MON STATE AND MAWLAMYINE
MON STATE is an administrative division of Myanmar sandwiched between Kayin State on the east, the Andaman Sea on the west, Bago Region on the north and Tanintharyi Region on the south. It has a short border with Thailand's Kanchanaburi Province at its southeastern tip. It covers 12,155 square kilometers. The Dawna Range, running along the eastern side of the state in a NNW - SSE direction forms a natural border with Kayin State. Mon State includes some small islands, such as Kalegauk, Wa Kyun and Kyungyi Island, along its 566 km of coastline. The state's capital is Mawlamyaing. Population (2002): 2,672,000 with a density of 220 people per square kilometer. Ethnicities: Mon, Bamar, Anglo-Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Rakhine, Shan, and Burmese-Thai.
Mawlamyine (Moulmein) is the capital of Mon State and the third largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and Mandalay, with a population of about 240,000. Mawlamyine is an ancient Mon town. The name according to the legend comes from Mot-Mua-Lum. meaning "one eye destroyed" . In this legend an ancient king had three eyes—the third eye in the center of the fore-head having the power of seeing what was going on in surrounding kingdoms. The King of a neighbouring country gave his daughter in marriage to the three-eyed king, ans she was eventually able to destroy the all-seeing third eye. Mawlamyine is now being transformed into a modern city with many new public and private buildings coming up. Only the old pagodas on the Mawlamyine Ridge remind us of the city’s ancient origins.
Mawlamyine can be reached by road, rail or plane. As Myanmar Airways flies to Mawlamyine only on Thursdays and Sundays, it is more convenient to go by car, bus or railway. There are at present three trains from Yangon to Mottama (or Martaban), the terminus across the Than Lwin (Salween) River from Mawlamyine. The trains leave Yangon at 3:00am. 4:00a.m. and 8:00a.m daily, and take about seven hours to reach Mottama. It is a pleasant half an hour's river crossing by passenger or car ferry from Mottama to Mawlamyine. The ferry goes in a southeast direction across the wide expanse of the Than Lwin River near its mouth. As you cross. you can see Bilu Gyun (Ogre Island) in the west.
PAGODAS IN MAWLAMYINE
Three famous pagodas adorn the Mawlamyine Ridge. The Kyaik-thanlan pagoda was erected in A.D. 875 during the reign of King Mutpi Raja. A hair relic of the Buddha, Tripitaka manuscripts and gold images of the Buddha were enshrined in the pagoda. Successive kings raised the pagoda higher: from 56 feet to the present 150 feet. The present base of the pagoda is 450 feet in circumference. There are 34 small pagodas called Zediyan surrounding the pagoda. A lift has now been installed for easy access. Kyaik in Mon language means a Cedi or Stupa. The pagoda was repaired by King Anawrahta. founder of the Pagan Dynasty. and later enlarged by Mon kings. especially King Wagaru of Mottama in 1538 A.D. On the Platform can be seen a big bell with a medieval Mon inscription and also another bell with a quaint inscription in English. dated 30th March 1885: " This bell made by Koonalenga. the priest. and weight 500 viss. No one body design to destroy this bell." There is also a memorial to the famous Thingaza Sayadaw who passed away in Mawlamyine in 1900. Kyaik-than-lan was the pagoda that the famous English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem "Mandalay" which opens with the line: “By the old Moulmein Pagoda. lookin lazy at the sea".
U Zina Pagoda is named after a person called U Zina, but no one really knows who he was. Some say that U Zina was a sage who lived at thc time of King Asoka. Others say U Zina was just a villager, who while collecting shoots on the hill where the pagoda now stands, found a pot of gold buried in a bamboo grove. The villager and his wife became rich and built this pagoda on the hill which gave up its treasure to them. The old Mon name for this pagoda is Kyaikpatan. named after thc white hill on which it stands. Legend says it was first built in the 3rd century B.C.
There is a record that Uugalay and his wife Daw Mi rebuilt the pagoda in 1832. They were buried near a water tank to the north of this pagoda. Soon after the annexation in 1886 the pagoda was rebuilt by U Moe and his wife Daw Nyein to the present height of 112 feet. Their stone inscription can still be seen on the platform. There is a reclining Buddha Image. Visitors can also see the four life-like figures: a decrepit old man leaning on a staff; a man suffering from a loathsome disease; a putrid corpse; and finally a monk in yellow robes free from all worldly cares. These four figures represent the four signs that made Lord Buddha leave the palace for the life of a religious recluse.
