Myanmar Travel

A Guide to discovering some Myanmar hidden gems

Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Ava (Inwa), Sagaing, Mingun are the major Myanmar tourist attractions. Visitors can cover these superficially on an 8-day Myanmar tour or more leisurely on a 14-day trip.

There are many other places in the country that are worth seeing, however. Some are reasonably accessible while others are only for those who are prepared to spend the necessary time and effort to get to places where transport and other facilities can be poor.

If you have already covered the main sights, I recommend considering some of the places covered in this chapter. Some have only recently opened to foreign visitors but hopefully as tourism develops, the potential problems will reduce and more visitors will discover these areas.

Naypyidaw

Naypyidaw meaning “Royal Capital”, is Myanmar’s soul-less new capital city. It is literally a city built from scratch; construction began in 2002 and Naypyidaw was officially declared the country’s capital in 2005. It was out of bounds to foreigners until around 2010 but it has now opened up with international and domestic airlines starting to use the new airport. It is now Myanmar’s third largest city and is starting to act as a transportation hub.

The city is unlike the rest of Myanmar. It is the only modern city in the country and there are huge shopping malls and ten lane highways. The roads are lined with flowers and carefully pruned shrubbery. Meticulously landscaped roundabouts boast large sculptures.

The city is organized into zones based on function; the residential, ministry, military, and hotel zones for instance. The whole place was built in a rush at enormous cost and already there are signs of shoddy construction causing damage to structures.

It is also considerably quieter than other cities (some say deadly quiet) though it is growing fast. At present, it doesn’t have the visitor appeal that Yangon and Mandalay have but this will grow in time. The city feels like an extreme test of the “if you build it, they will come” theory.

Perhaps the most notable tourist attraction in Nay Pyi Taw is the Uppatasanti Pagoda, also called the “peace pagoda”. It is the most prominent landmark in the city’ and is a replica of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda.

The pagoda complex also contains the Maha Hsutaungpyae Buddha Image, the garden of 108 Holy Bo Trees, and Marlini Mangala Lake with the chamber of Shin Uppagutta, as well as many other interesting and attractive areas.

Nay Pyi Taw is also home to the Nay Pyi Taw Zoological Gardens, the largest zoo in Myanmar but this is a long way from the city’s hotel zone. Here you can see more than 420 animals including elephants, tigers, leopards, and kangaroos. It even has its own penguin house. Next door is a safari park where you travel around in electric buggies.

The National Land Marks Garden located on Thaik Chaung Road near Yezin Dam has replicas of the famous pagodas, stupas, caves, bridges, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, and islands in States and Divisions in Myanmar. The Hotel Ayeyarwady is part of the complex.

Back in the central city, there is a park with a playground and a water fountain behind the city hall, which hosts a musical light show every night. City Hall is one of the prominent land marks of the city and the Naypyidaw Development Committee is based here. State occasions are held with the State Orchestra playing here.

Naypyidaw’s monumental parliament buildings’ complex has a moat running round it. Until very recently the closest you could get, before you were stopped by imposing metal gates and soldiers, made it difficult to make out the buildings properly.

Ngalaik Lake Gardens is a small water park situated on Ngalaik Lake approximately 12 km from Nay Pyi Taw. There are water slides, attractive landscapes, lodging and a beach.

The Naypyidaw Gem Museum is just north of the Royal Golf Course, its driveway lined with that red and white curbing that’s everywhere in the city. The garden has large jade boulders and two white elephants flanking a sculptured map of Myanmar.

The museum consists of three stories of precious jewels and jade with the world’s largest pearl and Myanmar’s largest ruby on display. It opens between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day except Monday.

Just a short distance away from the Gem Museum is the National Herbal Park which preserves and showcases more than 700 species of Myanmar’s herbs and medicinal plants. More than 20,000 plants from all over Myanmar are grown here. Traditional medicines have been used for centuries and many are still in use today. There are treatments for a wide range of ailments. The National Herbal Park is open year round and is free to visit.

