En route to Mawlamyine, I visited some of the caves scattered around Hpa An, starting with the Kawgun and Yathaypyan caves. Located within a mile of each other, the walls and ceilings of these caves are plastered with intricate clay carvings created during the 7th century. Both caves are Buddhist sanctuaries, with the Kawgan Cave featuring a vast collection of Buddha images, and the Yathaypyan Cave containing several pagodas. The clay carvings distinguish these caves from the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave that I saw in Pindaya, making these caves a worthwhile visit for me.
I arrived at the Saddan Cave later in the morning. The entrance of the Saddan Cave contains the usual pagodas and Buddha images, but also has a deep, dark chamber to explore. As I walked through the enormous chamber, my flashlight illuminated stalagmites, stalactites, sparkling crystal walls, and thousands of squealing bats clinging to the ceiling. After 15 minutes of walking on the slippery mud floor, I emerged from the other side of the chamber and was greeted by a scenic lake with colorful boats on shore. I hired a boat and was paddled across the peak-lined lake and flooded fields, my journey ending back at the cave entrance. The Saddan Cave is my favorite cave in Myanmar, because it combines Buddhist artwork, spelunking, and a boat ride.
I arrived in Mawlamyine (Moulmein) in the late afternoon. Rudyard Kipling penned his famous poem “Mandalay” in 1890 after visiting Mawlamyine:
BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
The “Moulmein Pagoda” cited in the poem is likely Kyaikthanian Paya, although Kipling said that he remembered little about the pagoda because he was more interested in a Burmese girl at the foot of the stairs. Kyaikthanian Paya was the first place that I visited in Mawlamyine, but unfortunately there wasn’t a Burmese girl at the foot of the stairs when I arrived–I had to be content with the view from the city’s tallest stupa.
While walking by Mawlamyine’s crumbling colonial-era buildings, I wondered what life was like in Moulmein when it was the capital of British Burma. My Lonely Planet guidebook says that life hasn’t changed much since the British Raj, so maybe today’s Mawlamyine isn’t too different than Orwell and Kipling’s Moulmein–I like to think so.
I concluded my day in Mawlamyine at the night market on Strand Road. While drinking Myanmar Beer and eating BBQ street food, I watched the sunset over the Thanlwin River. I was happy to be “East of Suez”.
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;