Mahamuni Pagoda houses a replica of the Maha Muni Image at Mandalay. The Seindon Mibaya-gyi, a prominent Queen of King Mindon from Mandalay, went to live Mawlamyine after the annexation. She and other members of the Myanmar Royal Family who were in Mawlamyine. felt a great longing to pay homage to the Maha Muni Image, and they arranged for a replica to be made in 1904. The building of this Pagoda was led by Sayadaw Waziya-yama, a prominent Buddhist monk, and Daw Shwe Bwin of Mawlamyine. The great image made in Mandalay was brought to Naga-with a Hill on the Mawlamyine Ridge, where a large building, the Gandakudi Taik, was erected to house it. The nearby monastery named after its donor, the Seindon Mibaya kyaung, has some excellent wood-carvings which are over a hundred years old.
PLACES NEAR MAWLAMYINE
Mudon (29 kilometers south of Mawlamyine) is home to the world's largest reclining Buddha. Constructed at Win Sein Taw Ya Forest, the Buddha is named Zinathuka Yan Aung Chantha. It has a length of 400 feet (180 meters) and a height of 110 feet (nearly 34 meters). The Buddha is eight stories tall and large enough to hold 182 rooms. Near the image are 200 standing monks collecting alms
Thanbyuzayat (30 kilometers south of Mawlamyine) was the western terminus of the infamous Burma-Siam Railway, dubbed the ”death railway”, in World War II. Thousands of Allied prisoners of war— and tens of thousands of Asians—died after being forced by the Japanese military to build it. See Thailand.
A kilometer west of the clock tower in the direction of Kyaikkami lies the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, which contains 3,771 graves of Allied prisoners of war who died building the railway. Most of those buried were British, but there are also markers for American, Dutch and Australian soldiers. Other places connected to World War II include Japanese-built temples and a small museum with a locomotive. which marks the beginning of the "death railway." Two miles outside the town is the ancient city of Waguru (13th century). The walls are still plainly visible and the view from the hilltop is wonderful. Thanbyuzayat means “tin shelter.”
Setse Beach (24 kilometers south of Kyaikkami and 16 kilometers southwest of Thanbyuzayut in Mon State) is a very wide, brown-sand beach that tends toward tidal flats when the shallow surf-line recedes at low tide. The beach is lined by waving casuarinas trees. Vendors sell fresh young coconuts full of juice and restaurants serve seafood.
THATON (100 kilometers north of Mawlamyine) was the seat of an ancient Mon kingdom also known as Suvannabhumi or the Golden Land, which extended from the Bay of Bengal to the region between the Sittaung and Salween(Thanlwin) rivers, which was known as the Mon kingdom of Ramanyadesa. Ancient Thaton was a flourishing port that traded with Southern India and Pegu. The old city of Thaton appears to have built on a quadrangular plan like the more modern cities of Amarapura and Mandalay. There are two ramparts in a rectangular shape and the moat lies between the two walls. which are faced with laterite stones. As the present town is developed within the old city the remains of the inner city are no longer visible. The chief pagodas were situated between the palace site and the south wall. Silting has resulted in the coastline moving 16 kilometers away from Thaton, which is now a sleepy town on the rail line from Bago to Mottama.
Shwezayan Pagoda (in Thaton) is often called Thaton Shwezayan to differentiate it from another Shwezayan between Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin. The pagoda as it stands today has a height of 360 feet (110 meters) from base to the finial and by its configuration seems to be quite modern. A number of stone inscriptions, of which five display Old Mon writing, attest to its antiquity. The festival for this Pagoda is held on the 8th waxing day of the month of Dabaung which roughly corresponds to March.
The Shwezayan pagoda is said to have been built in the 5th century B.C. It has been built over and has now assumed a modern shape with a circular base and a bell-shaped superstructure. Within the precincts of the Shwezayan pagoda were found seven inscribed stones: five in early Mon of the 11th century, one medieval and the seventh illegible. Among the stone sculptures collected in the same building is a figure of standing Buddha depicted in relief on a sandstone slab.