Myanmar International Convention Centre was built by the People’s Republic of China and completed in 2010. It has a plenary hall that can accommodate 1900 persons.

Apart from air services, buses and trains serve Naypyidaw from Yangon and Mandalay. Once there you will need a vehicle. Rental cars are available and there are taxis and motorbike taxis.

Pyay

This is an appropriate stop midway between Yangon and Bagan. The town is quite uninspiring except for the stunning Shwesandaw Pagoda and the nearby big seated Buddha – the reason to stop is for the ancient Pyu city of Sri Kestra. Although it’s not nearly as impressive as Bagan, it’s likely to be Myanmar’s first site on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

About 8 km east of Pyay, near Hanlin village, archaeologists have found large, low sections of brickworks that once formed part of a wall enclosing a large complex, dating back to the Pyu era (4th to 9th centuries AD).

There are many excavation sites scattered over many miles and some have yielded pottery and coins from various eras. Several excavated grave sites can be visited where you can still see the ornaments and weapons with which the bodies were buried.

The Pyxis built large cities enclosed by walls. Each city is located at the center of a network of irrigation channels, connected to the local rivers. Sri Kestra, the largest Pyu city, was enclosed by a circular brick city wall with a diameter of 4.4 km. It contains several brick monuments (stupas and temples).

Hanlin village is a magical place in its own right. Unpaved ox-cart tracks link an incredible plethora of decaying old stupas that create the feeling of an untouched mini-Bagan. This is best appreciated when the scene is viewed from behind Maung San Monastery with its obvious golden zedi.

Near the market is a collection of inscribed steles and stone slabs in the now-forgotten Pyu script. Within the Nyaung Kobe Monastery, a museum room displays various ancient, but unlabelled, archaeological finds. Another minor attraction is the little hot spring area where villagers collect water from circular concrete-sided well-pools and bathe in two bigger basin-pools.

Some people will enjoy visiting Shwedaung, about 15 km south of Pyay to see the large sitting Buddha wearing a huge set of gold-rimmed eyeglasses at the Shwe Myetman Pagoda. It is said that this image can cure eye problems.

Western Myanmar

Only open to visitors since the 1990s, western Myanmar covering the area of Rakhaing and Chin States is still very much off the beaten track. It’s an extensive region of sandy beaches, slow-moving rivers, jungle and impenetrable hills isolated from central Myanmar by a series of mountain ranges.

To the southwest, the region fronts the Indian Ocean, then further north it borders Bangladesh and the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. This area has been neither fully Burmese nor Indian over the years.

The Kingdom of Arakan once flourished here; a Buddhist State where the kings also had a Muslim title. You can fly into the area to Kyaukphyu and to Sittwe, both of which are on the coast. Inland is tough country with roads few and far between. This region has seen extensive ethnic disturbances since 2013 which are often led by nationalistic Buddhist monks, so you are advised to seek advice before venturing too far.

The problem concerns the one million or so Rohingya Muslims who are not recognized by the Myanmar government and are thus stateless, but who continue to live in Rakhine and Chin States despite animosity from the remaining population.

Mrauk-U

Rakhaing State is today one of the most remote, under-developed parts of Myanmar, yet 350 years ago, its coastal strip formed the heartland of the rich and powerful Arakan kingdom which was the most cosmopolitan in the history of south­east Asia.

Its capital was Mrauk-U (literally “Monkey Egg”), a port founded in 1430 by King Naramithla. Thirty years later, this was a sophisticated kingdom with Buddhist traditions mingled with those of Indo-Islamic India. The arts and philosophy flourished, and splendid pagodas, temples, and palaces were erected on the banks of the River Kaladan.

By the mid-15th century, Mrauk-U had 160,000 inhabitants of many nationalities and the kingdom stretched from the shores of the Ganges River to the western reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy River.

The end came when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, dispatched an army to annex the eastern portions of Bengal which was then occupied by the Arakans. The loss was the beginning of the end for Mrauk-U as the port went into decline and the countryside lapsed into poverty. In 1784, the Burmese took the sacred Maha Muni image, and Mrauk-U never recovered from the sacking.

