Thanbyu Zayat Death Railway

Thanbyu Zayat Death Railway

Thanbyu Zayat Death Railway

Only the handful of new generations may have heard of the notorious “Death Railway”. However, most of my generation and a few later generations would be quite familiar with that railway line though they may not have seen it with their own eyes, apart from those depicted in Hollywood movies. Right after the Second World War (WW2) in 1945, many stories about that railway line emerged. Most of the stories were related to the hardships or the hellish conditions the people who were forced to construct that rail line were subjected to. There were also adventure-like stories of how some civilian forced laborers escaped. There were also lighter sides of the stories, where some fortunate escapees stumbled onto troves of treasures hidden in the jungles along their escape routes.

Later during my teenage years, a very interesting movie was released by Hollywood. The name of the movie was “The Bridge on the River Kwai“, based on a factual fiction by that name. It was about the plights of the allied prisoners of wars (POWs) who were forced to construct that rail line linking Bang Pong, in Siam (Thailand) and Than Byu Zayat, in Burma. The highlight of the story was how the hero in the movie, a U.S Naval personnel, who escaped successfully from a labor camp inside Siam and later came along with a small group of British Special Force men as a guide to destroy one of the bridges built along that line.

Background history

In 1942, at the height of Japanese offensive during the WW2 to advance further into the British and its allies held territories in India, where they retreated without putting up much resistance. However, that was just a feint to trick the Japanese to think the British were no match to them. By then the Allied Armies had taken up strong defensive positions along the Burma-India border, especially at Imphal in Assam. For that final push, the Japanese needed more arms and equipment and other commodities for their war efforts to be shipped to Burma. As the over 2000 nautical miles sea route was dangerously vulnerable to attacks, they chose to transport them overland across Indochina, then through Siam to Burma.

To make that possible they had to build a rail line to link Bangkok and Rangoon where the Burma Railways had established an efficient rail system. It spanned from right up north in Myitkyina to the south down to Than Byu Zayat, not very far from the Siam-Burma border, with many junctions. Before the war, the British had already surveyed a route to construct a rail line linking Rangoon and Bangkok. The Japanese took advantage of that and constructed a rail line along that surveyed alignment across the Tenessarim Range (Tanintharyi Yoma).

Thanbyu Zayat Death Railway

Thanbyu Zayat Death Railway

The constructions started in June 1942 with two teams – one started from Bang Pong railhead a few miles west of Bangkok and another team from Than Byu Zayat railway station and completed in October 1943. The total length was 258 miles, of which 69 miles was inside Burma and 169 miles in Siam. There were around 600 bridges along the route. That rail line provided a train link between Bangkok and Rangoon. The Japanese called it the “Siam – Burma Railway”. It was built by forced labor – over 60,000 allied POWs were thought to be brought in from Singapore, where they became POWs when she falls and the rest were approximately 200,000 Asian conscripts, including Burmese, recruited with false promises of a good salary. They were forced to work under very harsh conditions and the foods were scarce and thus many risked their lives to escape. The Burmese laborers called themselves Chway Tat meaning “Sweat Army”, a term that became well known in our younger days.

The original bridge depicted in the movie was a wood and bamboo structure covered with concrete for extra strength. The bridge seen today is the second one built later with steel structures dismantled from a bridge in Indonesia. Most of the rail tracks were also from the rail network in Malaya. From my visits to the Museum at Kanchanaburi, I learned that the first bridge was bombed by the US military planes in early 1945 just before the end of the war. Now the second steel bridge has become a popular tourist destination. There are throngs of local and foreign tourists almost every day, especially in the open seasons during the winters and early summers. Nearly the whole town of Kanchanaburi is involved in the tourism business, thus it is known as the home of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.

According to the records, there are three such war cemeteries for soldiers who perished while constructing the “Death Railway”. The other two are – one in Than Byu Zayat and the other, a much smaller one not far from the one in Kanchanaburi. Regrettably, there was no such special burial place for the civilian laborers to be found.

Other places of interest are the “Hellfire Pass” and “The Three Pagoda Pass”. At the “Hellfire Pass,” the railroad had to pass through a large boulder. In normal circumstances, a tunnel would be dug through the rock, but without proper equipment, a chasm had to be cut from the top down to the level where the rail line would pass.

The other place of interest is the “Three Pagodas Pass” located at the border with Myanmar in the town of Songhlaburi through which the rail line crossed the border. The road trip from Kanchanaburi to that place is very scenic as the road passes through dense teak forests over the Tenessarim Range. There is a large reservoir along which the road winds and zig-zagged as we drove through the dense forests. The many windings and zig-zagging made the climbs and descend seem less steep than they are as the gradients are reduced.

One interesting thing about the “Three Pagodas Pass” is, most of us in Myanmar thought that the three pagodas are inside our country. That was not so. Of course, there is a town called Payar Thon Zu (Three Pagodas) inside our country immediately next to the border post, but the three small pagodas from which the Pass got its name are inside the Thai territory.

Hpa-An and nearby caves

Pha-An

Hpa-An and nearby caves

Kayin State, southeast of Myanmar, is a hilly region where Kayin ethnics, the majority of people in Kayin State, are residing. Zwekabin Hill is one of the symbols of Kayin State. After opening the border trade camp in Myawady, the improvement of road and bridge facilities helps increase the number of travelers leading to Kayin State.

Hpa-An, the capital of Kayin State

Hpa-an, located on the eastern bank of Thanlwin River, was just a small village with some 200 houses over 100 years ago. The small village was a residence for Kayin, Shan, and Taungthu ethnics as well as Thai citizens. The edge of the rock at Thanlwin River was called Hpa Am in Shan Language. Later, the name of the village was changed to Hpa-an from Hpa Am.

Hpa-an became a station village under the management of Zathabyin station in 1855 due to an increasing number of houses and it was under Hpa-kat in 1866. The town Hpa-an managed by the assistant town administrator in 1892 became the capital of Kayin State on 1 June 1954.

At present, Hpa-an Township with 41 miles from the east to the west and 76 miles from the north to the south shares border with Hlaingbwe Township in the east, Mawlamyine Township in the south, Bilin and Paung townships in the west and Bilin and Papun townships in the north.