Kyaikhtee Saung Pagoda (in Thaton) is an ancient laterite stone pagoda. It is the one of earliest hair relic pagodas in Mon State. Kyaikhtee Saung Pagoda is located on the Laterite Stone hillock, which has been formed by laying the laterite stones on top of one another forming a big square that has gradually shrunk, keeping the form of square but gradually getting smaller until it reaches the top platform. In 1971 a monk named U Pyinnyadipa (the abbot of Kyaikhtee Saung Sayadaw monastery) was visiting his native village, Zoke Thoke, and found the old pagoda under some bushes. He organized his disciples and villagers to clear the bushes. Then he rebuilt and renovated the old pagoda and old laterite hillock. Now, the Kyaikhtee Saung Golden Pagoda is surrounded by the new religious buildings.
NAYPYITAW: THE NEW MYANMAR CAPITAL
NAYPYITAW (391 kilometers from Yangon and 302 kilometers from Mandalay) is the administrative capital of Myanmar. Yangon (Rangoon) is the economic capital and former administrative capital. The environs of Naypyitaw comprise townships viz: Zeyar Thiri, Pohbba Thiri, Uttara Thiri, Zabu Thiri, Dekina Thiri, Pyinmana, Lewe and Tatkone Townships.
Naypyidaw (Nay Pyi Taw) means "Abode of Kings.” It is located about 20 miles west of the existing town of Pyinmana in a region with one of the country's highest rates of malaria. A hydroelectric dam was built to supply electricity for the new capital while ethnic minorities viewed as threat were forced to relocate from the city’s hinterlands.
During it history the capital of Burma-Myanmar has changed location around a dozen times, with stints in Pagan, Mandalay and Pegu. Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, “ The port of Rangoon had been Burma’s capital since the British conquest of the country in 1885, and remains its greatest city – a seething stew of extreme poverty, lively commerce and rich culture. So it came as a surprise in 2005 when the junta announced the new capital and the relocation of all government functions. Over months, long convoys made the 10-hour journey to Naypyidaw, carrying entire government departments and their civil servants. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 16, 2007]
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, Naypyidaw “was carved out of the jungle five hours north of Rangoon, along the nation’s only eight-lane expressway. It is a sprawling, low-density metropolis with wide, empty boulevards, grandiose state architecture, and golf courses where regime insiders cut deals in the tropical heat. One Western diplomat who visits there frequently told me, “You can’t imagine what a diversion of resources it represents, and it’s still growing.” Construction began discreetly in 2002. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]
Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “If you come to Nay Pyi Taw looking for clues about Myanmar's leadership, the first thing you'll find is an unsettling void: smooth ten-lane roads with manicured roundabouts but scarcely any vehicles, clusters of color-coded government housing complexes with no children in sight, a copy of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda with not a single Buddhist monk chanting prayers. It all feels like an abandoned movie set until you drive toward the military zone, an off-limits area where Than Shwe keeps his home and secretive high command. There, beyond the rumbling army trucks and the vast parade ground, stand the symbols of the regime: massive statues of Myanmar's three most revered ancient kings. [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 **]
“Welcome to the Abode of Kings, Myanmar's capital as of 2005, a strange utopia built on fear and hubris. A former mailman who honed his skills in the army's psychological-warfare department, Than Shwe self-consciously assumed the mantle of Myanmar's ancient monarchs—to the point where supplicants reportedly must use a royal form of Burmese to address him and his wife. Myanmar's kings had a penchant for building new capitals as legacies of their rule, from the pagodas at Pagan to the royal palace in Mandalay. Now there's Nay Pyi Taw. **
“The new capital may feel soulless, but for rulers distrustful of their own people, it could be a masterpiece of defensive urban planning. Worried about an imminent attack in Yangon, Than Shwe poured several billion dollars into building the city on scrubland in central Myanmar, safe from killer storms, foreign invasion, and domestic protests. In design, Nay Pyi Taw is not really a city but a series of isolated zones dispersed over an area larger than Rhode Island. Government ministries, once clustered in crowded Yangon, are laid out at wide intervals, accessible only by heavily patrolled roads. The military zone is a bubble within a bubble, forbidden to all but top officers—and reportedly honeycombed with underground bunkers. **
Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times: “Even before you have arrive in Naypyidaw, it is obvious the world’s newest capital is a place like no other in Burma. It is not just the isolation, in a jungle 320km from the sea; it’s not just the active discouragement of foreigners, which is circumvented easily enough. It is the road leading into it. Ten lanes wide, cut flat and straight through hills and forests, it is the grandest and fastest stretch of road in a country where potholed tracks qualify as major highways. Occasionally, a cement lorry or a rickety open-backed minibus drives past. But otherwise, the traffic consists of sputtering motorbikes, horse-drawn carts and lines of women carrying baskets on their heads. The grandiose public buildings and shopping centers, like the broad roads, are meant as a model of the advanced Asian city, but many of them stand empty and unused. Unknown millions have been lavished on the new capital’s construction, in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 16, 2007]
The new capital is near Pyinmana, a trading town on a highway between Yangon and Mandalay. It is situated among mountains and dense forests. Malaria is said to rife in the area, Yangon is located on a naviagable river near the sea. Naoji Shibata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun in 2005, “Pyinmana has a population of about 30,000 and is an agricultural production center for sugar cane and bamboo shoots. It's also prone to malaria, full of poisonous snakes and generally a miserable backwater. Its inaccessible location is intended to protect the junta of Senior General Than Shwe, but many believe the Government’s increased isolation is hastening its downfall. [Source: Naoji Shibata, Asahi Shimbun, December 28, 2005]
Getting to Naypyitaw: Naypyitaw Airport is about 30 minutes from Naypyitaw. All domestic carriers operate daily flights from Naypyitaw to the commercial capital, Yangon, and the cultural capital Mandalay. There are flights via Naypyitaw to tourist destinations such as Pagan, Heho, Sittwe, Myitkyina, Kyaing Tong and others.
Naypyitaw Station is on the main Yangon-Mandalay rail line. It takes nine hours by train to get from Yangon to Naypyidaw. Naypyitaw Airport, located 10 miles southeast of the city, is served by all domestic airlines. Air Pagan, Air Mandalay, Myanma Airways and Yangon Airways, with regular flights to Yangon and other cities across the country. A new highway from Yangon to Naypyitaw has been opened recently and now the travelling time from Yangon to Naypyitaw is only about 4 hours drive.
CONSTRUCTING AND PAYING FOR NAYPYITAW
Anuj Chopra wrote in U.S. News & World Report, “Hacked out of a malarial jungle and declared the new capital in 2005, this inland fortress was built, by some accounts, at the instigation of a fortuneteller and with the sweat of tens of thousands of forced laborers. The occasional muffled sound of explosions suggests the regime is carving out hardened defensive positions in the nearby mountains, perhaps against feared foreign attacks. "Nay Pyi Taw is the junta's war bunker," says a political analyst in Yangon. "They know people resent them. They are running away from their own people. [Source: Anuj Chopra, U.S. News &World Report, October 12, 2007 ++]
“Nay Pyi Taw, not expected to be fully completed until 2012, is being built by a few Burmese business conglomerates that have ties to the military junta. One of them, Asia World, is believed to be in charge of more than 70 percent of the construction project. The sprawling personal residences of Than Shwe and Vice Senior Gen. Maung Aye were built by Asia World—run by former drug lord Lo Hsing Han. ++
To pay its bills, the Myanmar government can draw on the revenues from growing off-shore gas reserves, which provide billions of dollars from gas sold to energy-hungry nations such as India, China, and Thailand. Myanmar also has other rich natural resources, like timber, that help pay for building this new capital. "It's a complete waste of money," says an analyst in Yangon."Only a sliver of Myanmar's budget goes to healthcare, education." Chinese companies won contracts to install communication infrastructure, and the Chinese government helped build the hydroelectric power plant to run the city. Reasons Why Myanmar Created a New Capital
There has never been a satisfactory explanation as to why the capital was moved so far inland. The official explanation has been that it is centrally located, which will enable the government to improve its services. The government said that Myanmar needs a “command and control center” in a strategic location. Kyaw Hsan, the junta’s the information minister told the Washington Post that shifting the capital to the center of the country was designed to help develop Burma's outlying regions, where the government has been trying to ensure peace after years of insurgency by minority ethnic groups. "It's good for the future as regards management and administration of the country,"
Many believe the true reason is security. Some have speculated the junta feared a U.S. invasion. Others say Than Shwe, known to be superstitious, consulted an astrologer. Burmese leaders before him have relocated their seats of power several times. Some said it was built where it was so the junta could defend itself if attacked by the United States. Construction reportedly was stepped up after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. "After seeing how the U.S. attacked Iraq and Afghanistan from aircraft carriers at sea, the Myanmar government thought it would be safer to be further inland," one observer told the Asahi Shimbun.
Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times: The obvious question is: why? The most plausible explanation is that the generals are escaping from the increasingly clamorous people. Rangoon, after all, is a city of protest and opposition, of the democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains a threat to the junta even under house arrest. By removing the Civil Service, it can at last avoid a repeat of the 1988 uprising, when government workers took to the streets alongside students. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 16, 2007]
Naoji Shibata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun: “Yet another rumor is spreading that says SPDC Chairman Than Shwe was simply following the advice of astrologers. According to informed sources, an ancient document found several years ago during the restoration of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon contained an ancient prediction. "If the capital is moved to the central part of the country, Myanmar will prosper," the prophecy said. Chairman Than is thought to have been pleased with the message. [Source: Naoji Shibata, Asahi Shimbun, December 28, 2005]
Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “Few in Rangoon can fathom the motives for the abrupt move. Most observers and even some government officials say they suspect it was solely the brainchild of Gen. Than Shwe, the secretive head of Burma's ruling military junta. Some foreign diplomats and Burmese exiles attribute the move more to the regal presumptions of Than Shwe, 74, who has ruled for 13 years and may be seeking to build a legacy like Burmese kings of old. They noted he had already established a new military district to include Pyinmana and dubbed it Naypyidaw, or Royal City. Diplomats and exiles said the new location could also prove more defensible, with a vast military complex being built nearby, nestled against the mountains and, some say, housed partly in underground tunnels. The new location could also insulate the government from potential unrest generated by students and others suffering mounting hardships in the rest of the country, especially Rangoon. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, December 28, 2005]
PLACES IN NAYPYITAW
The City Hall is one of the prominent landmarks of Naypyitaw. It is where the Naypyitaw Development Committee established its headquarters. State occasions are held here, with the Myanmar National Anthem played by State Orchestra. The Myanmar International Convention center (MICC) covers 312, 000 square feet and is located on 16 acres of land within Zabuthiri Township, Naypyitaw. It was built by the People’s Republic of China and completed in March 2010. The MICC plenary hall that can accommodate 1900 people. The MICC building has listening rooms, holding rooms, meeting rooms, a VIP summit room, a news briefing room, a singing room and the 720-person Banquet Hall.
Ministries in Naypyitaw( Building Number and Name of Ministry): 1) Ministry of National Planning & Economic Development; 2) Ministry of Communication, Post & Telegraph; 3) Ministry of Economic & Trade; 4) Ministry of Health; 5) Ministry of Transport; 6) Ministry of Energy; 7) Ministry of Information; 8) Myanmar Police Force; 9) Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 10) Ministry of Home Affairs; 11) Ministry of Construction; 12) Ministry of Statistic; 13) Ministry of Education; 14) Ministry of Progress of Border Areas & National Races; 15) Ministry of Agriculture & Irrigation; 16) Ministry of Co-Operative; 18) Ministers Office; 19) Ministry of Mining; 20) Ministry of Defence; 21) Ministry of Science & Technology; 22) Ministry of Labour; 23) Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief & Resettlement, Immigration & Population; 24) Supreme Court; 25) Judges Office; 26) Ministry of Finance & Revenue; 27) Ministry of Electrical Power (2); 28) Ministry of Forestry; 29) Ministry of Railway Transport; 30) Ministry of Industry No (2); 31) Ministry of Religious Affairs, Sport; 32) Ministry of National Planning & Economic Development; 33) Ministry of Hotels & Tourism; 34) Ministry of Finance & Revenue; 35) Ministry of Culture; 36) Ministry of Livestock & Fisheries; 37) Ministry of Industry No (1); 38) Ministry of Electrical Power (1).
