Hidden in the cool highlands of central Burma, the hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin began life as a mountain retreat for the colonial British, desperate to escape the cloying heat of high summer in Mandalay. Back then the town was known as Maymyo – or ‘May Town’ – after Colonel James May of the 5th Bengal Infantry, who was stationed there in 1886. The town’s Edwardian-style buildings and plentiful gardens still hint at its colonial past, and – coupled with its pleasant climate – give Pyin Oo Lwin an atmosphere unlike any other place in Burma.
Pyin Oo Lwin is easily added to any trip that includes Mandalay – but how should you make the most of your time once you get there? Here are a few of our highlights…
1. Admire the colonial architecture
Wooden summer cottages and brick-and-timber houses characterise the architecture in Pyin Oo Lwin, which is quite unlike the grand colonial edifices found in Yangon or Mandalay. It’s almost like stepping into 19th century England!
2. Take a horse-and-cart ride
Wander around Pyin Oo Lwin town centre for a little while and you’ll notice a rather bizarre sight: horses hitched up to old-fashioned carriages painted in vivid pinks, greens, purples and reds. Adding to the bizarre time-travel sense of the town, this is an experience not to be missed.
3. Take a stroll through the botanical gardens
Pyin Oo Lwin’s botanical gardens – the National Kandawgyi Gardens – were established by the British Forest Officer Alex Roger in 1915. Modelled after London’s famous Kew Gardens, the garden contains 514 species of indigenous tree and 74 foreign species, as well as 300 types of orchid and 25 different roses.
4. Hike to minority villages
Though the town itself is a very pleasant place to while away a few days, Pyin Oo Lwin also makes an excellent base for hikes into the surrounding mountains. Burma is home to over 135 different ethnic minorities, and in the hills around Pyin Oo Lwin you’ll come across tribal villages hidden in the forests where life goes on as it has done for centuries.
5. Take the train over the Goteik Viaduct
Another legacy of the British, the old railway passes through Pyin Oo Lwin on its way from Mandalay to Lashio in the heart of northern Shan State. Though you might not want to go quite this far, the section of track that connects Pyin Oo Lwin with Hsipaw is one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world, crossing over the Goteik Viaduct: a railway trestle built in 1900 that towers more than 100 metres over the valley below.
6. Head out to Anisakan Waterfall
In the countryside just outside of Pyin Oo Lwin, the 120-metre-tall Anisakan Waterfall makes a superb day trip from town. The journey by road from Pyin Oo Lwin to the waterfall car park takes around 20-30 minutes, then it’s a further 40-minute walk down steep jungle paths to the waterfall itself. Why not rent a bicycle in town and head out under your own steam?
Pyin Oo Lwin makes a fantastic stop on any trip to Myanmar, not just as an escape from the heat but as a fascinating contrast to the culture of the lowlands. Well-connected to Mandalay by road and rail, it’s easily added to most itineraries – just take a look at our Hidden Trails of Burma for inspiration!