The vestiges of Naramithla’s once resplendent capital now serve as a backdrop to a still-active village of goat herders and cauliflower farmers. The great empire felt compelled to leave behind reminders of its glory days but now the place has the feel of a languid backwater.

Many of the brick stupas and temple complexes are now choked with weeds and creepers but the romance generated by this remote site more than repays the time and trouble required to reach it. The crumbling walls of the one-time royal palace can still be seen and there is an Archaeological Museum just inside the walls on the western side.

The area has no defined route for visitors but you shouldn’t miss the Shittaung Pagoda and its Shittaung Pillar to the north of town which was built in 1535-1536 by King Min Bin to commemorate his conquest of Bengal. Three layers of maze-like corridors encircle the main hall and contain countless reliefs of Buddhas, and other items both real and mythical.

Close by is the Htukkanthein Temple (Cross- Beam Ordination Hall) designed as a dual purpose “fortress-temple” and one of the most militaristic buildings in Mrauk U, built on raised ground, with a single entrance and small windows. The brick and stone temple enshrining the statues of Buddha was built in 1571 by King Min Phalaung.

You should also see the large, restored Kothaung Temple (Temple of 90.000 Buddha Images) to the east of the palace. This is the largest temple in Mrauk-U and was built between 1554 and 1556 by King Dikkha.

Although Mrauk U is primarily a Buddhist site, there are several religious buildings of other faiths. The most notable would be the old Santikan Mosque, built during Min Saw Mon’s reign, in the southeast of the town.

A government ferry and small private boats operate from Sittwe to Mrauk U. The trip takes from five to seven hours. Alternatives are a rough five-hour road trip in the dry season or an expensive speedboat transfer. It is now possible at certain times of the year to reach Mrauk U direct by bus from both Mandalay and Yangon, and even from Bagan via a change of bus in Magway but it is a very long and rough journey.

Amazingly, a controversial new rail line was being bulldozed through the edges of Mrauk-U but because of considerable protests, this was suspended late 2014 while awaiting further cultural evaluation. It is believed that this is because the Myanmar government would like a UNESCO heritage rating for the site.

There are several small hotels and guest houses of quite reasonable quality in the village with Mrauk Oo Princess Resort probably the best, but don’t expect a palace.

Ngapali

This is Myanmar’s best beach resort. It is situated 10 km southwest of Thandwe in the south of Rakhaing. The only practical access is via Thandwe airport which is served by four local airlines. The alternative is a 16-hour bus trip.

There are three main beaches, all facing west and the tranquil, palm-lined bays have soft, white sand, translucent water and wonderful seafood. Most visitors stay in a string of small 4-star hotels dotted along the shore. There is a giant golden Buddha on a hilltop at the very south end of the beach.

Fishermen from the nearby villages well outnumber tourists on parts of the beach, and their boats still bob around offshore unworried by tourist power craft. All that looks set to change, however, as building continues and a tourism bonanza is expected. A present, south of the hotels, is the fishing village of Jate Taw (Gyeik Taw), which offers a slice of local life.

Snorkeling and fishing trips, cycling and golf on the 18-hole course between the main beach resorts and the airport, offer alternatives to lounging on the sand in one of the small bars dotted along the bay. You can rent a bicycle (around K2000/half day) or a motorbike (around K3000/hour).

The Oriental Ballooning Company started flying hot air balloons over Ngapali beach for the first time in November 2015 and they plan to continue until March or April 2016. This adds a further dimension to a Ngapali experience.

There are beach restaurants owned by local fishermen in two designated beach areas. Smoke billows from the open-air grills where fish are cooked by leathery men in beaten-up hats.

This is a place to encounter seaside perfection and its great to have to share it with so few people. There are no nightclubs, no discos, and no motorized motorsports, yet. Many properties only operate for about half the year.

Chin State

The only place in Chin State that has been on Myanmar’s tourist map is Nat Ma Taung (Mt Victoria) the mountain So km west of Bagan. Rising over 3000 meters it forms a so-called “sky island” with its own distinct micro-climate, flora, and fauna. Six day trips can be arranged from Bagan. The area is great for bird-watching and observing butterflies.

