Pyin Oo Lwin
Just a two-hour drive away from Mandalay, the former British hill station was established as a refuge from summer heats. Situated high in the hills, Pyin Oo Lwin is renowned for its cooler temperatures, lush greenery and a British feel. Numerous British brick and timber houses, colonial horse carriages roaming around the city, and the magnificent botanic gardens make you feel like Pyin Oo Lwin is still under the British rule.
The town of Pyin Oo Lwin is sited on a plush highland 65km east of Mandalay and sits far above the dust of Central Myanmar. At an elevation of 1070m, the town is well-known for its lovely weather, with temperatures rarely rising above 30˚C, even during summer. Pyin Oo Lwin was only officially recognised in 1896 as a hill station offering shelter from the intense heat of Mandalay and Yangon. It was called Maymyo or “May Town at first, after a Colonel James May who was posted to a nearby army base. Since the1900s till date, the whole British Burma establishment started coming here at the beginning of summer every year, progressively covering the gently rolling hills of the town with partially-timbered government offices as well as elegant brick lodges.
The beautiful history of Pyin Oo Lwin continues to be evident today in many ways, which makes it a great place to discover. The Bells of Purcell Tower - cast in London in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V - ring each quarter hour, strawberries snuggle beside tropical fruit in the Shan Market, horse-drawn carriages clip-clop past colonial mansions. Another leftover by the British is the National Kandawgyi Gardens that has been newly refurbished, a vast botanic garden where well-ordered beds of tulips flourish together with semi-wild groves of teak trees. Further down the field, it is possible to drift away in the Anisakan Falls plunge pools and take a stroll through the humid cavern of Peik Chin Myaung Cave, which makes Pyin Oo Lwin a great place to remain.
The centre of town
The centre of Pyin Oo Lwin's dense town is marked by the 1936 Purcell Tower. More practical than the stylish suburbs, the centre is home to large ethnic Nepali and Indian communities, the offspring of fighters and work hands from all over the subcontinent that relocated here in the era of the British rule. Nowadays, several people have shops where they sell the woolly jumpers, fruit wine and jam for which Pyin Oo Lwin is well-known. In addition, there are many Hindu temples and mosques. When it was still called Maymyo, the town served as a vital military cantonment for the government of British Burmese and, though the government has changed, the military influences persist - the Burmese Army's Defence Services Academy (training the “Triumphant Elite of the Future”) is located just west of the centre.
The Government House which was the summer residence of the British governor was erected in 1903 and stood for only forty years prior to its destruction in World War II. In keeping with the original plans, it was rebuilt in 2005 and is currently part of the Governor's House Hotel managed by the Htoo Group, which has been answerable to international authorizations. The manor has been converted into a small museum, packed with greenish wax works of colonial characters and adorned with sepia pictures of the original. It is not awfully exciting, but then it remains one of the few colonial-style structures that is accessible by visitors and local film-makers just love it. For $2095 a night, the five-bedroom house, complete with indoor pool can be yours if you are in the mood for something lush.
Begin the day at the busy Shan Market located in the eastern part of town, its best time being between 6.30am and 8 am. Initially, farmers in Shan assembled here to market their produce due to the proximity of the market to their communities east of Pyin Oo Lwin. Though it is still a wonderful place to holiday, rent payment have increased and most of the customers and stallholders are now migrants from Yunnan - the Shan have relocated to a murky lane 1km farther east along the road that leads to Mandalay-Lashio.
Circular Road and the suburbs
Circular Road (or Myo Part Lan in Burmese) began life as British officers’ forest ride. Currently, the leafy access road carves an arc round the eastern half of Pyin Oo Lwin, heading south from the main Mandalay-Lashio Road and the Shan Market into the more affluent environs and the plushest layers of colonial structures. Most notably are the semi-timbered No.4 Basic Education High School (formerly St Michael's), a missionary school for Anglo-Burmese students and the buttercup yellow Seventh-day Adventist Church on Cherry Street.
The various departments of the British government were crowded on Yone Paung Sone Street. More than a few good-looking colonial-era offices continue to inhabit related government roles these days - the previous Survey Office is currently the Myanmar Survey Training Centre, and across the road, you’ll find the old Forestry Department which now serves as Myanmar Forest School. It is likewise worth looking out for the old Croxton and Candacraig hotels, both were once company guesthouses of the Bombay Burmah Trading Company that operated as state-run hotels up until their privatisation in 2013. At the time of research, both properties were shut for restoration.
