Mawlamyine was added to our itinerary of our trip because I wanted to explore a bit of the south of Myanmar….and because I saw the Kyaik-than-lan Pagoda on a tv show…. with Chris Tarrant in it….that bit I hate to admit….! However, as I watched him climb the stairs to this temple (ignoring his rendition of Kipling’s poem Mandalay which mentions this pagoda) and then take a seat to watch the sun set over the town, the river and the hills beyond, I instantly knew I wanted to go there. It looked calm, peaceful, serene, stunning and exotic and I knew we had to add it on to our trip. I wanted to sit on those steps and watch that sunset with my own eyes.
When we did finally arrive, after a 7 hour bus ride from Yangon (cue broken seats and broken air blowers on that trip!) I have to say I was initially a little underwhelmed by the town. We had found a fairly cheap (for Myanmar! Accommodation was notoriously expensive there) guesthouse (Sandalwood Hotel), and after arriving there via tuk-tuk from the bus station, we checked into our room…. which was right next to reception…. great I thought! It wasn’t too bad though, the bed was comfortable – we did have to hold the curtains together with a clothes peg…but that’s just another reason to travel with a peg or two! It was also tiled from floor to ceiling in shiny white tiles, so it did feel a little like we were sleeping in a bathroom!
We ventured out to have a look around the town, it was very, very hot, dusty and quiet and it had quite a different feel to it than other places we had visited in the country. There were still a fair few examples of the old colonial architecture to be found along the streets, all in various degrees of disrepair.
It was interesting wandering around and just seeing what was happening in this sleepy city (it is Myanmar’s 4th largest city, but it didn’t feel like it!). We came across some men loading up their wares onto bikes and carts….and the strongest smell of coriander hit me….it was delicious!!! I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from at first, and then realised their wares were actually huge sacks of the stuff….I LOVE coriander so I could have hung around there all day!!
It was late afternoon by then though, so we thought we would head up to the pagoda to try to catch the sunset.
We entered the temple from a rather unusual route, a small doorway off the road led us into a shady courtyard strewn with broken wood and rubble. We picked our way over and through it towards what looked like a set of stairs. It seemed to be the only route out so we started to climb them. They broadened out as we got higher and as we came round a corner we were confronted with a family sitting at the entrance to the pagoda, the tiles of the site behind them sparkling in the low sun. We had made it! They gestured to us to take our shoes off and leave them with them. By this point, we had been accustomed to this ritual and shrugged off our sandals and flip-flops, putting them to one side near the entrance. We didn’t worry about them getting taken and we didn’t worry about wandering around barefoot. I had gotten over the initial concern of what I might stand in by about our 10th temple in the country! I dread to think of the amount of cat pee I must have trodden in during our trip!!
We stepped out on the tiles and took in the vista before us. There was a gleaming pagoda taking pride of place and lots of Burmese milling around, along with a few other westerners, all taking in the splendour of the views and the temple.
We walked over to the balcony which looked over to the west and stood for a moment just taking in the scene. Directly below us in the street was a melee of bikes, cars, buses, people and animals, all heading to or from the pagoda. The town stretched out from there towards the massive Thanlwin river, beyond which stretched other islands and hills.
The sun was starting to lower in the sky beyond and I couldn’t help but feel a tad emotional – not only because of where we were, but also of how far we had come ….. and it seems, sunsets bring out the soppy side of me!
We kept on wandering around the site, taking photo after photo, the pagoda has amazing panaromic views across the entire city and you can see for miles. And then we got to the steps where I had seen Chris Tarrant sit. There were already a few other tourists sitting there watching the sunset, along with some local couples. I joined them and sat on the cold tiles in my bare feet, a sweaty, frizzy mess (it was sooo hot and humid there), but I was happy. I couldn’t quite believe that I was there, I had made it and was seeing that sunset with my own eyes.
There are so many places in the world that I want to go, and to actually achieve one of those goals felt amazing. Visiting Myanmar in itself was a massive travel goal, but for some reason I felt particularly drawn to this stunning and captivating place.