The mountain is within the Nat Ma Taung National Park (there is a $10 entry fee) which covers 72,300 hectares of the Chin Hills. It was established primarily to protect the upper watersheds of the Lemro and Myittha Rivers. It is an ASEAN Heritage Park and has been placed on a tentative list by UNESCO. There are 6,000 Chin people living around the park and about 100 inside the park.

It is possible to climb Mt Victoria. The trail head from which the hike begins is a 45-minute drive uphill from the small town of Kanpetlet, where most eco lodges can be found; the hike itself takes around five hours to the summit and back to the trail head. Kanpetiet provides a chance to meet the locals by wandering around the simple homesteads and churches of this quiet rural backwater.

Mindat is about five hours to the north and is set spectacularly along a mountain ridge. Here you will find members of the indigenous Dai, Upu, and Ya tribes; the older women of these tribes sport full facial tattoos that differ in design according to their tribe. Many locals identify themselves as Christian and attend one of the ten churches, including Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal, every Sunday.

At the market in the center of Mindat, you will find colorful Chin clothing and tapestries; local wine (made from millet); and other local handicrafts.

Well north of here, you can fly into Kalay (Kalaymyo) or travel by road from Mandalay. The temperature here is noticeably cooler than the south and at night the streets are empty because of the cold. The surrounding area grows chrysanthemums, roses, gladioli, asters and gardenias in plantations, providing a colorful scene. It has gained importance because of trans- border movement between Myanmar and India.

Over 10,000 Kalay residents were displaced from their homes by a major flood in August 2016.

It is possible to rent a van and drive around the area. The 165 kilometers Tamu-Kalaymyo road built by the Border Roads Organization of India takes you to Tamu just in the Sagaing Region near the Indian border. It is connected to Moreh, India, by a bridge crossing over Mahuyar Creek. There are some reasonable restaurants here and the teak Yav- San Hmyaw Pagoda is interesting.

The drive from Kalay to Hakha, the capital of Chin State is along a narrow highway with countless tight corners and steep climbs. There is noticeably less development here and much of the scenery is pristine. Long houses perch on the top of cliffs and there are caves where people are believed to have lived thousands of years ago.

It is possible to make a side trip to heart- shaped Reh Lake, a spectacular freshwater lake located in a valley which is part India and part Myanmar. The water is a dazzling blue for most of the year but locals claim it sometimes turns red. At Falam, the Lwut-Lat-Lay Sutaungpyae Pagoda was opened in 1948 as a memorial to Myanmar’s independence.

Hakha is a quiet, uncrowded town Located at an altitude of 1.867 meters which means it can get cold, particularly on winter nights. As with much of Chin State, the majority of the population in Hakha is Christian and there are many churches here.

The locals wear colorful clothing and if you want some for yourself there are a number of tailors around town. Also of interest are a number of shops where you can buy locally made traditional Chin jewelry.

The town has a hilltop pagoda built by one of the followers of Taung-tann Tharthar Sayardaw Gyi which provides an excellent view. You can return to Kalay via Gantgaw and the Myittha suspension bridge. Buses and mini-buses to Kalaymyo leave daily with a journey time of around 8 hours.

The Pagodas around Monywa

Monywa is in the Sagaing Region west of Mandalay. It is a worthwhile trip for temple enthusiasts but it is also the second biggest town in Upper Myanmar and serves as a major trade center for agricultural produce.

Monywa is situated on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River 136 km northwest of Mandalay along the Mandalay-Budalin branch railway line. Monywa serves as a major trade center for India and Myanmar. There are bus connections with Mandalay and Bagan with the trip taking 3-4 hours.

In Monywa town there are busy markets, popular restaurants, Monywa University and the Computer University, Monywa. Transport around town is by tuk-tuk and some drivers speak English.

Thanboddhay (Thanbokde) is a remarkable modern temple complex a 20 km drive from Monywa. The two towering white elephants that stand at the entrance are only a taste of the spectacular Buddhist architecture within.