Hpa-an Township, at an altitude of 53 feet, is plentiful of hills. Among them, 2,727 feet high Zwekabin Hill, nine miles from Hpa-an, is the most significant. Thanlwin River, Gyaing River, Donthami Creek, and Zathabyin Creek are flowing across the township. Before the improvement of motor roads, vessels from Inland Water Transport gave transport services to local people along the Thanlwin River from Hpa-an to Mawlamyine, Shwegun, Kamamoung, Kyondoe, and Kya-in-Seikkyi.

According to the statistics announced in March 2017, a total of 396,707 people resided in Hpa-an Township which was formed with nine wards and 477 villages in 99 village-tracts.

Natural caves

Among natural caves at the hillsides, the Department of Archaeology and National Museum has been conserving Kawgun Cave and Yathebyan Cave in Hpa-an Township and Khayon Cave in Kyaikmaraw Township of Mon State.

In the past, some caves were habitats for wildlife while some were residences of members of the Sangha and hermits. Among the caves in Kayin State, Bayinnyi, Sadan, Yathebyan, Kawgun, and Webyan caves are the most significant in attracting travelers.

Kawgun Cave

Kawgun CaveLocated 28 miles from Mawlamyine, eight miles from Hpa-an and two miles from Hpa-kat Village on the western bank of Thanlwin River, Kawgun Cave can be seen from far distance with displaying Buddha images and wall votive tablets on its walls.

Naturally-existed Kawgun Cave, 130 feet long, 70 feet wide and 25 feet high, is located at the foot of limestone mountain range, east to Thanlwin River, west to Yathebyan Village and south to Hpa-kat Village. Kawgun Cave’s limestone mountain range formed with five hills in a series stretches 6,000 feet long from the northeast to the southwest.

The majority of Buddha images are seen on the wall of the one closed-end Kawgun Cave and entrance. Stalagmites mushroom inside the cave. There is a small hole on either side at the end of the cave. The cave facing the east with sufficient heat from sunray reduces wetness inside the area. The mouth of the cave located under the rocky hillside is free from the impacts of climatic conditions.

Firm evidence related to Kawgun Cave has not been found yet. But, an oral history of local people mentioned that Mottama queen who escaped from the troop of King Anawrahta who took King Manuha after conquering Thaton hid in Kawgun Cave and that she carved pagodas, Buddha images, and reliefs while in a cave. Moreover, those who visited Kawgun Cave also made Buddha images and votive tablets on the walls.

Historians and archaeologists have been conducting researches in Kawgun Cave since the early 19th century AD. According to the records of field trips, British diplomat John Crawford conducted surveys on 27 January 1827 and researcher Richard Temple in 1835. So also, Myanmar experts such as U Taw Sein Kho, U Lu Pe Win, U Po Latt, and Major Ba Shin performed surveys in the cave.

Visitors can see sitting, standing, and reclining Buddha images, earthen votive tablets, stone reliefs, stone inscriptions, and ink inscriptions in the cave. Votive tablets were made on the rocky hill, walls, and roof. Sitting and standing Buddha images were made in couples and groups of three to ten images.

Myanmar Encyclopaedia Year Book (2011) mentioned that two of three stone reliefs in the cave are related to Buddhism and one, Hinduism. The first one may be Bodhisatta flanked by left and eight Aggasavakas and the second bore body alone without head, hands, and lower parts of knees. Reliefs of Hindu gods were carved on the stone relief related to Hinduism but inscriptions were damaged. Some said the inscriptions on the cloth of stone relief might be Mon language.

The Department of Archaeology and National Museum is preserving Kawgun Cave where there remains a large number of Buddhism cultural heritages.

Yathebyan Cave

Yathebyan CaveThe naturally rocky cave, located near Yathebyan Village of Hpa-an Township, west of Thanlwin River, was named Yathebyan Cave, based on the title of the village. Three to five feet high Buddha images inside the cave can be seen in original colors due to lesser impacts of direct sunray.

Heads of Buddha images in the cave were created with the shape of flaming up. Stone inscriptions in Myanmar and English languages of the cave mentioned that some Buddha images were made in 13th century AD. The Department of Archaeology and National Museum started the conservation of the caves in 1975.

Lighting enters inside the cave through a large hole on the roof. People said a hermit who meditated in the cave levitated there through the large hole mystically. So, the cave was named Yathebyin Cave. Laterite works from the laterite culture of Mottama and Inwa eras can be observed at a wall of the cave.

Although 116 feet high Yathebyan Cave stores many votive tablets but the number of such tablets is less than those of Kawgun Cave.

Sadan Cave

Saddan CaveSadan Cave, the significant two-end open one, has the largest mouth and longest route one among other caves in Kayin State. Sadan Cave means the cave near the lake where Kanteik plants thrive. Sadan Cave is located in Kawwahsu Village of Kawmuta Village-tract, south of the Zwekabin mountain range, 20 miles from Hpa-an. The cave at the foot of the hill is rounded by water in monsoon.

Travelers may visit the cave from Shwepyitawkin junction by passing through Gyaing (Zathabyin) Bridge or along Hpa-anDonyin motor road. In the rainy season, travelers may go along the motor road in the west of the Zwekabin mountain range. They then proceeded to the cave by boat from Kawthaloh Village, 10 miles from Hpa-an.

Two 12 feet high white elephant statues at the foot of the brick ladder to the cave were inaugurated on full moon day of Tabaung, 1339 ME, (23 March 1978). Two signboards bear the scripts “These caves are part of our national heritage. So conserve them” in Myanmar and English languages, describing advantages of limestone ecosystem and limestone hills and root courses of degrading limestone hills together with color photos.

The mouth of the cave is 100 feet wide and its height from the floor to the roof, 70-100 feet. As the cave faces the east, sunray helps the cave be dry and clean.

Small motive tablets can be seen on the right wall. Two places on the walls are vacant due to the falling of votive tablets. The upper place is about six feet long and the lower one, about eight feet long. Vacant places are expected to be the placement of thousands of 2.5 inches high sized votive tables.

Natural limestone hills in Kayin State are habitats for millions of bats. As such, Sadan Cave is habitats of seven species of bats and 13 species of non-vertebrate animals. A four-furlong concrete pavement is stretching from the entrance to the west outlet inside the cave. Water drops from the roof near the west outlet fall on the rocky floor, causing pits there.

