Kawthoung is the southernmost city in Myanmar, across the water from Ranong City, Thailand. Trade and tourism is very busy here, with tourists from Thailand and other countries coming every day to experience the nearby Mergui Islands. The leafy park above Cape Victoria Coast Road houses a colossal statue of King Bayintnaung brandishing a sword at Thailand. It’s also a great spot to enjoy the view of the busy harbor below.
Heralded as one of the last unspoiled island paradises in the world, Mergui’s 800 islands were largely closed to the public until a few years ago. With development plans underway for some of the islands, now is the time to take a multi-day cruise through the more remote parts of the archipelago and enjoy the tranquility of deserted white-sand beaches and lush native jungle. The archipelago is said to have some of the best dive sites in the world, and you might spot families of the Moken people, known as Salone in Burmese, a people of sea nomads.
For centuries, the city of Mergui has been an important port city where sea traders from all over the world dock. There are well-preserved European and Oriental buildings along the main street, and several grand mansions built by wealthy merchants are still in use. The town’s fish processing area is interesting and worth a visit if you can smell it, while the bustling and colorful shipyards are a must-see.
The attractions of Dawei often lead visitors out of the city to the beaches of Maungmagan and beyond. Maungmagan features a wooden beach hut restaurant where you can order coconut water and delicious seafood. Walking south along the beach takes you to picturesque fishing villages, while heading north by motorbike you can reach wild stretches of pristine white sand such as boulder-strewn Nabeul Beach.
Sleepy, peaceful Mawlamyine, at the mouth of the Tan Win River, is actually Myanmar’s fourth largest city. There are many beautiful pagodas to visit here, such as the Mahamyatmuni Pagoda, which offers a great view across the town and the river. Travel back in time to see colonial-era churches and other well-preserved buildings, or visit local handicraft workshops on Biru (Ogre) Island, just across the river. A short trip outside of Mawlamyine lies Win Sein Taw Ya, said to be the longest reclining Buddha statue in the world, and you can actually walk inside to see a series of life-size scenes from the Buddha’s life .
The wonders of Hpa-an, the capital of Kayin State, lie in the rugged limestone outcrops just outside the city, filled with caves large and small. The huge Saddang Cave has religious monuments in front and beautiful mineral formations behind. Other caves worth visiting include Kawkathaung and Kawgoon Caves, where at sunset you can watch millions of bats emerge from the “Bat Cave” by the river. Mount Papu is an easy hike, while Mount Zwekabin (732m) is more challenging but offers wonderful views from the pagoda at the top.
Seemingly impossibly precariously perched on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, this famous gold-leaf-covered rock topped with a stupa is one of Myanmar’s most important religious sites, making it a destination for hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims each year destination. You can take a truck to the drop-off point, which is a 45-minute walk from the rock itself, or take the pilgrimage route, which is about a six-hour walk from the base. Heading back to Kin Pun, the base town serving Golden Rock visitors, the beautiful Saung Hlaing Gyi Waterfall is just a taxi or motorbike ride away, with a great swimming area and waterside shops where you can sit in the shade Order drinks and snacks.