Maps can inspire false impressions. In cities, for instance, they reveal the avenues and boulevards and winding streets; the parklands and rivers; the cafes and restaurants, museums and temples. But they don’t portray the imperfections: the rubbish, the smells, the noise, the potholed roads or lumpy footpaths or the chaotic traffic, or the heat and humidity …or the poverty.

Then travellers are guilty of doing likewise with our photographs, filtering out blemishes and presenting an ideal while capturing icons and exotic scenes.

Mawlamyine, in Southern Myanmar, isn’t particularly busy, noisy or smelly compared to other metropolises, but it does possess its share of grit and grime and unsightly rubbish marring what could be, otherwise, an attractive river and seaside setting back-dropped by a pagoda-lined ridge.

But through all that, like Yangon and Mandalay, it’s potential and beauty can be seen. One day, come funds and governmental priority…

Turning my back on the riverside debris to walk Phettan Road that passes the main temples, the highlight became Kyaik Than Lan Paya, made famous by Rudyard Kippling. His poem was called Mandalay, even though Kipling never visited that city – he was presenting his own idealised view of ‘Burma’ based on a three day itinerary.

Outside of town, Pa Auk, a monastery meditation retreat popular with locals and foreigners was an oasis of calm and cleanliness.

There’s yet another Buddha theme park, but Mawlamyine’s pales in comparison to the one in Ye. Their giant reclining Buddha remains incomplete yet they’ve started work on a second.

Mawlamyine locals are friendly enough, but mostly well-used to foreigners by now. The No. 1 market is lively in the afternoon. A bridge to Bilu Island has essentially made the boat excursions, once favoured by travellers, redundant.

As I continued my tour of Southern Myanmar I was seeing more of the imperfections in the absence of the attractions and experiences found further north during previous visits to the country.

Dawei and Ye are worth a visit, as is Kawthaung at the very southern tip (though, it can be sought as a stand-alone trip and doesn’t require a visa).

However, the best was yet to come – Hpa An!

But until then, here are some Mawlamyine memories: minus the grime (well, perhaps I’ll throw in one unsightly pic).

“An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

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