Travelers must pass water surface at the outlet via a 200 feet high, 150 feet long, and 30 feet deep Htuntuntphan tunnel. The tunnel is filled with water. In the rainy season, the water level reaches near the roof of the tunnel.

Religious images were carved in the natural caves. Later, these works became natural heritages as well as historical and cultural heritages. Conservation of natural rocky caves including three significant caves in Kayin, Mon, and Shan states can contribute towards geological conditions of Myanmar.

Shin Koe Shin Pagodas

welcome to dawei signboard

Shin Koe Shin Pagodas

Despite having lesser historical and archaeological evidence, nine pagodas under titles of Shin where people from various regions of the nation make pilgrimage tours have been famous due to successive preservations.

Nine pagodas under the titles of Shin, 391 miles from Yangon along the motor road, are accessible via Dawei where travelers can pay visits by car, by ship, by train, and by air. Dawei, 18.6 miles from Mottama Bay, is located on the northern bank of Dawei River.

Nine pagodas under titles of Shin

The list of nine pagodas comprises Shin Tauk Htein and Shin Mokhtee as Buddha images and remaining sevens as pagodas. Shin Pin Khayu, Shin Mokhtee, Shin Okaw, and Shin Datwe are situated in Dawei Township, Shin Hmyaw Taung, Shin Tauk Htein and Shin Zalun in Launglon Township, Shin Taunt Pon in Thayetchaung Township and Shin Hsandaw in Yebyu Township.

Depending on the locations, people mark nine pagodas under the titles of Shin on three hills, in three jungles and three towns. The pagodas on three hills are Shin Hsandaw, Shin Hmyaw Taung and Shin Taunt Pon, in three jungles Shin Datwe, Shin Zalun, and Shin Tauk Htein, an three towns Shin Pin Khayu, Shin Okaw, and Shin Mokhtee. They all can be noted as “three jungles, mountains and towns each, note down as nine Shins”.

Shin Pin Khayu Pagoda

It was assumed that Shin Pin Khayu Pagoda located on Arzani Road in South Kayinpyin Ward of Dawei was built 300 years ago. Historian Saya Maung Than Swe (Dawei) reviewed that as Shin indicates the Lord Buddha, Shin Pin Khayu should be assumed as the pagoda built on the conch between two star-flower plants.

A fire broke out almost the whole South Kayinpyin Ward of Dawei on 26 March 1996 but the pagoda remained safely. Hence, the pagoda became more famous.

Shin Mokhtee Pagoda

It was assumed that Shinmokhtee Village, six miles from Dawei, derived from Mottathunakhagara City. The pagoda in Shinmokhtee Village, located on the right side of Dawei-Myeik motor road, was enshrined with Shin Mokhtee Buddha image.

Shin Mokhtee Buddha image was one of four Buddha images set adrift by Arhat Ashin Maha Araham from Ceylon Island into the sea. A saying mentioned remaining three images were Shin Mokhtaw Pagoda in Pathein, Kyaikpawlaw Hmeshin Pagoda in Thaton and Kyaikkhami mid-stream Pagoda. The place where Shin Mokhtee image was salvaged was near the bank, west of the current pagoda. Hence, a statue of the nun who salvaged the image was kept at the site.

Taninthayi Division Commissioner Mr. H.M. Stevenson received 300 earthen votive tablets near Shin Mokhtee Pagoda in 1924. Back of some tablets bore inscriptions in ancient Mon language. Among them, Samim Sritri Bovanaditya means Thiri Tri Buvanaditya Dhammaraja in Myanmar-Pali language, and it was the title of King Kyansittha from Bagan city-state.

Dawei was written as Htawar and Dawar in the Bagan era. Governor of Dawei Dhammaraz Thamban Anandazeya (Thanbyin Anandazeya) was the loyal servant to King Kyansittha. In 955 Myanmar Era, governor of Dawei Thuriyakomma and wife donated a bronze bell weighing 100 visses to Shin Mokhtee Pagoda.

Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda

Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda built on more than 2,000 feet high hill, 18 miles from Dawei, in Thayetchaung Township. Taunt Pon means quiver or a pile of quivers. Hunter Maung Nwar abandoned his hunting livelihood and set fire to hunting equipment on the hill of Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda. Then, he was initiated into a hermit with the title of Shin Govinda who built Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda. Although some said Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda was off work in the Pyu era or early Bagan era, not firm evidence has been found yet.

Shin Hmyaw Taung Pagoda

It is a hilly pagoda in Launglon Township, located in Kyethlut Village, 52 miles from Dawei. According to the history of pagodas, Shin Hmyaw Taung Pagoda was built on the full moon day of Tabaung, 238 ME; and Bagan kings Alaungsithu and Narapatisithu performed meritorious deeds there.

At the time of rising tide, the water surface near the rock on which the small pagoda was built becomes the shape of the saucepan which does not cover the pagoda.

Some said that a small pond at North Oksin Camp, downstream of Shin Hmyaw Taung, is flown by tidal water but it remains unchanged as freshwater lake whenever tide subsides. The historical books of the pagoda mentioned six wonderful points of Shin Hmyaw Taung Pagoda.

Shin Tauk Htein Pagoda

Although some said Shin Tauk Htein Pagoda located in Kamyawkin Village of Launglon Township in Dawei District was one of nine Shin pagodas, the original Shin Tauk Htein Pagoda was the Buddha image kept in the ordination hall, east of the pagoda. People called Shin Tauk Htein Pagoda as a relic pagoda where the gala rice offering ceremony takes place on every full moon day of Thadingyut.

Shin Okaw Pagoda

Shin Okaw Pagoda, located in the precinct of Shwekyaunggyi Monastery in Peinnetaw Ward of Dawei was built with significant architectural works including 11 circular decorative bands. King of Shwetaungsar Min Shin Zaw built Shwekyaunggyi Monastery in Peinnetaw Ward in 1122 ME and then came onto the throne. He built Shin Okaw Pagoda as NanU Pagoda in the same year. King Min Shin Zaw built Shwe Taung Sar Pagoda two years after the construction of Shin Okaw Pagoda.