Uppatasanti Pagoda is 325 feet high and lends a certain dignity to Naypyitaw. The pagoda was consecrated in March 2009. In the pagoda precinct are impressive religious edifices such as Maha Hsutaungpyae Buddha Image in Maha Pasadabhumi Gandhakuti Chamber; four jade Buddha images in the cave of the pagoda; statues depicting the birth. enlightenment. the first discourse. and attaining Nirvana of the Lord Buddha; the 108 feet high flagstaff; Bo Tree Garden with Maha Bo Tree and the images of the 28 Buddhas; the garden of 108 Sacred Bo Trees; Marlini Mingala Lake with the chamber of Shin Uppagutta in it; Withongaraa Ordination Hall; Cetiyapala Chamber; Sangha Yama hostels; Sasana Maha Beikmandaw Building; museum; Pitakat Building and religious Archive. Ceremonies to confer religious titles on eminent monks and ceremonies to offer alms to members of the Sangha
Gem Museum (in Zabuthri Township, Naypyitaw) boats a large area upstairs decorated with large wall glasses and beautiful and wonderful decorations in modern designs. In the museum and precious jewels such aruby and sapphire. Quality jade lots and the largest pearl in Myanmar are on display. Normally it opens from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm except Monday and government holidays.
Water Fountain Garden features a steel structure arch-way. Also included in the garden are a main pond with three fountains inside and 11 small ponds with 13 different fountains inside. A 30 feet (9.1 meters) high clock tower, nine recreation centres, two small gardens, two stone gardens and ten feet wide buggy road and footpaths.
National Landmarks Garden (Thaik Chaung Road near Yezin Dam in Zayathiri Township) covers over 400 acres and honors Myanmar’s national races and their customs. The booths at the Garden reflect the cultural heritage of the national people and foster the Union Sprit. It features replicas of the famous pagodas, stupas, caves, river crossing bridges, mountains, lakes, water falls, beaches, and islands in Myanmar.
Zoological Garden (Naypyitaw Yezin) is situated on 1062 acres of land in Naypyitaw Yezin and opened in March 2008. A total of 39 species of mammals, 30 species of birds and 12 species of reptiles are displayed at 27 booths. Among them are the rare and endangered wildlife, penguins and white tigers. In March 2008, Associated Press, reported: “Myanmar's military junta opened a new zoo in the country's remote administrative capital, saying it hopes the facility will become a tourist attraction. The Zoological Garden in Naypyitaw features some 400 animals – including elephants, monkeys, birds, rhinos and tigers – transported from Myanmar's two other zoos in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. It also features white lions, which were a gift from neighboring China. [Source: Associated Press, March 26, 2008]
“The zoo could be a recreational place not only for locals but also for foreign tourists,” said Lt. Gen. Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, the junta's Secretary One, or fifth-ranking official, at the opening ceremony. Among the zoo's attractions are penguins, which are housed in an ice den built at a cost of more than $200,000. Most animals, however, are kept outside where temperatures can rise to 104 degrees. Critics have expressed concern that the 612-acre zoo lacks the infrastructure and lush vegetation that most of its animals need to survive.”
HPA-AN AND KAYIN STATE
KAYIN STATE is a predominately Karen area of Myanmar. The Myanmar government refers to the Karen as Kayin. Hpa-an is a capital of Kayin State. Recently removed from the restricted list of travel destinations, it is a small town but busy commerce center. Farmera come to town in horsecarts or trishaws stacked with baskets of foodstuffs mas to sell in the market. Most of people are Kayin.. It is possible to reach Hpaan by road from Yangon across a new bridge (Thanlwin) over the Thanlwin River.
Interesting Places in the Hpa-an area: Mt .Zwegabin is a hill with an unusual shape. Kawgun cave, near Kawgun, three kilometers from Hpa An, is a natural lime stone cave and measures 200 feet in height and 300 feet in length. The cave is decorated with diffent kinds of clay Buddha images and votive tablets. Some of the Buddha images date to the 15th century A.D. Hanthawaddy period. Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda (Theinseik Village, Thaton Township, Kayin State) is a 45-cubit-high pagoda with a 20-cubit-hugh Buddha image inside.
