(Axel Boer) #1




Magnifi cent Mon State (mân' ̈p–'ny') is so full
of wonders that it’s a wonder that the whole
world isn’t wondering about holidaying here!
There are two dominant colours: the gold of a
zillion breathtaking temples and the green of
a million, zillion fl ouncy palm trees. Travelling
in this region is generally easy (at least, for
Myanmar) and distances short; yet, strangely,
few visitors seem to make it down here.

Once native to a broad region stretching
from southern Myanmar to Cambodia, the
Mon have been absorbed – sometimes will-
ingly, sometimes unwillingly – by the more
powerful Bamar and Thai cultures in Myan-
mar and Thailand respectively over the last
thousand years.
Though no one knows for sure, the Mon
may be descended from a group of Indian im-
migrants from Kalinga, an ancient kingdom
overlapping the boundaries of the modern
Indian states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
They are responsible for much of the early
maintenance and transmission of Theravada
Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia.
Since 1949 the eastern hills of the state (as
well as mountains further south in Tanin-
tharyi Region) have been a refuge for the
New Mon State Party (NMSP) and its tacti-

cal arm, the Mon National Liberation Front
(MNLF), whose objective has been self-rule
for Mon State.
In 1995, after years of bickering and fi ght-
ing, the NMSP signed a ceasefi re with the
Myanmar government. Still, reports contin-
ue of fi ghting, instances of forced labour and
harassment of Mon villagers. Partly because
of this, there remains much emigration to

Mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
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Floating in atmospheric clouds high above
the coastal plains and, it seems, almost
within touching distance of the heavens is
the prayer- and wish-drenched, balancing
boulder stupa of Kyaiktiyo.
This sublime and magical monument is
a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Bud-
dhists. Its image adorns many a local’s car
windscreen or family hearth and every good
Buddhist dreams of the day they fi nally set
eyes on this holiest of shrines.
The atmosphere surrounding Kyaiktiyo
during the height of the pilgrimage season
(from November to March) is charged with
magic and devotion, especially when the
glinting boulder is bathed in the purple,
sometimes misty, light of dawn and dusk.
Pilgrims chant, light candles and meditate
all through the night. Men (only) are permit-
ted to walk along a short causeway and over
a bridge spanning a chasm to the boulder to
affi x gold leaf squares on the rock’s surface.
For a mere tourist, Mt Kyaiktiyo is a sight
and an experience to rival the wonders of
the Shwedagon Paya or the breathtaking
beauty of Bagan. Like any proper pilgrim-
age, a visit here involves a certain amount of
hardship and nobody should approach this
holy mountain lightly.
The constructed plaza around Kyaiktiyo is
the typical Myanmar mix of religious icono-
graphy and commercial development: monks
and laypeople meditate in front of golden
buddha statues while, several yards away, ro-
sary beads and toy wooden rifl es are for sale
(these are especially popular with monks!).
There are several other stupas and
shrines scattered on the ridge at the top of
Mt Kyaiktiyo, though none is as impressive
as Kyaiktiyo itself. Even so, the intercon-
necting trails sometimes lead to unexpected
views of the valleys below.


Foreigners are restricted from travelling
by land south of Thanbyuzayat in Mon
State. Southeastern Myanmar has two
land crossings offi cially open to foreign-
ers, but visits must be within the city
limits, and you’re generally expected to
exit the way you came in.
Confusing things even more, if
you’ve come to Myanmar via Yangon,
it is possible to fl y, without advance
permission, to the southern cities of
Dawei (Tavoy), Myeik (Mergui) and
Kawthoung but, once there, you’re not
allowed to leave the city limits and you
must also return by air.
Visiting the untouched beaches and
islands of southern Myanmar’s Tanin-
tharyi (Tenasserim) Region is a whole
other bag of worms. For details on the
hoops you have to jump through to
reach this region, see p 110.
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