Note: All day in Mawlamyine and still not taking a lot of photos – there will be more, once I start heading north. I hope you are enjoying the series so far!
We left off last time with me standing alone, in the rain, somewhere on the outskirts of Mawlamyine. I must have made for a rather pitiful sight because it was not long until a guy on a scooter stopped and asked where I wanted to go. I said I don’t know.
He suggested a random place of accommodation and offered to take me there, and I gratefully agreed. So, I jumped on his scooter and we were off to adventure!
By pure chance, it turned out that the random place he took me to was the same place I had booked in advance before leaving Thailand. It had a nice location right by the impressive Thanlyin River.
I was a day late for my reservation, but the guys hanging out at the entry area did not mind and a nice elderly person, presumably the owner, checked me in anyway.
Although the cheapness of the room was reflected in the ambiance – hospital blue with an undertone of mold – I didn’t mind, dropped off my luggage and decided to head in a random direction to find some food and a SIM card. Fortunately, the rain had stopped.
After eating at a sub-par Thai place, another guy on a scooter stopped next to me, introduced himself as a tourist guide and asked if I wanted him to tour me around the place. I said that I didn’t have a lot of money on me and still needed a SIM card.
He said no problem and that we could stop at a store for me to buy one, so I agreed. Second random encounter, second trip on a scooter.
Little did I know that when he said he would show me around the place, he was 100% serious. What followed was a tour-de-force of the entire area. First, we drove past a crowded market, crossed Thanlwin Bridge (admiring lovely views of the golden pagoda-tips all around) and stopped at an abandoned, World War II train station.
There we happened upon an Australian lady, who was also taking a scooter tour of the area, and who told me that she was retracing the steps her father had taken during the war. This station, she said, had been used by the Japanese, and her father used to fly bombing raids on it.
Next, we went back across the river and drove through the city itself. Much of the local infrastructure still hails from Burma’s time as a British colony, with schools, churches and hospitals that would fit right into 19th-century London.
I also spotted a tiny United Nations sign in one of the roads (I think it was WHO). Having worked with the UN in the past I was curious and asked my guide to stop. To my surprise they not only let me in, but the head of the mission had a 30-minute conversation with me about the health risks faced by Burmese workers in Thailand.
Afterwards, we drove to Mawlamyine University (huge) and had snacks on a street full of student food stalls (with tea, it is custom to have a big thermos of it on every table). My guide then suggested we visit a “nearby” meditation center.
“Nearby” turned out to be 30 minutes by scooter. But it was worth it. Pa-Auk is also huge, free to attend and full of monks from all over the world. Most monks were in meditation, protected by super practical mobile mosquito nets.
We spent some time talking to one of the meditation teachers, who was keen to emphasize that Buddha did not need a mosquito net to attain enlightenment and basically told me to stop worrying so much. Still, once the mosquitoes started feasting on us, we excused ourselves and headed back to Mawlamyine.
Once there, the driver suggested visiting more places, but since I hadn’t slept since leaving Thailand the previous day I had to decline – despite his visible disappointment. I gave him all the money in my wallet, which seemed to be acceptable, and then realized how hungry I was.
It was dark and the streets were almost empty at this point, so what followed was a desperate hunt for an ATM, since I had just given away all my money. I owed success to a man emerging from a mosque, who did not speak English but promptly called his son, who did. He pointed me in the right direction and it was nice to see the proud face of the father, seeing his son’s English skills in action.
I found one out-of-order ATM, then a functioning one, and was then overcome with gratitude at one of my two cards working after the other one got declined. Some money now in-hand, I entered the first food-looking place I saw, wolfed down some noodles and b-lined it back to my accommodation. Fatigue was really getting the better of me.
Before falling asleep, I remembered something the Australian lady had said: “Take the train to Yangon, it’s a great experience.” Plans for the next day thus made, I drifted off into sleep, thinking about the mad day I had just experienced.