Now the fourth largest city of Myanmar, Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein) was the first capital of British colonial Burma as well as the sultry coastal town that inspired two of the empire's greatest bards — Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell. Sprawling along the east bank of the Thanlwin (Salween) River just upstream from the Gulf of Mottama, the port city is slowly modernizing and still has remnants of a bygone era.
What We Love
Night Market: The waterfront market is a great place to sip a cold Myanmar Beer, watch sunset over the river, and observe the swirl of local life both on and off the water. Adventurous diners might want to try the moehingga (rice noodles in seafood broth).
Colonial Architecture: Capital of British Burma from 1826 to 1852, Mawlamyine is spangled with classic examples of Victorian architecture, from St Matthew and St Augustine churches to the old prison (still active) and No. 9 Basic Education High School.
Best Known For
Kyaik Than Lan: The "old Moulmein Pagoda" of Kipling's epic Road to Mandalay, the gold-covered temple crowns a hilltop overlooking the city and river. Originally erected in 875 AD, the shrine includes more than 30 small temples arrayed around the central golden stupa.
The Death Railway: The eastern end of the World War II railroad made famous by The Bridge Over the River Kwai is around an hour south of Mawlamyine in the rural town of Thanbyuzayat. In addition to a new museum, there's a well-kept cemetery with the graves of more than 3,700 Allied troops who perished building the line.
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Who It's Best For
Buddha Buffs: In addition to Kipling's fabled pagoda, Mawlamyine is home to numerous other pagodas and monasteries. Half an hour's drive south of the city via the Mudon Road lies the world's largest reclining Buddha (520-foot-long Win Sein Taw Ra) as well as a cluster of golden stupas atop of lofty limestone outcrop called the Kyauktalon Taung.
Armchair Historians: Between its long British colonial heritage and notorious role in World War II, Mawlamyine offers plenty of the past to dredge up and examine in detail.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Litter is a problem: Although Myanmar is quickly growing more environmentally aware, litter is still pervasive in both the waterways and streets of Mawlamyine.
And so is silt: Decades of neglect mean the Thanlwin River adjacent to central Mawlamyine is too shallow for cruise ships to dock. Ships drop anchor about 20 minutes downstream below the new highway bridge.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.