Mawlaymine's location, between the Thanlwin River and green stupa-topped hills, is simply delightful. But the biggest attraction is its wealth of colonial buildings, some restored, some in a picturesque state of disrepair. There are churches and cathedrals, and even a mosque built for Muslim officers of the British Raj, as well as grandiose mansions and ancient shophouses.
If Yangon's booming economy and honking traffic left you frazzled, sleepy Mawlaymine is the place to go to relax.
Visit the hilltop Kyaikthanlan Paya at sunset for views over the City, when the flaming sky is reflected in the river. Nearby Mahamuni Paya glitters with mirrors and stained glass. A trip out to 'shampoo island', Gaung se Kyun, takes just a short boat ride. It's a peaceful wooded isle with a little Buddhist temple and a discreet charm all its own. If you're mystified by its nickname, it comes from a royal hair-washing ceremony which was performed on the island.
Coconut palms shelter the rice paddies of Bilu Kyun, a much larger island where village life goes on much as it has for centuries. Plantations and orchards provide succulent fruit in season, white sap oozes from rubber trees, and workshops make bamboo hats and coconut fibre doormats. Locals are friendly, particularly if there's a celebration going on at one of the pagodas. Motorbiking around the dusty roads of the island makes for a satisfying day, especially if you can cool off in one of the hidden waterfalls.
On a rocky crag in the middle of the plains south of Mawlamyine you'll find Kyauktalon Taung temple. Stunning gilded zedis top the dark, dramatic peak, with a twin Hindu temple on a smaller, nearby outcrop. It's a sharp climb, but soon finished, and the reward comes in the form of tremendous views.
Win Sein Taw Ya, 20 km south of Mawlaymine, has a monster Buddha - 170 metres long. But the reclining Buddha is only the most notable of hundreds of sculptures of Buddhas and monks, and the whole area is scattered with stupas. Take a few hours to explore the lake, hills, and woods. You can't get lost, as the great Buddha is visible from just about everywhere!
Take the road east from Mawlaymine through rice fields to Kyaikmaraw Paya, a dainty temple packed full of Buddhas with porcelain-white faces. The Kha-Yon caves, to the north-east of Mawlaymine, provide a gloomier and more hidden experience, with stupas and Buddhas hidden in the darkness - take a torch!