In 1165 ME, the bell in the Konbaung era donated by the governor of Dawei Razathingyan and wife to Shin Okaw Pagoda mentioned 13 lines of bell inscriptions. Razathingyan as the loyal servant of King Badon who first established the First Amarapura City. The eighth line of the inscription mentioned Dawei was named Thayawady. That was why Dawei was called Thayawady in the Konbaung era.

Shin Zalun Pagoda

Emblems of Srivaccha were expressed on concrete floral works created around the upper part of the bell at Shin Zalun Pagoda, located in old Thagara city in Launglon Township. Hence, some assumed Shin Zalun Pagoda was built in the contemporary of the Pyu era. The Department of Archaeology and National Museum is taking responsibility for the preservation of the old Thagara city, inner and outer walls, moat and Pyu graveyard (urn mound).

Hermit Shin Govinda (hunter Maung Nwar) who built Shin Taunt Pon Pagoda adopted two children found on the road. He named Shin Zaw for the baby girl and Shin Zan for the baby boy. An Arhat who arrived there gave a sacred relic of the Lord Buddha to Shin Zan and a duplicated one to Shin Zaw.

Shin Zaw enshrined the duplicated relic into Shin Zalun Pagoda in 170 eras while Shin Zan built Shin Datwe Pagoda with the enshrinement of a genuine relic. Some assumed that only when women participate in hoisting the umbrella atop the pagoda built by Shin Zalun, will the process have achievement because Shin Zalun Pagoda was built by a woman.

Shin Datwe Pagoda

Shin Datwe Pagoda built by Shin Zan is located in Maungmeishaung Village, seven miles from Dawei-Yebyu motor road. As local people said as Shin Zan threw his relic into the air with a vow to build a pagoda, the relic was flying above the place of the current pagoda. So, it was well known as Shin Datwe Pagoda. A 15 feet high sitting Buddha image made of marble rock can be seen near Shin Datwe Pagoda.

Shin Hsandaw Pagoda

Shin Hsandaw Pagoda, famous as Hsandawshin Hsutaungpyae Pagoda on Kalein Hill, was built on Kaleinaung Hill in Yebyu Township. The hill is 47 miles north of Dawei.

Three pieces of relic hair of Kakusanda, Konagamana and Gotama Buddhas who had enlightened in Badda World were enshrined in the rocky reliquary which is 30 by 30 elbows each in length and width and 40 elbows in depth. A 15 elbows high Shin Hsandaw Pagoda was built on the reliquary. The Buddha Pujaniya festival of the pagoda takes place on the full moon day of Tabaung yearly.

Nine pagodas under titles of Shin, which are famous across Myanmar, do not have firmly historical evidence but they are crowded with Buddhist travelers.

Sat Dan Cave and Sat Dan Lake

Sat Dan Lake

Sat Dan Cave and Sat Dan Lake

In Kayin and Mon States where there are plenty of natural limestone-mountains, caves such as ‘Bayintnyi Cave’, ‘Yathaypyan Cave’, ‘Kawtgone Cave’, ‘Waepyan Cave’ and ‘Sat dan Cave’ are the famous tourist attractions for those from home and abroad. In those caves wonders of nature, Buddhist cultural heritages and antiques can be viewed. Most of the caves are the cul-de-sac ones with no exits at the ends. Some are the ones with both entrances and exits.

To the Sat dan Cave

Out of the natural caves in Kayin State, the Sat dan Cave has both entrance and exit. Its entrance is the widest and its length in the cave is the longest, among all the caves there. In Eastern Poe Karen Language, the Sat dan Cave is called ‘Htant Kamart Khamite’. ‘Htant’ is meant for a cave, ‘Kamart’ for a lake and ‘Khamite’ for the ‘Kant Eit’ tree. That’s why it means a lake near to the lake where ‘Kant Eit’ trees are growing. The Sat dan Cave is situated at the southern end of Zwegabin Mountain Ranges, to be exact, in the village of ‘Kawt-War-Hsu’ of ‘Kawt-Mu-Tar’ village tract, 20 miles far from the south of Hpa-an town. As the surrounding area of the mountain is at the lower level, water usually inundates around the foot of the mountain in rainy seasons.

A study tour group comprising of post-graduate diploma trainees of Yangon University visited the Sat dan Cave via ‘Ein-du’ village on the motorway, east of ‘Zwegabin’ mountain. The study group proceeded to ‘Kawt-War-Hsu’ village, 5 miles far from Eindu along the red earth road. After passing the villages—‘Kawt-Seinban’, ‘Ahtet’, ‘Lar-LaMein’ and ‘Kawt-Thein-Khee’ the study tour group reached the foot of the Sat dan Cave, at the end of the wide lake.

The Sat dan Cave is accessible through several routes, via ‘Ein-du’ village, 13 miles far from Hpa-An, or Hpa-an—DonYin motorway in the west of Zwegabin mountain or ‘ShwePyi-Taw-Kin’ branch road after passing Jai (Zar-Tha-Pyin) Bridge for those who come from Mawlamyaing. In rainy seasons, we can go by road in the west of Zwegabin Ranges, and we can reach the Sat dan Cave by boat, on arrival at the village of ‘Kawt-Tha-Loe’ 10 miles far from ‘Hpa-an’.

Now, being the rainy season, the open space where motor vehicles coming to the Sat dan Cave used to park in summer is being inundated with water. The lake covering 20 acres, which is situated at the southern part of the mountain is nearly always flooded with water. The lake is joined to ‘Hsin-Hai-Taung’ called ‘HtantBai-Nart’ and ‘Inn-Gyi—the Lake’ in the south. Local people used to say that the said Lake had been the one in which the Buddha-to-be King Sat dan Elephant took pleasure by playing in this lake. So, the Sat dan Lake had been named after the King Sat dan Elephant.

Sat Dan Lake

At the threshold of the stairways at the entrance of the Sat dan Cave, two white elephant statues with 12 feet each in height can be found. Those white-elephant statues were inaugurated on the full moon day of Tabaung, 1339 ME. Two signboards which read in Myanmar/English Bilinguals ‘These caves are parts of our national heritage, hence the need to preserve them,’ had been erected nearby. Also, on the signboards ecosystem of limestone, benefits which result from the limestone mountain and causes which can ruin limestone-mountains were described with color photos.

