Site Name: Gaung-Say Island (Shampoo Island)
Area: On the Thanlwin River between Mawlamyine & Mottama, Mon State, Myanmar
Site Description: Shampoo Island is named because historically Burmese, and some Siamese, kings would come to ceremoniously wash their hair using water from the island’s sacred well “Nat Yedwin”. In 2013 the Thai king followed tradition and came and washed his hair on the island. It is believed that washing tour hair in this well brings good fortune. The island was also previously known as Ruby Island as it believed that it was created by the Nat King, Sakka, who cast a ruby from the sky which turned into an island to shelter the Lord Buddha from a storm during his previous life as a duck.
The site itself is just over 9 acres and is quite dilapidated, overgrown, and is in need of some work to bring it up to date. The island was ruined in WW2 and everything was rebuilt after 1945. Tourists only interested in the big impressive sights won’t get much out of this, but if you are interested in Myanmar or Buddhist history and have a spare morning in Mawlamyine then this site is worth a visit due to it’s important role in both. There are several small pagodas on the island, including a small Chinese and a Hindu temple. There is also a monastery which houses many friendly novices who can be seen wandering about. One of the more interesting attractions is the corpse of Sayadaw Bhikku Ashin Theikdanta who one lived here on the island, which is enshrined in a tomb with small mesh holes at each end. They say the body never emitted any odour after his death and has not at all deteriorated in 14 years because of his purity and good work.
A book which explains the history of the island has been translated into English and can be purchased from the nuns and monks near the entrance for 1500 Kyat. It is well worth the short read, in particular the section about the Wonders of Gaung-Say Island. I won’t ruin them all, but one of them claims that the island is visited by invisible people who come to meditate, and another claims the island is covered with invisible treasure!
Travel Advice: Shampoo Island can only be reached by boat. There is a jetty underneath the Thanlwin bridge on the Mawlamyine side where small boats depart as required. Any motorbike taxi would be able to drop you here. The boat costs 500 Kyat each way for Myanmar citizens, and 1000 each way for foreigners. There is no entrance fee on the island but a small donation is recommended.
Be Aware: As this is a sacred Buddhist site footwear should be removed as you arrive on the island. It is safe to leave your footwear at the entrance and they will still be there to collect when you leave. You should dress respectfully and cover shoulders, knees and cleavage at all times. As the island does not receive a large amount of visitors some doors may be locked, but if you ask a monk they will allow you access as needed.