Coast, Caves and Island Treasures—Destination Guide to Myanmar’s Deep South
By Marie Starr 19 March 2019
Kawthoung is the city located at the southernmost tip of Myanmar and a quick boat across the water from Thailand’s Ranong. It bustles with trade and tourism and crowds come from Thailand and beyond every day to get a taste of the nearby Myeik Archipelago. The leafy park above the coast road at Victoria Point features a giant statue of King Bayintnaung wielding his sword towards Thailand. This is also a great spot for views across the busy harbor below.
Touted as one of the world’s last untouched island paradises, the 800 islands of Myeik were largely cut off to the public until just a few years ago. With development plans in the works for some of the islands, now is the time to take a multi-day cruise through the more remote parts of the archipelago and bask in the tranquility of deserted white-sand beaches and dense virgin jungle. The archipelago is said to have some of the best dive sites in the world and you may spot a family of the sea nomad ethnic group, the Moken (called Salone in Burmese).
The city of Myeik has been an important port city for centuries, with sea traders from across the globe docking in the harbor. The main streets have well-preserved European and oriental architecture and several mighty mansions built by wealthy traders are still in use. The fish processing part of town is interesting and worth a visit if you can hack the smell, while the bustling and colorful ship-building yard is a must-see.
The draw to Dawei usually leads travelers beyond the city to the beaches at Maungmagan and further along the coast. Maungmagan has wooden beach hut restaurants where you can order coconut water and delicious seafood. Walking south along the beach brings you to a picturesque fishing village while a motorbike trip north leads to deserted, pristine white sand beaches, like Nabule which is studded with dramatic boulders.
The sleepy, peaceful Mawlamyine located at the mouth of Thanlwin River is actually Myanmar’s fourth largest city. There are a number of beautiful pagodas to visit, like Mahamyatmuni Pagoda which has a great view across the town and down to the river. You can go back in time visiting colonial-era churches and other well-preserved architecture or see a local craft workshop on Bilu (Ogre) Island across the river. A short trip outside Mawlamyine lies Win Sein Taw Ya, said to be the longest reclining Buddha image in the world, which you can actually walk inside and see a series of life-size scenes from the Buddha’s life.
The wonders of Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, lie outside the town among the craggy limestone outcrops inside which you’ll find caves both small and mighty. The huge Saddang Cave has religious monuments to the front and beautiful mineral formations to the back. Other good caves to visit include Kawkathaung and Kawgoon caves and at sunset, you can watch millions of bats swarm out of the “Bat Cave” by the river. Mount Papu is an easy trek while Mount Zwekabin (732 meters) is much more challenging yet rewarding with fantastic views from the pagoda at the top.
The famous gold leaf-covered rock with stupa on top teeters seemingly impossibly on the edge of a rocky mountain and is one of the most religiously important sites in Myanmar making it the destination for hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims every year. You can take a truck to the drop-off point a 45-minute walk from the rock itself, or choose to walk the pilgrim route from the base which takes around six hours. Back in Kin Pun, the base town serving visitors to Golden Rock, the beautiful Saung Hlaing Gyi waterfall is just a taxi or motorbike drive away and has a great swimming area and waterside shops where you can sit in the shade and order drinks and snacks.