We have to climb up along the 3-tired stairways floored with enameled plates to the entrance of the Sat dan Cave, which is 50 feet high above the ground. The entrance of the Cave is about 100 feet in width and it is 70-100 feet in height. The Cave faces east, so it gets light and sunshine which makes the Cave dry and clean. In rainy seasons, as there is leakage of some water in the Cave, it is humid in it, or otherwise in summer seasons.

Buddha Images on Clay Tablets of the Sat dan Cave

At the side of the mountain and the entrance of ‘Kawtgone’ and ‘Yathaypyan’ Caves, Buddha Images are mostly found. Likewise, in the Sat dan Cave as well miniature Buddha Images on clay tablets can be found to have been donated on the interior wall of the Cave at the upper right corner of the cave entrance of width. Some Buddha Images on clay tablets of the Sat dan Cave had come off to destruction. Now, two big empty spots can be seen 20 feet high from the ground, at the north of the Cave, in which clay images seem to have been pasted on the wall. The upper spot is estimated at 6 feet in length, and the lower one at nearly 8 feet. At a conservative estimate, there will be some 1000 of Buddha Images of 2 and a half inches each in height, in those spots.

After inspecting the broad entrance of the cave around, we can enter the cave so that we can go out from the exit of the cave. At the end of the 19th brick stairway at the south-west corner of the Cave, we started to get into the cave. In rainy seasons, the whole inner part of the Cave is wet with water, and the ground surface is smooth. Previously, the path in the cave was completely dark. Yet, roads had been paved newly and lights had been installed. From the entrance of the Sat dan Cave to its exit, it is 4 furlongs long.

The acid which contains in rainwater erodes the limestone mountain. Over a long time, stalagmites and caves had been caused along the cracks. Underground current water as well as caused underground springs. Limestone-mountains situated near to sea coasts caused caves due to the lapping of sea waves and touching with saline water constantly. Similarly, the erosion of underground water usually causes caves. Most of the natural caves are tunnels that go into sides of mountains. Depending upon situations of locations human beings in the Stone Age used to have lived in convenient Caves while animals and beasts lived in some caves.

Caves and their surrounding areas

In the natural limestone caves in Kayin State, millions of bats live. Bats are biological species that control the ecosystem of the surrounding areas of the caves. In the Sat dan Cave, there are seven kinds of bat species and thirteen kinds of invertebrate animals living. Bats feed on crop-destroying insects in agricultural farms of the surrounding areas. Simultaneously, they help crops to pollinate and spread seeds. Feces of bats are excellent natural fertilizers and it is also the feed for some living things residing in the cave and the lake.

While going through the cave, we saw bats resting in groups whenever we looked at towards the roof of the cave with the help of the torchlight as we heard bats making high pitched squeaks. Due to the flashlight of the torchlight, bats suddenly flew, but in a very short period, they went back to their original places. We saw some colored images of palms on the wall somewhere in the cave. Those are not the murals drawn by people in the Stone Age which were found in the ‘Pyadarlin Cave’. They are graffiti scrawled by those who came into the cave, by coating their palms with yellow soil on the floor of the cave and pressing it onto the wall.

No evidence was found that the Sat dan Cave had not been a place Stone Age people resided, though the water was available easily there. ‘Pyadarlin Cave’ situated in ‘YwaNgan’ township, southern Shan State could be found out to be a place where Stone Age people lived, according to the result by using half-life period method over some pieces of charcoal, ashes and left-over found in the cave. It will have yet to make research as to whether Stone Age people lived in the Sat dan Cave or not.

We saw the light, which comes through the roof of the cave, shining along the route while passing into the cave. In some places, fluorescent tubes were found to have been installed. At the time when we arrived, we had an experience of groping in the dark for nearly one hour as there was no electric light. At the end of the Cave, we saw the light coming through the roof of the cave suddenly, we could not see even the stairways.

At the exit of the Sat dan Cave, we saw water drops leaking continuously from the roof. Though we cannot know how many years it has been dropping like this, we saw many potholes on the floor of the cave. When we walked down along the stairways from the exit of the cave, 3 boats were found to have been moored at the shoreline of the lake of great width. We can see around the Cave by boat, and we can hire the boat for the return trip.

While going across the Lake, we essentially had to pass the ‘Htun-Htunt-Phan’ tunnel, in which King Sat dan Elephant used to play for fun. ‘Htun-Htunt-Phan’ is situated at 300 feet far from the south of the Sat dan Cave, and 200 feet high above the ground. The tunnel goes straight through from the entrance to exit. Being in the rainy season, water nearly touched with the roof of the cave. If passengers are sitting in the boat, the heads will hit against the roof. So, we had to lie down close to the hull of the boat. As the water surface is only 2 and a half feet far away from the cave’s roof, the ferry driver lying with face upward in the boat had to push the roof of the cave with hands, up to the other end. It has been learned that the lower tunnel is 30 feet deep and 150 feet long. While crossing the tunnel, bats were seen clinging to the cave’s roof.

Sat Dan Lake
Htun-Htunt-Phan

Htun-Htunt-Phan is situated in the north of the Lake. At 450 feet far from the south of the Lake is Hsin-Hai-Taung, which is called ‘Htant-Bai-Nart’ in Kayin language. It is 200 feet high. At the height of 30 feet between the two mountains, there is an entrance of the cave measuring 30 feet in width.

While crossing the wide lake after passing ‘Htun-HtuntPhan’ Cave the boat was rowed slowly. As the water is too shallow at some places, boatmen moved their boats by pushing the lake bottom with the bamboo pole. As the lake water was so clear that duckweeds growing at the bottom of the lake were seen, as were lotus and hyacinth on the surface of the lake. Aquatic creatures are living in the lake. In 2014, it was designated as the sanctuary, and catching fishes and other creatures living in water were strictly prohibited. It is pleasant and peaceful to travel in a boat in the lake with the green Sat dan Cave in the background.

As the region of the Sat dan Cave with a rarity of damages to the natural environment can control the ecosystem very well, it became a famous tourist attraction for travelers from home and abroad. Limestone-mountains adjust the connection of the currents of the watersheds. And, the underground currents are also filling water resources. By maintaining the favorable ecosystem of the Sat dan Cave, the natural caves will last for many years, with the progress of the tourism industry.

