yadana, Yetagun, earth gas, npg Mons, Kayins, Bamars, Shans, Pa-O and Daweites, Tavoyans.

Looking more directly now to the west, there is the river again in a straight bar of gold under the long town of Mawlamyine or Moulmein. More ships lie here, and they look to me as if they had dropped mysteriously from the great world outside, into this land-locked anchorage under the swooning palms. For as I look, the conviction is borne in upon me of a drowsy land of extraordinary beauty, but not of a modern city ; and the ships that lie here for a season form no part of it.
Looking a little more towards the north, my eyes are greeted by

The Limestone Caves at Mawlamyine or Moulmein in the Zingyaik hills, whose loftiest peak three thousand feet in height, dominates the wide panorama. Between these hills and Bilu-Gyun the right branch of the Thanlwin or Salween river makes its way to sea. In times gone by— in the days of the Castle of Murmulan, when Portuguese artillerymen manned the guns of Martaban, and hungry adventurers from the West swept by in their galleons up the gulf—and even in more recent times, this was the main channel of the river. It is not the channel now. It has ceased for more than a generation to be navigable by steamers, and the time is approaching when it will cease to be navigable at all.

The low country slowly rising from the sea ; a new world shaping into being. The claim of this western channel to be the main stream of the Thanlwin or Salween river was, however, curiously established two hundred years ago. The Thanlwin or Salween river had been fixed as the boundary between British and Burmese territory after the first English - Burma war, and it became a question as to which branch of it was the real Thanlwin or Salween river.

The island of Bilu-Gyun with an area of one hundred and seven square miles, was the stake at issue. The rival diplomatists resorted to the simple device of tying two cocoanuts together and sending them adrift upon the main river. At Martaban, where the river divides, these cocoanuts for an instant remained stationary ; then they were caught by an eddy and swept to sea down the western channel, and Bilu-Gyun became British. Turning away now from all that lies to the west, I see from my splendid vantage-point how this process of transition from water to land has been already accomplished. For here, where chequered rice-fields now turn up their patterns to the sky ; where monasteries now shelter under clusters of drooping palms, where villages and hamlets smile, and rivers, the Gyaing and the Attaran, wind across the landscape in ribbons of silver and blue, there once moved, if one may believe the testimony of the earth, the implacable sea. One feature of that bygone day still survives, a landmark of the past, as it is of the present. For the fantastic isolated hills that rise up abruptly from the level plain, were once in reality islands, and the sea swept round them, and the blind waves roared in their caves. Elephant island is one of these.

There are two cave temples near Mawlamyine or Moulmein. The Payon Cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites contains innumerable Buddha images installed in shrines while the Kawgaun Cave, locally called the Cave of Ten Thousand Buddha’s, has a great number of Buddha figures in various forms and sizes. Kyaikmayaw Pagoda, a half hour’s drive out of town along toddy palm -lined roads with wayside rubber plantations, is a pleasant shrine to visit and usually is on the visitor’s itinerary.


About 60 km south of Mawlamyine or Moulmein, at Thanbyuzayat,

there is a large, well maintained war cemetery for thousands of Allied prisoners-of-war who died during World War II while constructing the infamous ‘death railway’ and the Bridge over the River Kwai for the Japanese. The same is on the Thailand side at Kanchanaburi near the Bridge over the River Kwai.

Another 28 km southwards brings one to Kyaikkhami (Amherst), a popular coastal resort during British times, with its well-known Kyaikkhami Pagoda in the sea. Setse- the beach here is a favorite with local residents and if properly developed has great potential to draw tourists- is soon reached after a twenty minute drive.

Like the rest of Mon State, Mawlamyine has a hot and wet climate with an annual rainfall of around 482 cm, average year-round temperature of 26.6'C; the average for the

Mawlamyine Moulmein houses on the Salween river front Myanmar
Mawlamyine Moulmein houses on the Salween river front Myanmar
Mawlamyine Moulmein roadwork Myanmar
Mawlamyine Moulmein roadwork Myanmar
Moattama terminus car ferry to Mawlamyine Moulmein Myanmar
Moattama terminus car ferry to Mawlamyine or Moulmein Myanmar

hottest months (April and May) is 29.3'C and the average for December and January about 25'C. It lies in the only sizable plain in the state- the Mawlamyine plain - so it produces rice, rubber, sugar cane, coconuts and betel nuts in addition to such delicious fruits like mangoes, durians, mangos teens and pumaloes.

Seafood is also plentiful and enjoyable and one can still see timber yards and forests in the surrounding countryside since teak used to be one of the chief exports.


Two large natural gas fields, the Yadana and the Yetagun,

have been developed by foreign companies. Thailand is to be supplied with gas and a pipeline running 346 km offshore and 63 km onshore for delivery to a plant in Kanchanaburi Province.

The majority of the people here and in Mon State as a whole are Mons, with Kayins, Bamars, Shans, Pa-Os and Daweites (Tavoyans) making up the rest.

Mon State people with boat near Mawlamyine Myanmar
Mon State people with boat near Mawlamyine Myanmar

Mon State monks near Mawlamyine Myanmar
Mon State monks near Mawlamyine Myanmar

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Mawlamyine or Moulmein

 

Mawlamyine, Moulmein, Mon, Mon State, Kipling, Myanmar, Burma, Mawya Myine, Thaton, Moattama, Myanmar, Burma, Birma, Moktama, Martaban

 
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