Some say Thanbokde’s design is reminiscent of Borobudur in Indonesia but a major difference is that Thanbokde is all gold and white. It is claimed that there are 845 stupas, more than 700 large statues, and an eye-popping 600,000 smaller religious icons. The main pagoda is undoubtedly one of the most ornate and colorful monastery buildings in the country.

There is a central watch tower with an external spiral stairway in the compound, which male visitors can climb in order to take in the majesty from above. Unfortunately, convention dictates that women are not allowed to climb the tower or the terraces for a better view. Don’t leave without taking photos of the twenty tagundaing, huge decorated pillars.

There is an annual pagoda festival in November which goes on for several days when the villagers from all around come to enjoy the music and dancing and buy from the various stalls set up by sellers from all over the country.

While in this area you should also visit the remarkable Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung monastery which is about eight kilometers along a good branch road. It is famous for its Giant Standing Buddha statue, reputedly the second largest in the world, thousands of Buddha images and Bodhi trees, and a Giant Reclining Buddha, also one of the largest in the world.

The Bodhi tree is highly revered because it is the tree under which the Buddha meditated and reached enlightenment. Each tree in the large planted forest has a large Buddha image underneath and many Buddhist come to pay obeisance there. It is a pleasant, peaceful place.

You can walk through the interior of the reclining Buddha in which 9,000 small Buddha images are on display. There are also representations of some of the important events in the life of the Buddha.

Visitors can also climb to near the top of the 31-storey structure while inspecting murals depicting scenes from Buddhist hell and the punishments received by those who stay there. The Aung Sakkya Pagoda is similar to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon but with a height of only 69 m.

The other major attraction in the area is the famous pagoda and a complex of Buddha caves that is located on the banks of the Chindwin River, 25 km to the west of Monywa known as Phowintaung. It is now accessible from Monywa by road over a new bridge.

The 947 caves are filled with artwork and statues that date back mostly to the 17th and 18th centuries with a few from thei4th century. The statues are carved into the sandstone and are mostly in the Inwa-style, and the walls contain murals.

A stairway climbs the hill to the main shrine but there are dozens of caves in the area. There are yellow monkeys at the cave which are said to have been there for hundreds of years.

Kachin State

This northernmost state in Myanmar is slowly opened to foreigners. The week-long trip down the Ayeyarwaddy River from the town of Bhamo is becoming popular. There is a government ferry and several luxury craft that operate on this relatively remote stretch of river.

The area is home to colorful tribal groups, breathtaking Indawgyi Lake and snow-capped mountain ranges in the far north around the town of Putao, near to the border with India.

Putao is the northernmost town in Kachin and is only accessible by air for part of the year. It has a mainly ethnic Kachin and Lisu population while the area around the town is famous for the variety of birds and orchids you can see.

There are some serious trekking, white water rafting and adventure skiing opportunities in the surrounding mountains but it is only for the truly adventurous. The Himalayan peak of Hkakabo Razi, southeast Asia’s tallest mountain (5,881 meters) is in this region.

Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin State and lies on the western bank of Ayeyarwaddy River. The airport has flights to Yangon usually via Mandalay and foreigners must report to the immigration office. It is also the northern most railway terminal in Myanmar.

The town doesn’t have any great attraction but those reaching here can easily spend a day or so looking around and there are some quite good hotels and nice restaurants along the river amongst other things. The overland trade route to India and China and World War II supply line to China along the Ledo Road pass through Myitkyina.

In a stone building near the large food market, you can find all kinds of household goods, including the famous Kachin bags, which are often decorated with silver. A little way from the city center is the great Manau Square, where in January the Kachin celebrate their National Day with a lavish festival involving traditional costumes, music and animal sacrifices. In the middle of this square are the Manau posts, which are painted with brightly colored animals and decorations.

The newly constructed Shree Ram Janaki Temple is worth a visit as is Kachin State Cultural Museum, where you can see displays of traditional costumes, and learn about the culture of the Kachin. It is possible to rent a motorbike and explore the town on your own. This also allows you to visit Myitsome where the Ayeyarwaddy River starts, Waingmaw across the river, the Ayeyarwaddy Bridge, and the Praying Mountain.