Kyaik Hti Yo Pagoda

Golden Rock

Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda (Golden Rock)

The Pagoda has offered an awesome and enchanted feeling to foreign tourists when they have visited the Rock. The Golden Rock has been found during the lifetime of Buddha over 2600 years ago and it has also defied the Law of Gravitation, precariously perching over a cliff of the main mountain of 1100 meters above the sea level.

The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda has disseminated a message of Buddhist religious consciousness to all that have visited the holy place which has enshrined with a strand of the Buddha’s hair. Thus Buddhist devotees have a deep desire to go on pilgrimage to the Pagoda. Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda is the most revered and celebrated pagoda in Myanmar.

News of some foreign geologist visitor, in fits and starts utter casually that it was perhaps a volcanic accidental phenomenon occurrence which contributed to the peculiar rock formation there in time immemorial had the properties of magnetic force that holding the boulder rock just in a slanting position in adhesion to the mountain. In fact, no team of geologists has ever visited Kyaikhtiyo to find out how the boulder, with an 18-feet tall pagoda on top, manages to perch precariously above the cliff of the main mountain.

As the legend says that the hair from Lord Buddha was given to a hermit who treasured the sacred hair that was kept in his hair knot until he had found a boulder resembling his own head on which he had built a pagoda to enshrine the hair. It is a miracle that this boulder has remained in its precarious position for centuries despite several earthquakes took place in the vicinity. Buddhist devotees have attributed to the influence of the power of the hair relic enshrined in the pagoda, had made the miracle boulder rock hovering in the air with awesomeness.

At the peak of the pilgrimage season during November to March, the Golden Rock gleams in different shades from dawn to dusk [ the sight at dawn and at sunset are unique], pilgrims’ chants reverberate in the precincts of the shrine, lighting of candles, meditation and offering to Lord Buddha continued throughout the night. Men crossed over a bridge across an abyss to affix golden leaves on the sides of the Golden Rock [women are not allowed to cross the bridge, as this is a Myanmar cultural tradition ].

Pilgrims from all regions of Myanmar and foreign tourists also visit the Pagoda. Even disabled persons who are staunch devotees, walking up the track on crutches. Old people who cannot climb are carried on stretches by porters to the Pagoda to offer prayers to Buddha The Full Moon day Tabaung in March is a special occasion for pilgrims to the shrine. On that day, the platform of the pagoda is lighted with ninety thousand candles, as a reverential offering to Lord Buddha.

Than Daung Gyi

Than Daung Gyi_
Naw Buu Baw Mountain, Kayin State

Than Daung Gyi

Thandaung, a peaceful Hill Resort in the Kayin State by U Thaw Kaung

Myanmar is encircled by hills and high mountains on its eastern, northern and western sides. There are some lovely towns on a number of these hills, where visitors can find peaceful repose. For example, on the Shan Plateau, there are towns like Taunggyi, Kalaw, Lashio, and Thibaw ( Hsipaw ). Myitkyina in Kachin State, Haka, and Tiddim in the Chin State are also well-known towns built on the hills.

During the colonial period, a few of these towns on the hills were developed as summer resorts, where Europeans went to escape from the heat and humidity of the Central Plains. The most famous of these hill resort towns are Maymyo or Pyin Oo Lwin, Kalaw and Taunggyi. We often overlook another picturesque hill town called Thandaung ( meaning Iron Hill ) which is much closer to Yangon than the above-mentioned towns.

Thandaung was also developed as a hill resort from Victorian times by the British. It happens to be the hill resort closest to Yangon as it is only about 200 miles away and can be reached by car or bus on a half day’s journey. If visitors prefer using the railway, they can ride the train from Yangon to Taungoo in about six hours, and from Taungoo to Thandaung, it is only 27 miles up by car passing through lush virgin forests, see cascading mountain streams and climb gradually to over 4,000 feet, to reach Thandaung.

Thandaung is a romantic place. It is in the Kayin State and is inhabited mainly by the lovable and simple Bwe Kayin ( Karen ) people who are mostly Christians.

Romantic Legend

Like many of the picturesque hill towns, there is a romantic legend, a Kayin folktale connected to this place and the Dawparkho or Bwihikho mountain range which has its highest peak nearby at 4,824 feet above sea level.

The legend is about a courageous prince named Saw Thaw Oh Khwa and a beautiful maiden called Naw Bu Baw. Incidentally Saw is the honorific for men and Naw for women in Kayin usage. It happened many years ago, and legend says that Naw Bu Baw was the daughter of the king of the sea and she came to these high hills to marry the local prince Saw Thaw Oh Khwa who was the son of King Kiku of these highlands.

Naw Bu Baw possessed a magical silver comb which made her shine like the sun when she had it in her hair and made her invisible when she put it under her feet. She also had a magical cooking pot which enabled her to cook a full pot of rice from only half a grain of rice and with a grain of rice she could feed the whole household.

The prince and the newly married Princess were very much in love with each other and roamed these lovely hills and mountains, streams and alpine meadows together. But the Kayin people did not accept Naw Bu Baw as she came from far away and because of the powers, she got from her magical comb they thought that she was a witch.

One day her husband the Prince went to the eastern mountains to repulse invading enemies. The faithful wife gave him the magical comb to enable him to disappear when his enemies attacked. In spite of the courage and daring, and also the possession of the comb, the Prince died in battle. The people of the region blamed Naw Bu Baw and accusing her of being a sorceress they took her to the highest peak of Dawparkho Range and imprisoned her in a rock cavern. Even today local people will show visitors where she was kept tied and locked. She was eventually eaten by evil spirits. So the loving couple, both the Prince and his beautiful wife, came to tragic ends. But their spirits still wander hand-in-hand through these beautiful forests, and an air of romance surrounds this mist-shrouded place.

Short History

Soon after the end of the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, when Lower Myanmar was annexed, the British using imported Indian laborers first developed Thandaung as a hill station.

In 1883 two years before the last Myanmar King in Mandalay was deposed, Thandaung for about a year became a military sanitorium for soldiers recovering from wounds and diseases. A cantonment was also marked out. After only about a year this project was abandoned and the town became a civil station.

Earlier, a road had been built by the Public Works Department running 22 miles north-northeast of Taungoo to reach Thandaung.

Around 1911, there were in Thandaung, a police station with 15 men, a small hotel, a circuit house and a district bungalow for visiting government officials, a post and telegraph office, and two European boarding schools with 64 pupils, of whom 23 were girls. There were also a number of private houses built in the colonial style. The population was only 219 persons then.

