When I hopped on the plane that would take me from Bangkok to Yangon I’d been traveling for over 9 months. I started to think I couldn’t be surprised anymore. A temple was just a temple now. Another jungle with monkeys I tried to avoid, since these animals always try to steal your stuff. And yet again another waterfall. Getting to Myanmar on this very moment was the best decision to make.
One of the first destinations in Myanmar was Mawlamyine. I didn’t know anything about this little town. I knew it had a train station and that made it a perfect stop for me, which was what I needed, so I decided to stay for a day or two.
I asked my motorbike-taxi-driver to put me off at some cheap guesthouse. He dropped me at Breeze. Mister Anthony, the owner of the guesthouse, came outside in his longyi to welcome me. I got myself a tiny room with a hard bed, the whole thing kind of resembled a cheap hut on a boat. It was cheap and clean, and the minute I came outside Mister Anthony started rambling about an enormous reclining Buddha nearby the town. I had never heard of this place. Mister Anthony claimed it is the biggest reclining Buddha in the world while he showed me pictures of it, and of course I had to go and check it out.
So the next morning an English guy, me and two motorbike-taxi’s started the journey. Halfway through me and my driver lost Luke the English guy and his driver. We didn’t have any helmets and other drivers coming from the other side warned us about a police check further down the road. So we joined hundreds of other people into small dusty alleyways through villages to avoid the main road and its police control.
Luckily it didn’t take long to find Luke and his driver again. We continued our drive along the main road until our drivers got into a small dirt road. The road was lined with dozens and dozens of huge statues of monks, holding their almsbowls in front of them. I started counting them but they just kept on coming and coming. There must be over two hundred of them.
After driving past these monks for a couple of minutes we entered the main gate. It was shaped like a bridge, over which a couple of monks were walking. We passed under the bridge and entered a valley. My jaw literally dropped when entering this valley. And I thought I couldn’t be surprised anymore, I thought with a smile.
Scattered throughout the small valley and on the hillsides were pagoda’s, temples and statues of the Buddha in all different kind of shapes, sizes and forms. We entered a couple of small ones. An old and slightly fat monk was showing a group of kids a hundred kilograms python in one of the pagodas. Another one was painted with thousands of tiny golden Buddha’s on the inside. Another pagodas interieur was completely made out of bronze.
Our drivers sat down at one of the restaurants and told us to keep on following the road. And that, is where we saw this:
The enormous reclining Buddha is fighting for the honoured title of biggest reclining Buddha in the world – and after doing some research on the internet I found out that it might actually be the biggest one. But maybe even more crazy, and definitely unlike anything I had ever seen before, was the waterslide build next to the Buddha. Two natural lakes are connected with a bunch of slides on which kids are having the time of their lives on the hottest time of the day.
Luke and I walked over the bridge that crosses the waterslides. We just wanted to have a good view over the slides and the valley. But then I noticed something completely unexpected again.
“Luke. There’s a door.”
“In its head!”
We looked at each other and of course without doubt we decided to enter Buddha’s head. It’s gotta be damn interesting to enter Buddha’s head. And it was. It absolutely was.
The first room we entered was dull and grey. A small altar was standing at the far side of the room, a couple of statues accompanying it. Around the corner we saw some stairs. They didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular. We looked at each other and shrugged. Let’s just follow it and see where we end up. It took us a minute to realise we had no clue where in Gods name we had arrived.
The head of the Buddha was divided into three floors, hundreds of small rooms and hallways. The first floor we entered represented morals and sins. Uncountable statues presented scenes of everything good and bad a Buddhist can do in his present life. Another floor showed the life of Buddha. We followed him from childhood to illumination to death. The last floor contained scenes of what hell is supposed to look like. Monsters, fires, screaming people. We walked around for a while, and I just kept on stumbling: “This is so weird… I can’t believe this…” Luke couldn’t do otherwise than to agree with me.
I needed to cool down after this experience. I tried to convince Luke to join me in the waterslides, but he wouldn’t go for it. So I decided to drag my motorbike driver in the slides. He was hesitant as well, but after the first slide he started to feel like a little kid. All the actual kids in the pools looked at us as if we were crazy. Well, we were the biggest kids in the pools.
The next day I took the train from Mawlamyine to Bago, which was a breathtaking train journey. A big smile wouldn’t leave my face anymore. I shared snacks with the lovely local ladies sitting across from me while rethinking this experience. How could I have ever thought that it wasn’t possible to be surprised anymore? This world is crazy, the people living on it are crazy, and there will always be something unexpected waiting for you around the corner.
Practical information for visiting the Reclining Buddha of Mawlamyine
How to get to Mawlamyine:
Busses or trains go from Yangon straight to Mawlamyine, which takes about 4 hours. If you cannot pronounce the name (like me), the English name is Moulmein, and all locals know Mawlamyine by its English name as well. Finding a bus or a train from Yangon should be fairly easy.
How to get to the Buddha:
Mister Anthony of Breeze Guesthouse (riverside) can provide a map. In fact it is easy to find. Mawlamyine has one main road, direction north or direction south. Go south, and you’ll find it. He also has motorbikes for rent for about 6 USD a day. Or one of his friends can drive you (take care, they are crazy and funny. Reasonable English) for about 10 USD.
Entering the grounds, the Buddha and the slide are for free, however a donation is appreciated.
Where to stay:
Breeze Guesthouse of Mister Anthony is the cheapest and most central option. He has small single rooms of about 7 USD a night and some more luxurious rooms as well. Breakfast is included on the riverside balcony with lovely view. Also Mister Anthony is a cool guy who helps you with everything you need.