Once the summer capital of the Raj in Burma, Pyin U Lwin retains some of the 'hill station' look that cities like Darjeeling and Simla in India used to have in the 1960s and 1970s. Because of its history as a summer capital and a military centre of the Indian Army during British times, it has both a large Indian population and strong Anglo-Burmese and Anglo-Indian communitues. As a town near the border of China, many Chinese people are also settling down in this pleasant hill town. It is also an important market centre for goods from the Shan State and Kachin territories and an important military base. At an elevation of 1070 metres above sea level, there is an abundance of flowers, strawberries, and coffee beans, that will make you find a curiously diverse place on your visit. The city and its surrondings are very green and, together with the comforting climate, make a pleasant atmosphere for some days to chill out.
The British 'discovered' Pyin U Lwin after the capture of Mandalay at the end of the Third Burmese War. An early Englishman described it thus: "Pyin-u-lwin, a charmingly situated village of some five and twenty houses, with a market-place and a gambling ring, won our hearts. ... I inspected a curious magnetic rock in the neighbouring jungle. Some years afterwards it was described as a new discovery by a geologist of note. It has been lost again, but will doubtless be found some day." (Herbert White, "A Civil Servant in Burma"). The British soon established a military post there and the village was renamed Maymyo (May Town) after the commander of the post, Colonel May, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny. Within a few years, after it was connected to Mandalay by rail, it became the summer residence of the British Government in Burma (the civil service would move, almost to the man, from Rangoon to Maymyo). A little later, it was made the headquarters of the Burma Division, a largely Gurkha and Indian division, and the remanents of that division forms the core of the 'Nepali' population of Pyin U Lwin. White goes on to describe it as "Without pretension to the picturesque, it is a place of great charm and quiet beauty, with no palm trees and few pagodas, conspicuously un-Oriental, more like a corner of Surrey than of Burma." While the Surrey analogy will seem a stretch to anyone who has visited Surrey, Pyin U Lwin still seems less like Burma than almost anywhere else in the country.
Ellis, Beth, An English Girl's First Impression of Burma, Bangkok, Orchid Press, 1997. First published in 1904, Beth Ellis's book is an irreverent look at the British Empire set in the hill town of Maymyo (she calls it Reymyo) - Pyin U Lwin in modern times.
Theroux, Paul, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, Penguin Books, 1995. In his rail travel classic, Paul Theroux does the journey from Mandalay to Maymyo, meets the caretaker of Candacraig, and then stays in the lodge itself. His journey, set during a time when Burma was an impossibly closed country, is a lot easier today but is still recognisably the same. A must read!
The train station is North of the city and there are services to and from Mandalay, Hsipaw, and Lashio. Trains from Mandalay (US$2-4)leave at 4:00 am arriving at 8:09am. Numerous hairpin bends and a steep ascent make this an interesting, if rather long, ride. You can get out and walk at various points while the train switches direction or makes its slow way up a steep ascent. There are two trains daily to Hsipaw and Lashio (5:30am, 8:34am) the journey is about 6 hours and 10 hours respectively and goes over the famous Gokteik Viaduct. Trains from Hsipaw and Lashio arrive at 3:40pm and 6:40pm. The Pyin U Lwin train station is a bit far from the town centre and most accommodation but horse-carriages and taxis are there to meet the trains.
There are scheduled night bus services to Pyin U Lwin from Yangon and return. Buses to and from Hsipaw will drop you off but you have to pay the fare for the entire trip. The buses tend to be full so it is unlikely that you'll get a seat on them when leaving Pyin U Lwin.
There are two pick-up stations in Pyin U Lwin. Frequent pick-ups to/from Mandalay (1,500 kyat-Agust 2013) arrive/depart from opposite the clock tower. Hsipaw and Lashio bound pick-ups leave early in the morning from the Shan Market west of the town.
Shared taxis to/from Mandalay (8000 kyat) and to/from Hsipaw (10000 kyat) will drop or collect you at your hotel. The Mandalay bound shared taxi stand is across the clock tower while the Hsipaw/Lashio shared taxi stand is across from the Shan Market if you want to arrange the trip yourself. It is best to arrange a shared taxi the previous evening.
Private taxis between Pyin U Lwin and Mandalay should be about 30,000 kyat (downtown Mandalay) or 35,000 kyat (Mandalay airport). Negotiate.
There are also private taxis from Pyin U Lwin to downtown Mandalay for 15,000ks.