One appalling statistic about Myitkyina is the level of heroin addiction. Needles litter the roadside. In Myitkyina University’s restrooms, there are metal biohazard boxes fixed to the wall where students deposit bloody needles after dosing on the toilet. Signs tacked inside Myitkyina’s internet cafes warn patrons not to smoke, eat or shoot up.

Indawgyi Lake, the largest body of fresh water in Myanmar at around 24 km long and 12 km wide, is sustained by a dozen streams. It is an ASEAN Heritage site and has recently been included in the tentative list as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gold is mined in the surrounding hills, and unfortunately, the extensive teak forests are being devastated by logging and mining.

In the semi-evergreen forests around the lake live wild elephants, leopards, bears, sambar deer, serow, gaur, wild boar and more mammals but these are under threat from human activity both legal and illegal.

The lake with its wetland is also one of Myanmar’s important bird areas. During January Greylag Geese, Oriental Darter and Purple Swamphen are prominent. The lake is a major stop for migratory birds from Siberia and attracts thousands of them from December to March.

Clusters of picturesque wooden stilted houses in Shan villages dot the lake shore. Perhaps the most picturesque village is Lwemun on a hillside up the western shore where there are two monasteries, a spirit shrine and a shrine which tells the story of Indawgyi Lake. On the east shore, you find Hepa, where some houses are built on stilts above the lake.

Indaw Ma Har Guesthouse in Lone Ton Village is the only guesthouse available to foreigners (around 7000 kyats per night). This has electricity’ in the evening for two to three hours. Nearby you find a few noodle shops.

You can see the dazzling white and gilt Shwe Myitzu Pagoda on an island in the lake. It has a central golden stupa surrounded by scores of smaller white stupas. Access is via a narrow causeway. You can go to Hopin by train or road from Myitkyina (about 80 km) then go by road to Lon Ton on the lake (about 30 km). Hopin has a hotel and several restaurants but limited electricity.

Bhamo is downriver from Myitkyina and is a mere 65 km from the border of China’s Yunnan Province. It is one of the border cities that is benefiting greatly from trade with China. Bhamo, or Sampanago, as it used to be known, was also once the capital of the long extinct Shan Kingdom.

The old city wall and collapsed pagoda ruins can still be seen about 4 km outside of the modern site, and these have been dated to the 5th century. At the moment, you can have this pretty much all to yourself.

Bhamo is a beautiful old trading port that’s often overlooked by travelers searching for more famous destinations. It’s accessible by road and by boat from Mandalay and you will find a mixture of exotic scenery, along the way.

You are likely to see many of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities as you pass through and again in the markets in Bhamo where they buy and sell local products and goods from China. There’s also the opportunity’ to take an elephant ride out at one of the logging camps.

Mawlamyine, Mon State

(http://www.mawlamyine.com/)

The Mon capital, Mawlamyine (Moulmein), retains a distinct colonial-era charm and serves as the starting point of cruises by old double-decker ferries on the Thanlwin (Salween) River into neighboring Kayin State. The striking limestone hills, caves and mountaintop monasteries around the town of Hpa-an are attracting increasing numbers of travelers.

Thanks to its fleeting mention in the famous poem Mandalay, the former capital of British Burma, Moulmein is associated with Rudyard Kipling. Moulmein was ceded to the British by the Kingdom of Ava in the Treaty’ of Yandabo at the end of the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826, and it was transformed into a thriving teak and rubber port.

There are plenty of mildewing Raj-era buildings which attest to its 19th -century prominence, however, it’s the considerably more ancient Buddhist monuments such as Mawlamyine Pagoda, one of several on a prominent ridge inland from the city, that will appeal to others. The city today is home to more than 500,000 people which make it the fourth largest city’ in the country.

Other attractions are Kyaik Tan Lan Pagoda built in 875 AD and thought to be where Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem, “The Road to Mandalay”, the Nwa Le Bo Pagoda about 20 km north of town and the Pa Auk Taw Ya Monastery, 15 km south of town.