Thandaung (320 kilometers from Yangon) is the leading town in the northern section of Kayin State. A beautiful hill station at the center of an important tea, coffee and fruit producing region, it was developed as a hill resort in Victorian times by the British and is inhabited mainly by Bwe Kayin (Karen) people who are mostly Christians.
Thandaung means Iron Hill. It is much closer to Yangon than other hill stations in Myanmar. It can be reached by car or bus in a half day's journey. If visitors prefer using the railway, they can ride the train from Yangon to Taungoo in about six hours, and from Taungoo to Thandaung it is only 27 miles by car passing through lush virgin forests and by cascading mountain streams, climbing gradually to over 4,000 feet, to reach Thandaung.
Like many of the picturesque hill towns there is a romantic legend, a Kayin folktale connected to this place and the Dawparkho or Bwihikho mountain range which has its highest peak nearby, at 4,824 feet above sea level. The legend is about a courageous prince named Saw Thaw oh Khwa and a beautiful maiden called Naw Bu Baw (Saw is the honorific for men and Naw for women in the Kayin language. Naw Bu Baw was the daughter of the king of the sea and she came to these high hills to marry Saw Thaw oh Khwa. the son of King Kiku of these highlands. Naw Bu Baw possessed a magical silver comb which made her shine like the sun when she had it in her hair and made her invisible when she put it under her feet. She also had a magical cooking pot, which enabled her to cook a full pot of rice from only half a grain of rice. The Prince and the newly married Princess were very much in love with each other and roamed these lovely hills and mountains, streams and meadows together. But the Kayin people did not accept Naw Bu Baw as she came from far away and because of the powers she got from her magical comb they thought that she was a witch. One day the prince went to the eastern mountains to repulse invading enemies. The faithful wife gave him the magical comb to enable him to disappear when his enemies attacked. In spite of the courage and daring, and also the possession of the comb, the prince died in battle. The people of the region blamed Naw Bu Baw. Accusing her of being a sorceress, they took her to the highest peak of Dawparkho Range and imprisoned her in a rock cavern. Even today local people will show visitors where she was kept tied and locked. She was eventually eaten by evil spirits. The lives of Saw Thaw oh Khwa and Naw Bu Baw came to tragic ends but their spirits still wander hand-in-hand through the beautiful forests and misty mountains.
Soon after the end of the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, when Lower Myanmar was annexed, the British using imported Indian laborers first developed Thandaung as a hill station. In 1883 two years before the last Myanmar King in Mandalay was deposed, Thandaung for about a year became a military sanitorium for soldiers recovering from wounds and diseases. A cantonment area was also marked out. After only about a year this project was abandoned and the town became a civil station. Earlier a road had been built by the Public Works Department running 22 miles north-north-east of Taungoo to reach Thandaung.
Around 1911, in Thandaung there was a police station with 15 men, a small hotel, a circuit house and a district bungalow for visiting government officials, a post and telegraph office, and two European boarding schools with 64 pupils, of whom 23 were girls. There were also a number of private houses built in the colonial style. The population was only 219 persons then. The Taungoo District Gazetteer published in 1914 quaintly says that "There is a licensed shop for the retail vend of foreign spirit and foreign fermented liquor", probably meaning that whisky and wine were easily available there for visitors.
As the population was mainly Christian a number of churches were built. Visitors can still see an old Baptist Church called Zion Hill Church, and another Baptist Church and an Anglican Church on another hill. You can also visit an old Roman Catholic Church. On Dawparkho peak a prayer room in a building shaped like a ship, and a huge cross were built in April 1995. Since 1954 Thandaung has been part of Pha-an District of the Kayin State. In 1971 the population had risen to 51,000.
Thandaung was neglected for many years due to the insurrections and troubled times that erupted soon after Myanmar became Independent in 1948. Only in recent years after regaining peace and stability has Thandaung been developed as a hill resort for visitors. In visiting Thandaung, the best way is to take a car from Taungoo and drive up the 27 miles of undulating road. After crossing the Sittaung River you will first of all see Kayin and Bama villages with rich fields of rice and various market vegetables. Soon you will enter the lush tropical monsoon and deciduous forests of the Kayin State, where many precious teak, pyinkadoe, padauk, ingyin and other hardwood trees can be seen in abundance.
