About one of the distinct and ancient ethnic groups in Myanmar.  A day in transit back to Yangon.  About safety and security or the lack thereof.

I did not learn much from the displays at the neon-lit Museum of Mon Culture in Mawlamyine that I had not already learned in the villages:  the steps involved in weaving, pottery, rubber making, etc., many of those labeled in English.  But there are some artifacts worth noting that are a bit older than what is typically on display at the temples and pagodas.  Furniture, metal work, pots, coins, local dresses, musical instruments and prehistoric bones can be seen on two levels in about 20 different thematic areas.

Three rooms are full of 18th and 19th century Buddhist figures sitting in the open and collecting dust.  No attendant is on duty — the three ladies “manning” the museum are busy chatting in the ticket office.  I could touch all of these artifacts, I could even lower one out of the wide-open window by a rope into the sleepy museum garden if I had an accomplice with me…  Security is non-existent and obviously not needed.  That speaks volumes.

A sign reminds the visitor not to forget their national pride.  The Mon are one of the most ancient groups that make up Myanmar culture and there is a lot of information online which I obviously cannot provide here.

I had my first encounter with Mon culture during the day trip to Hpa-An.  One of our first stops was a monastery built in pure and distinct Mon style about 100 years ago.  Unfortunately, my guidebook did not provide any information on this place and I forgot to ask our taxi driver for specifics…  But I hope you enjoy the images which indicate some of the distinctive features such as glass-inlaid walls and multi-tiered wooden roofs.

After a brief visit at the museum this morning I hopped on the motorbike with Wingo, who this time had to balance my 20kg suitcase between his legs and me on the back…  Speaking of safety and security, you could not ride for more than 5 minutes like this in the States before being pulled over.  The first time I had to get from A to B with all of my luggage on a motor bike I actually hired two guys, one for myself, one for my suitcase.  These two were happy as I had to pay double the price for this ride, but it seemed just as risky to lose my suitcase that way, so what did I gain?  Wingo managed beautifully with both of us through the heavy traffic and up and down the hilly roads of Mawlamyine.  I just have to trust these guys.  After all they ride around with up to four people on one of these little scooters!

With Wingo there is no security problem.  He has worked with the Breeze guesthouse for years.  That is, there seems to be an understanding that he is one of the guys hovering around the hostel to pick up customers.  He is a known and trusted entity there.  The story is a bit different when I get off anywhere and need a taxi to a hotel in a new town.  Buses and train stations are surrounded by dozens of men looking to pick up a customer for their trishaw, tuk-tuk, taxi, or motor bike.  Who they are is anyone’s guess.  Taxis are licensed and registered; they are the safest bet, but even with registered taxis stories circulate about groping female customers, and other incidents.  Overall though, Myanmar ranks as one of the safest places to board a taxi even as a single female traveler.  Motorbikes are not registered.  Here all you have is your instinct.  I often look for an English speaking driver, even though that is no guarantee at all, but communication seems to me to be the first step in the right direction.  After that you put your luck in the pantheon’s hand.  I am always grateful when I safely arrive in the next place.

And tonight I am back happy and safe at my “base”, the Thanlwin Guesthouse in Yangon, from where I will plan my next excursion up the West coast.

Good night!