National Kandawgyi Gardens
The National Kandawgyi Gardens, which is one of the major attractions of people who visit Pyin Oo Lwin, was founded in 1915-17 when hundreds of Turkish war prisoners were put to work digging the central Kandawgyi Lake and redesigning its environs. The park slowly worsened after independence, up until the Htoo Group took possession of it in 2000 and revamped it as an attractive spot.
At present, we can divide the gardens into two parts: the extremely trimmed and attractive part around the lakeside, packed with tulips and pansies & common for photograph opportunities, and the more stimulating and dishevelled parts beyond, with bamboo stands, striking orchards and a jungly swamp footpath. Just above both is the unique twelve-storey Nan Myint Tower, which looks like an ancient oriental helter-skelter. It takes no less than 2 hours to properly explore this 380-acre gardens; with a swimming pool, a butterfly museum, an aviary and an astonishingly decent café all on-site, it is easy to spend half a day here. A flower festival is hosted in the garden every December.
Around Pyin OoLwin
The luxurious, rolling countryside in the region of Pyin Oo Lwin is scattered with worthy sights, from active religious spots to cascading waterfalls. The majority are located within a few kilometres of the Mandalay-Lashio road, which makes them easy to access, particularly if you’ve got a private vehicle.
Immediately outside the Anisakan village, the hill on which Pyin Oo Lwin is situated drops away melodramatically into a woody gorge, carved out by a tributary of the Dokhtawady River as it plummets down the Dat Taw Gyaik waterfall to the valley floor. Walking down from the road to the foot of the falls takes about 45 minutes, and an hour hiking back to the car park, however, the chance to cool off in the jade-green plunge pools and the scenery make it worthwhile. As soon as you get to the trailhead, native kids can accompany you down the trail with a ready supply of cold drinks - ensure you settle on a price with them beforehand, the usual being K1000-2000.
An alternative route up the opposite side of the falls to the Dat Taw Gyaint Waterfall Resort exists from where it is a 2.5km on foot back to the major road. The crony-owned resort isn’t open to guests overnight, but there is a sophisticated restaurant on-site, which you might be luckier with phoning in advance to confirm if it is open before trekking up there.
PweKauk Waterfall known as Hampshire Falls by the British found this a great spot for a picnic. A sequence of small, extensive cascades in a forest dell, it inhabits scenery that is attractive instead of theatrical, with lots of artificial attractions alongside the riverbank, as well as a water-powered merry-go-round.
Peik Chin Myaung Cave and around
Peik Chin Myaung Cave twists into the sloping side of a hill some 3km east of the Wet Wun village. Until lately the moist cave was plain rock, but now contributors have packed it full with Buddha statues coated with gold and dioramas from Jataka stories, and an underground stream flows beside the concrete path. Although there are places you have to bend down, the cave is open and well lit for the most part. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the end of the footpath and shoes or socks are not permitted. Stopping briefly at Wetwun is also worthwhile –numerous ancient Banyan trees line the roadside, and Shan residents regularly visit the nice-looking roadside WetWun Zeigaun monastery with its sharply layered rooftops.
The Mandalay-Lashio Railway
It took eight years to finish the 280km railway between Mandalay and Lashio, due to a sequence of main geographical challenges on the way. Firstly, between Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin, it depends on a sequence of twists and turns as well as moves backwards to go up a sharp cliff on the Shan Plateau. More dramatically, close to Nawnghkio the lone strand of track ascends 102m above the Dokhtawady River on the renowned Gokteik Viaduct. The Gokteik Viaduct was finished in 1901, constructed by an American contractor utilising parts cast by the Pennsylvania Steel Company, and transported from the US, continues to be Myanmar's highest bridge more than a century after its construction. The viaduct has been continually renewed, however, trains still move at a snail's pace across the span- providing lots of time to those that are not afraid of heights to lean out of the windows and delight in the view. Gokteik Station is on the Mandalay side of the viaduct. If your desire is to go across the bridge and catch the train ride back to Mandalay in one day, you will require a ticket to Nawngpeng, 50 minutes further than Gokteik Station, where you can possibly dash onto the only everyday train back to Mandalay.