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Mawlamyine, Myanmar: So that’s what it was like to backpack 20 years ago

Posted by on September 5, 2012
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Of all the places we visited in Myanmar, Mawlamyine is the one that had us thinking, “So this is what it was like to backpack 15-20 years ago…” Locals weren’t familiar with tourist faces, or at least that’s what we gleaned from a walk through the food market, and there were maybe 15 foreigners in the whole city. I’m not exaggerating when I say that when we arrived, we were the talk of the town. It was the first time we visited a place that was on the verge of something big. It actually felt a bit like a pre-tourist Luang Prabang, Laos.


To refresh your memory, Luang Prabang is the leafy, temple-dotted, colonial riverside city in Laos that’s so precious the entire place has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mawlamyine has what it takes — golden stupas topping mountains, a riverside begging for outdoor cafes, restaurants, and night markets as well as lush green mountains for miles — to reach that kind of recognition.

I mean, the city still needs work: street cleaning, a major paint job, better plumbing, more (and better) restaurants and better quality accommodation, but the foundation is there. (Cinderella Hotel was really nice, but $30/night was above our budget. We settled for a $13/night room in the popular guesthouse Breeze, where they can get away with dungeon-like, natural light-deprived rooms because of the lack of competition.)

Eaman, in particular, really connected with the place. I loved it, too, but the dungeon room plus torrential downpours often put a huge damper on my mood. This would’ve been totally fine in the beginning of our trip, but I’m just losing energy to put up with the rough stuff. So I’ll be the first to admit I was a Debbie Downer at some point every day in Mawlamyine.

Typical scene at our guesthouse: waiting out the rain.


Buuuut, I wasn’t always grumpy. During our five days in Mawlamyine, we fell in love with the smiling faces in the market, visited the nearly 600-foot-long Reclining Buddha (the longest in the world), settled atop a wonderful viewpoint for hours and had a really amazing volunteer experience. (More on that in the next post.) It was our favorite place in Myanmar for so many reasons.

The temples, green views and overall spirituality.


Temple in the distance.


I love the melange of religions and cultures in Myanmar. Many times, we’d simeltaneously hear Buddhist chants and the Islamic call to prayer.


The market.


I know she looks mad, but right before Eaman snapped this photo, this woman was hugging me and kissing me on the cheek. I have no idea what she was saying (in Burmese), but I’m sure it was lovely.


The Reclining Buddha.


The government is building ANOTHER, bigger Buddha where you see the dirt mound below. Forget about the decrepitly poor people of your country. Build another Buddha! Ugh.


Donating a tile to be placed on the Buddha.


Our driver who took us to the Buddha, which is located 45 minutes from the city.


That one cafe.

Leave it to Eaman and me to find the one cafe in town. It looked like Chuck E Cheese, but for us, it was juust fine.


Naturally, Burmese soap operas served as background noise.

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