The Taungoo District Gazetteer published in 1914 quaintly says that “There is a licensed shop for the retail vend of foreign spirit and foreign fermented liquor”, probably meaning that whiskey and wine were easily available there for visitors.Than Daung Gyi_

As the population was mainly Christian a number of churches were built. Visitors can still see an old Baptist Church called Zion Hill Church, and another Baptist Church and also Anglican Church on another hill. You can also visit an old Roman Catholic Church. On Dawparkho peak a prayer room in a building shaped like a ship, and a huge cross were built in April 1995. This clearly shows that there is complete freedom of worship in Myanmar, where although the majority of the population in Buddhist, other religions are always tolerated.

The administration of Thandaung began only in 1900. In 1915 the township office was shifted to Laitho but was shifted back to Thandaung in 1935.

It is no longer in Taungoo District as Kayin state begins about 13 miles after crossing the Sittaung River. Since 1954 Thandaung has been part of Pha An District of Kayin State. In 1971 the population has risen to 51,000.

Present day Thandaung

Thandaung became a forgotten town for many years due to the insurrections and troubled times that erupted soon after Myanmar became independent in January 1948. Only in recent years after regaining peace and stability, Thandaung is now being developed as a hill resort both for visitors from within Myanmar and foreign tourists.

In visiting Thandaung, the best way is to take a car from Taungoo and drive up the 27 miles of undulating road. After crossing the Sittaung River you will, first of all, see Kayin and Bamar villages with rich fields of rice and various market vegetables. Soon you will enter the lush tropical monsoon and deciduous forests of the Kayin State, where many precious teak, pyinkadoe, padauk, ingyin and other hardwood trees can be seen in abundance. Actually, Thandaung is now divided into two towns, the original town on the hill now known as Thandaung Myo Haung (Old Town) and Thandaung Myo Thit (New Town) which was developed at Pathi Chaung, beside the idyllic and charming Pathi mountain stream with cool crystal clear waters rushing down in torrents over rounded boulders and pebbles to join the Sittaung River near Taungoo. A dam is being built around there for the use of the local agriculturalists.

The new town enlarged from former Pathi Chaung Village is only about 13 miles from Taungoo and is a favorite picnic spot for the people of the plains and in the last few years for foreign visitors also. There are huge boulders at the side and among the rushing waters and these rocks are favorite spots for taking photographs. The area of the new town is 177 acres. The population is still very sparse and mainly engaged in taungya, shifting cultivation, on the gentle slopes of the foothills. Around here and also on the hills you see bamboo mats and baskets and also other native utensils. The local people are good hunters and fishermen and if you are interested you can participate in their activities.

Thandaung Myo Thit (New Town) became the township headquarters in 1959, as the old township headquarters at the old town on the hilltop was difficult to reach at that time. This new town is also known as New Thandaung.

The original Thandaung, Myo Haung or Old Town, is reached after about an hour drive going uphill through the winding slopes with lush, green tropical vegetation all around. There are breathtaking views from many places along the way where you can stop the car and admire the view and take photo mementos. You will pass through some old Kayin villages, the largest of which Bawgaligyi is at the foothills and is especially famous for its sweet oranges, these oranges have a green skin instead of an orange colored one.

Thandaung Myo Haung

The old town on the hilltop 4,050 feet above sea level, is now officially known as Thandaungyi (meaning Great Thandaung) to distinguish it from the new town which had usurped the name and its township headquarters status. The town is quite small, only 1.57 square miles and you can easily walk around the whole area. The total population is only 3,766 but some new people are arriving. The Kayin people mainly, Bwe Kayin, live there but other Kayin races such as Sagaw, Paku, Moebwa, Palaychie, and other Myanmar people can also be found living in complete harmony with each other. They can be distinguished by different colored dresses. The town is divided into six wards and has 354 households.

The beauty of the town lies in its extensive views to be seen from all parts of this small attractive place. There are more hills and mountains to the north, east and south, while the Sittaung valley can be seen to the west with sweeping views right to the Bago Yoma hills beyond.

Visitors who have been to Chiang Mai, the Doi Suthep mountain and Mae Sa valley to the west and north of the city will be able to visualize the type of scenery to be found around Thandaung as the two mountain ranges are in the same latitude and are only about a hundred miles apart.

In Thandaung nature is entirely unspoiled, there are few people and all is green, the environment is tranquil. Only the calls of the numerous birds and wild animals can be heard.

The only man-made scenery around Thandaung really adds rather than detracts to her beauty. They are the pleasant groves of tea and coffee plants on some of the slopes around Thandaung. There are 640 acres of tea cultivation, the high altitude, the cool climate, and abundant rainfall produce some of the best tea leaves of Southeast Asia. There are still many uncultivated hill slopes for investment in tea plantations.

The coffee grown here too is one of the best in the region, although at present it is well known only within our country. The time will soon come when these plantations are expanded to produce ample coffee and tea for export. Plans to expand tea cultivation by 500 acres are already being carried out.

Around Thandaung can be bought huge delicious red or maroon bananas called Shwe Ngapyaw or Golden Bananas. Many other tasty fruits and vegetables can also be obtained freshly and cheaply.

Visitors will appreciate the cool climate, with an annual average temperature of about 65’F. The copious rainfall averages 225 inches annually. The winters are mild and like most areas in Myanmar, the months from October to the end of February are the best time to visit Thandaung. Visitors to Myanmar during the heat of March to mid-May would feel pleasantly cool if they go to Thandaung. A new modern hotel is being built for visitors.

The simple mountain folk, the various races of local Kayin people as well as the Gurkhas, who were brought by the British and who now live around Thandaung, will warmly welcome visitors from far and wide.

Tanintharyi Region

signboard at the entry to Dawei
Entry to Dawei, the capital of Tanintharyi region

Tanintharyi Region

Tanintharyi region is situated on the southernmost part of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. It is narrow and long and jutting southwards the sea. It is narrow from east to west and long from north to south. On the east and south are bordered with Thailand, on the west is Andaman sea and, on the north is Mon state. There is an archipelago off coast Myeik.

