If you are staying in Mawlamyine and get up early, you can have a fruitful visit by driving south to to various locations near the city and then return to explore the the sites of old Moulmein itself.
After the first Anglo Burmese War the British took the territory of Tenessarim and the Arakan, which were put under the direct rule of British India as provinces, and the capital became Moulmein ( Mawlamyine) .
There are many old buildings, if you know where to look. Burma is changing fast and even this former back-water is humming with energy.
Our target is the old town of Amherst (Kyakkami), a journey which will take just over an hour.
Heading south you will pass Kyauk Tta Lone Taung, the two extinct volcano cores on either side of the road.
Rubber estates and the constant building of new Buddha statues. This one is near the largest recumbent Buddha in the world near the town of Mudon .
When you reach Thanbyzuayat you will see opposite the Commonwealth War Cemetery, the Myanmar Martyrs Memorial, built in 1952, with the motto Respect the Law, Love the Country, Protect the Country written on the pillar. In many towns these pillars were erected in memory of General Aung San and his colleagues who were assassinated in 1947. The recent military administration tried (unsuccessfully) to stop the hero worship of these martyrs, especially as the leading martyr’s daughter leads the opposition to the military government
Amherst ( Kyaikkami)
Heading west you will come to the small town of Kyaikkami, formally called Amherst, and initially the capital of the British when they took this area after the Anglo Burmese War of 1824-1826. It was originally a Mon fishing village and became a popluar residential area for British army officers. Today it has a rather unremarkable beach but also the famous the Kyaikkami Yele Paya built on the rocky outcrop of a reef projecting out to sea
The Judsons and their baptist mission
A little visited site is the Judson Baptist Church and the grave of Ann Hasseltine Juson (December 22, 1789 – October 24, 1826). The grave was originally on the banks of the Salween, but moved here once the church was established. She was a missionary together with her husband Adoniram Judson. These Americans arrived in Burma in 1813 and to the initial annoyance of the Burmese king started trying to convert his people in this still very Buddhist country. They had little success, but a printing press arrived in Yangon with which they printed bibles and Adoniram authored the a Burmese- English dictionary ( still used today).
In 1824 he was arrested as a possible spy for the British (because he spoke English!) with whom the Burmese were now at war. Adinoram was imprisoned in dreadful conditions for 17 months near Amarapura, the Burimese capital. At the end of the war he was released an then worked as the translator for the Burmese during the peace negotiations.
Ann had worked tirelessly to visit him during this time and the stress and sickness resulting left her weak and she contracted smallpox after the birth of her third child, and died in the same year the war ended 1826. The British won the possession of Tennerrasim , and this allowed Adoniram to build his church at Amherst, where Ann is now buried.
The church was destroyed by the Japanese in 1943 as the majority of the congregation (as today) were Karen and many fought alongside the British. Plans are made to re-erect a bigger structure on the site of the original structure.
Thanbyuzayat Commonwealth War Cemetery
Returning to Thanbyuzuyat ( meaning “Tin Hut”) one can visit the Commonwealth War Cemetery , the site of one of the many work camps along Death Railway.
The camp was established in 1942 as the Burmese base camp for the construction of the Death Railway, constructed simultaneously from here and Nong Pladuk in Thailand. After the completion of the 424 kilometre line in December 1943 the camp became a transfer point for prisoners and those maintaining the marshaling yards.It was bombed in 1943 as it was near the railway line.
Near the centre of the town is a plinthed Japanese steam engine ( presented after the war) near to the existing north south railway line.
At the end of the war the camp cemeteries between Mawlamyine and Neike in Thailand were exhumed and the remains found ( 3,149 Commonwealth and 621 Netherland’s servicemen) reburied here. American deceased were repatriated. The dead include those of the real “Bridge on the River Kwai” camps at Songkurai near the Three Pagoda’s Pass. Full records are kept of the location of the deceased, but you have to find the cartaker near his residence by the side entrance to the cemetery, as the main entrance is often locked. Visitors are invited to sign the visitors book
Near the summit are fine views of the town, looking north towards “China ‘cross the bay”. Actually it is still Burma
Around Kipling’s Pagoda
The pagoda can be accessed by elevators, unlike in Kipling’s day. There are legends linking it to various relics. The bell is dated 1527, the earliest date connected with the temple, and was donated by a self proclaimed Mon King Singasura. Amongst the many surrounding temples is the Queen Sei-don’s monastery. Dating from the 1890’s it was donated by Daw Shwe Pwint as a residence for the Queen, a minor but beloved wife of King Mindon, who became a nun after fleeing imprisonment Mandalay upon the monarch’s death.
Nearby is the tomb of the fourth daughter of the exiled King Thibaw, who was allowed to return to Burma after her father’s death in India in 1916. She died in 1936. The grave is also the last resting place of her grandchildren Terrance and Margaret.
The town has some imposing buildings including the sadly decaying St. Augustin’s Church and the main Sunni mosque at the end of Strand Road.
British retreat in 1942
The ferries still use the same landings used by the evacuating British. This was Post Office quay, near to the final British headquarters during the battle for the town Many troops crossed directly west over the Thanlwin (Salween) River.
From Strand Road you can see the imposing bridge stretching over the Salween, the location of the Japanese when they attacked the town from the north in 1942.
The new bridge is approached by road and rail viaducts and at 11,000 feet long is Myanmar’s longest. Time to head north for more sites to see.