When I imagine my own life's version of Melancholia, the setting is Mawlamyine (all I can really think about is melamine, which I adore). Beautifully sullen, a little grotty, everything in its place only not quite. The sunset over the river is one of the loveliest I've seen, yet simultaneously saddening. Maybe it's the thick layer of rubbish discarded and rotting in the riverside growth, or perhaps it's that the air of depressing colonial rule still lingers.
The city served as the capital of British Burma between 1826 and 1852, and during those times maintained a large population of Britons, some living in Mawlamyine (then Moulmine) long term and others just passing through. Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell are two historical fans of this sleepy Southern city full of colourful ageing colonial buildings.
Attractions are dotted around the area, but rather than race around to see more stupas and temples, I opted for an afternoon visit to the largest reclining Buddha statue in the world. Inside of Buddha are hundreds of creepy statues depicting Buddhist stories, devils gutting people in rivers, kings holding oddly shaped knives while people bow before him, and women clutching their breasts. There is also a designated space to charge your phone while you wandering around inside Buddha.
Buddhism is weird.
Outside of Buddha are some makeshift slides, which young men clamber all over while shrieking with laugher and what sounds like pure joy. I suspect they are accidental slides since it's probably not typical practice to build a water park next to Buddhist sites of religious importance. Also it's a pretty naff water park, but good to see people putting public objects to creative use.
The vegan food scene is non existent, but like in the rest of Myanmar I still found plenty to eat. Most food is prepared freshly enough to mean household ingredients like dried shrimp and fish sauce can simply be left out.
There are two restaurants I frequented: Grandmother and Grandfather Restaurant and May South Indian Chetty Food, both along the Strand Road.
The former, with a Chinese-Burmese menu, is an operation to fund care for the elderly. While I enjoyed my meals there, I would not recommended it as a priority stop in Myanmar. There have been several reports of food poisoning, and I developed a fever shortly after consuming a salad one evening. If you go, stick with the hot fried food, like the hot and sour bean curd – spicy with enough pepper and chili that your throat tells you it's coming before the dish lands on the table.
The real lure is the balcony overlooking the river. Stop in for a lime soda, let one of the many cats clamber on your lap, and kick back to watch the stunning sunset.
May South Indian Chetty Food doesn't have a menu, but rather several pots of already cooked dishes. There were two vegan options, plus an onion relish when I visited, and and endless supply of rice. Easily the best meal I had while in town. They seem to operate until sold out at lunch, then close to cook more for dinner hours, but times seemed to vary. Don't be disappointed if you show up at 16:00 and it's closed.
There are some stalls that set up in the evening along the river advertising the usual Burmese salads, which are all easily made vegan, so they would be worth checking out.
Mawlamyine isn't a grand food destination for vegans, or at least I didn't find it to be, but I also didn't explore the outskirts since I was too busy doing nearly nothing. Often my hastiness to judge a destination on food alone (princess that I am, a week without a good meal is enough to send me over the edge) badly colours my experiences. If my first or second meal hasn't inspired then I might sulk for a week and then move on.
But I wasn't in Mawlamyine for the food, so I set my overindulged inner glutton aside and enjoyed some of the most splendid sunsets the sky has ever painted.
Would I go back? Absolutely.