With stunning beaches offering captivating sunsets that attract tourists from home and abroad, Maungmagan beach is full of traditions and customs at the southernmost tip of Myanmar in Tanintharyi Region.

Each of the districts in Tanintharyi has their own share of interesting travel destinations. In Dawei District, there are the Shin Koe Shin pagodas, nine historic pagodas sharing the word ‘Shin’ in their names: Shin Pin Kayu, Shin Tauk Htein, Shin Taung Pone, Shin Za Lun, Shin Monti, Shin Ded We, Shin Ote Aou, Kaleinaung Shin Sandaw, and Myat Shin Maw.

As for beaches, there are Maungmagan beach, Myin Kwar Aou beach, Poe Poe Kyauk beach, and Sam Hlam beach. The district has the Maungmagan hot springs, traditional Dawei pasoes, longyi weaving businesses, and Dawei pottery.

Myeik District has the Lay Gyun Si Mee Thein Daw Gyi Pagoda, Athu Layan Thi (Pa Htet Taung) Shwe Tar Lyaung reclining Buddha, and island travel routes.

Kawthoung District has the Pyi Taung Aye Pagoda, Ma Li Wam waterfall, 555 hill viewpoint, Bayinnaung island and Bayinnaung cape, Kyun Philar, Bo Ywe, Nga Mahn island, Nga Khin Nyo Gyi island, Nyaung Oo Phi island, Island No. 115, Ka Yin Kwa island, Barlar island (a) Than Yote island, Poe Ni island (a) Bo Yar Nyunt island, Bo Nat Kyaw island, Hlaing Gu island, Nga Htwe Yu island and many more along its extensive archipelago.

Taninthayi is made up of Dawei, Myeik and Kawthoung districts with 10 townships. 

As it is a narrow strip against Tanintharyi mountain range the area has rugged terrains. Ranges have an average height of over 3.000 feet lining up from northwest to southeast. Myintmoe Letkhat Mountain, 6,801 feet, is the highest in the Tanintharyi region. There are many streams and rivers in the region. Dawei river and Tanintharyi river flow north to south and Le Nyar river flow south to north. The Perchan river serves as Myanmar-Thai border. At the mouth of Perchan river is Kawthaung Town which is the southernmost part of Myanmar. Tanintharyi coast is rocky and there are many offshore islands. Pale Kyun (Pearl Island) on which the pearl culture firm is established includes in Myeik Archipelago.

Dawei is the capital of Tahintharyi region. The region has a tropical climate. As it is close to the Equator, its weather is generally temperate. The yearly temperature difference is only 5’F. In Myeik, the average temperature is 78’F and in the hottest month of April, it has 83’F. Myeik has an average annual rainfall of 200 inches. Bamar, Kayin, Mon and Maw King peoples live in the region including Myeik Archipelago. Myanmar is used as a common language and different dialects are also spoken.

Kyaikkhami Yele Pagoda

Kyaik Kha Mi Yele Pagoda Tide Rising
Kyaikkhami Yele Pagoda, Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, Myanmar

Kyaik Kha Mi Yele Pagoda

Myanmar is known as the land of pagodas because there are pagodas all over the country. Each famous pagodas has its own festival which is celebrated annually on a particular day of the year. On that festive day, many pilgrims from near and far come to pay respect to the pagoda. They offer food, lights, and flowers to the Buddha and money to the pagoda-fund for maintaining the pagoda.

As part of the festival, Myanmar dramas called Zat-pwes, free cinema shows and stage-shows are put up to entertain visitors. Food stalls and special shops selling various kinds of goods are set up. Some amusements for children such as a merry-go-round and Ferris-wheel are also set up. So a pagoda festival means the time for making a holy pilgrimage, for performing meritorious deeds and getting some amusement.

Of the many pagoda festivals I have visited, the one I can never forget is the Kyaik-kha-mi pagoda festival. Kyaik-kha-mi pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in Myanmar. Its unique feature is that it is built on rocks in the sea in Kyaik-kha-mi, Than-byu-zayat township, Mon State.

A long pavement has to be made to join the pagoda with the shore to serve as the passage. As this old brick pavement is flooded at high tides, a new concrete passage was built over the old pavement. Pilgrims can conveniently walk along this passage, climb up a flight of stairs to the upper level where sacred Buddha statues stand. Women are not allowed to climb up to this level. There were records that storms and high tides immediately arose if women went up to the upper level. So an extension was built for them at the lower level so that they could pay homage to the Buddha with a good view of the statues.

Pilgrims from all over the country can come to the Kyaik-kha-mi pagoda either by car or by boat. This pagoda festival is celebrated annually for a whole month in October from the fifth waxing day to the fifth waning day of Thadingyut with the climax on the last day. The earlier days of the festival are reserved for monks. As many people visit the pagoda every day, the festival is alive with teeming crowds throughout the festival period.

I went to the Kyaik-kha-mi pagoda festival last year with my friends and relatives by boat. We sat out at 4 a.m. from my native village, Kamawet, which is about thirty miles north of Kyaik-kha-mi. We took turns to row the boat. We also competed with other boats on the way. We sang merrily and teased the people in other boats. They, in order not to be outdone, also teased us back. So we had a lot of fun. We arrived at Kyaik-kha-mi at 8 a.m.

We went to the magnificent temple in the sea and paid homage to the sacred, sublime statues of the Buddha to our hearts’ content. We offered flowers, incense and lights to the Buddha and money to the pagoda fund. Then we went out to the verandah of the temple to have a breath-taking view of the wide sea. There are big rocks and islands near the temple and a light-house stands on one of the islands. The scenes along the sea-beach are very beautiful.

We went down to one of the rest-houses in the sea near the temple to take our morning meal we have brought with us. We enjoyed our meals very much because we felt like having a picnic. Soon big tides came rolling up one after another, and we took a delightful swim at the beach. After that, we took a walk along the food stalls and the make-up shops selling various interesting things. We were particularly interested in necklaces and other ornaments made of seashells. We bought some as souvenirs. We took some delicious Myanmar delicacies offered at a pavilion. We listened to songs and music at a stage-show for a while.

Then came the time to say farewell. At 2 p.m., we got into our boat and set out for home. This delightful and eventful visit to a pagoda festival will remain for a long time in my memory as one of my happiest days.

An essay “A visit to pagoda festival” by Dr. Min Tin Mon