Thandaung is now divided into two towns, the original town on the hill now known as Thandaung Myo Haung (old town) and Thandaung Myo Thit (new town) which was developed at Pathi Chaung, beside the idyllic and charming Pathi mountain stream. The new town enlarged from the former Pathi-Chaung village is only about 13 miles from Taungoo and is a favourite picinic spot for the people of the plains. There are huge boulders at the side and among the rushing waters, and these rocks are favourite spots for taking photographs. The area of the new town is 177 acres. The population is still very sparse, and mainly engaged in taungya, shifting cultivation on the gentle slopes of the foothills. Around here and also on the hills you see bamboo mats and baskets and also other native utensils. The local people are good hunters and fishermen and if you are interested you can participate in their activities.
Thandaung Myo Thit (new town) became the township headquarters in 1959, as the old township headquarters at the old town on the hilltop was difficult to reach at the time. This new town is also known as New Thandaung. The original Thandaung Myo Haung or old town is reached after about an hour's drive going uphill through the winding slopes with lush, green tropical vegetation all around. There are breath-taking views from many places along the way. You will pass through some old Kayin villages, the largest of which is Bawgaligyi, which is especially famous for its sweet green-skin oranges.
The old town on the hilltop 4,050 feet above sea level is now officially known as Thandaungyi (meaning Great Thandaung). The town is quite small, only 1.57 sq-miles (1,007 acres) and you can easily walk around the whole area. The total population is only 3,766, but some new people are arriving. The Kayin people mainly Bwe' live there, but other Kayin races such as Sgaw, Paku, Moebwa, Palaychie and other Myanmar people.The town is divided into six wards and has 354 households. Gurkhas who were brought by the British and who now live around Thandaung, will warmly welcome visitors from far and wide.
The beauty of the town lies in its extensive views to be seen from all parts of this small attractive place. There are more hills and mountains to the north, east and south, while the Sittaung valley can be seen to the west with sweeping views right to the Bago Yoma hills beyond. Visitors who have been to Chiang Mai, the Doi Suthep mountain and Mae Sa valley to the west and north of the city will be able to visualize the type of scenery to be found around Thandaung as the two mountain ranges are in the same latitude, and are only about a hundred miles apart.
Around Thandaung, nature is entirely unspoilt; there are few people and all is green, the environment tranquil. Only the calls of the numerous birds and wild animals can be heard. The only man-made scenery around Thandaung really adds rather than detracts to her beauty. They are the pleasant groves of tea and coffee plantations on some of the slopes around Thandaung. There are 640 acres of tea plantations; the high altitude, the cool climate and abundant rainfall produce some of the best tea leaves of Southeast Asia. The coffee grown here too is one of the best in the region, although at present it is well known only within our country. Around Thandaung you can buy be bought huge delicious red or maroon bananas called Shwengapyaw or Golden Bananas. Many other tasty fruits and vegetables can also be obtained freshly and cheaply.
Visitors will appreciate the cool climate, with annual average temperatures of about 65 degrees F. The copious rainfall averages 225 inches annually. The winters are mild and like most areas in Myanmar the months from October to the end of February is the best time to visit Thandaung. Visitors to Myanmar during the heat of March to mid-May would feel pleasantly cool if they go to Thandaung. A new modern hotel is being built for visitors.
Myawaddy (in Kayin State across the border from Mae Sot, Thailand) is a border town between Myanmar and Thailand. It is connected to Mae Sot on the other side of the border. The border immigration between the two countries arranges for day-pass near the border. The Myawaddy market is full of all kinds of clothes, household goods, and vegetables. There is a pagoda in Myawaddy. See Mae Sot, Thailand
Lunnya Pagoda (in Indu Circle, Pa-an Township, Kayin State) was built by Arahant Marainda in 400 under the reign of King Thuwunna in Thaton (Thuwunna Bhumi). It is also called Tharaninga (Shwe Yaung Ya) Pagoda. The place has 55 pagodas. There is also a magic well believed to have some connections with the Lunnya Pagoda. The well is full no matter how much water is drawn from it; if women should go up to take a look, there would be unseasonal winds and the well would dry up eventually; only when some propitiation is made does the well rise again with water. The second point is that the well can grant wishes to bear child. And the third is its wish-granting for longevity for those bathing there.
Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014