You cross the impressive Thanlwin bridge, the longest road, and rail bridge in Myanmar as you approach the town. The 11,000 feet bridge over the Thanlwin River connects the country’s south-eastern region with Yangon.

The Mon Cultural Museum, located on the corner of Baho St and Dawei Jetty Road, has displays of ancient Mon coins, lacquerware, Buddhist articles and a number of paintings depicting Mon culture and society’.

Buses, mini-buses and trains all connect Mawlamyine with Yangon and there is a road with bus connections with Mae Sot in Thailand.

There are several points of interest south of the city’. Kyauktalon Taung is an interesting flat rock formation 100 meters in height with a Buddhist shrine situated on top. Although reminding you of Mt Popa in central Myanmar, the outcrop is geologically different being made of limestone rather than volcanic rock. Just opposite here is Yadana Taung a Hindu temple where hundreds of monkeys roam about freely, often aggressively.

A hundred meters further south is the entrance to Win Sein Taw Ya. This is claimed to be the largest reclining Buddha image in the world at 180 meters in length, and 30 meters in height. Inside there are numerous rooms with dioramas of the teachings of Buddhism.

Mudon is a further 10 minutes from here. Kandawgyi Lake located just after the main town center has a number of stalls selling rice and an assortment of side dishes, as well as moehingga (noodles in a fish based broth) and soft drinks.

Some 60 kilometers south of Mawlamyine is the town of Thanbyuzayat. This was the end of the line of the infamous Burma-Siam railway linking Thailand with Myanmar during the Japanese occupation in World War II. It was known as the Death Railway due to the many prisoners of war who died constructing the 415 km long line for the Japanese Imperial Army.

A Death Railway Museum has been established about a kilometer from Thanbyuzayat’s main town center. Unfortunately, the main building of the museum is often locked. In the grounds of the museum, however, a memorial has been established complete with train track, a plaque, and one of the original locomotives donated by the Japanese authorities from a museum in Yokohama.

The well-maintained grounds of the Htaukkyant War Cemetry are located one kilometer from Thanbyuzayat on the road to Kyaikkami and Setse. It is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to honor those who died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Death Railway in World War II.

Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) region

Still more isolated is the exquisite coast of Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) region, in the far south, which is slowly opening up to foreign travelers. At present, the entire region is a delightful tropical backwater, perhaps fifty years removed from the relative affluence and openness of neighboring Thailand. A more pristine, more beautiful part of mainland southeast Asia would be hard to find.

The Myeik Archipelago consists of around 800 coral-fringed islands scattered off the coast. It is a tropical paradise of the kind that has all but disappeared in southeast Asia. The archipelago offers great opportunities for exploration and diving amongst spectacular marine life and untouched coral reefs

Most visitors fly into Kawthaung airport then transfer to a cruise boat. November to April is the high season for visiting the Myeik Archipelago with December to February offering the best weather conditions.

The previous ban on independent travel imposed by the government for many years has ensured that the islands remain much as they have for centuries, inhabited by communities of Malay fishermen and semi-nomadic “Sea Gypsies” who spend the dry season on small boats and return to ramshackle villages on land during the monsoons.

The islands offer a wide variety of sights and adventurous activities, from hiking through tropical valleys to kayaking through mangroves and up rivers and walking on hundreds of deserted white sand beaches. One of the most renowned dive sites in Southeast Asia, the huge Burma Banks are located on the west side of the archipelago, where the continental shelf drops off into the deep sea beyond.

Tourism has thus far made negligible impact. You can check into the incongruous, Andaman Club on Thahtay Kyun Island – a 205-room five-star with its own 18-hole golf course and Vegas-style casino or alternatively the Myanmar Andaman Resort on Fork (Macleod) Island which consists of around 24 small wooden houses sprinkled along the sea front, with dining area, bar and offices at the centre.

A handful of Thai boats, working out of Phuket, run live-aboard cruises to the world-class dive sites in the area.