It is easy to get around on foot or on bicycles (1,200-2,000 kyat per day from your hotel) or even on foot in the city centre. Or hire a gharry, old garishly painted horse-drawn Victorian carriages that seem to live on in Pyin U Lwin. For far-flung places, frequent pick-ups ply the Mandalay road, motorcycle taxis (you ride on the pillion) are available in the market, as are taxis. You can also rent a motorcycle to get around from a shop near the mosque. Ask at your hotel.
Pyin U Lwin is relatively free of the ubiquitous pagodas. Some colonial Tudor style houses still stand (mostly around the National Kandawgyi Gardens), albeit in poor condition, and walking around is an interesting way to see how the Raj lived. There are many churches as well, the oldest dating back to about 1910.
The Botanical Gardens
National Kandawgyi Gardens established in 1915 by Alex Rodger as the Maymyo Botanical Gardens, the garden has a rich and diverse collection of flora, including many English plant varieties, and is without a doubt among the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. A rose garden, a stupa in the middle of a pond, and an orchid garden are amongst the highlights. Seeds are available if you want to carry them back to your home country. A popular spot for the locals, the gardens are about 1.5 km south of the city and you'll need your own transport (walk, bike, carriage, taxi) to get there and back.
Purcell Tower - the clock in this tower is reported to copy the chimes of Big Ben (or so says Lonely Planet). The tower is on the main intersection in Pyin U Lwin, across from the Mandalay pickup and share taxi stand. You can't miss it.
English Cemetery - way across town, beyond the tracks and the train station lies the old English cemetery. The cemetery is in very poor condition having been 'nationalized' by the junta and most of the headstones are in disrepair with unreadable inscriptions. Still, a few survive and will be worth the time spent if you are a history buff. St. James church, once Anglican but now catholic, lies across the road. Drop in and see the plaques to the various British lives lost in various wars. The friendly chaplain will show you around. Take a bike or a horse carriage since the cemetery is quite far.
Shiva Temple - Hindu temple to the god Shiva, on the road behind the clock tower.
Chinese Temple - South of the town (close to Candacraig) is a large and colourful Chinese temple built by the many Yunanese immigrants to the town.
The Candacraig (now the Thiri Myaing Hotel) - colonial mansion built as a guest house of The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation in 1904. Made famous by Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar, it is a good place to stop and see how the colonials lived. But, be aware that the house and hotel are now owned by the government. Other colonial houses remade into government run hotels include The Croxton and Craddock Court.
Anisakan Falls - nestled in a rugged gorge and framed at the base by a Buddhist temple, Anisaken Falls make a good half day hike from Pyin U Lwin. Mandalay bound pick-ups (300kyat) drop you at the village of Anisakan (tell the driver you're going to the falls and he'll drop you at the road to the falls rather than in the village itself). From there, follow a long road (about 2 km) through the village, across a railway line, by a monastery, and through fields to the start of the trail. Alternatively, take a taxi from Pyin U Lwin to the trail-head and back (about US$15) (March 2014: We managed to bargain a tuk-tuk down to 5000 kt from Pyin U Lwin to the trailhead one way or 10000 both ways with him waiting for us. We took it only one way and to get back we got a ride with some monks in a pickup truck from the trailhead to the village and then on a pickup truck on the main road for 500 kt per person to get back to Pyin U Lwin). Stalls at the trailhead and at the falls sell water, soft drinks, and snacks at high prices. There will be many people trying to show you the way but there is no need as the road down the hill is very clear and even a vehicle can go. The trail is steep but short, 35-45 minutes from the trail-head to the bottom of the falls. You can then return the way you came or hike up to the top of the falls on a steep trail that runs along the falls itself. If you hike up the falls, you'll notice (with heart pounding from the steep climb) that the falls are actually three falls and the view of the lowest level becomes increasingly delightful as you head up. Once on the top, it is a short walk back to the trailhead. If you came by pickup, walk back to the main road and flag a Pyin U Lwin bound pickup, there are plenty. Bring your bathing suit. GPS trace http://www.openstreetmap.org/user/teeshirt/traces/1674135
Burmese Families at Pwe Kauk Falls
Pwe Kauk Falls - known as Hampshire Falls in British times. Not much to look at by the standards of falls elsewhere but they are a popular picnic spot and seeing Burmese families picnicking and enjoying themselves is the main reason to go. A precarious bridge crosses the stream and disappears into a fig tree. The falls are on the way to Lashio so you'll need to hire a taxi but, if you want to save money, hang around long enough at the Lashio taxi stand and you'll find a share (share taxis to the falls wait for you and bring you back). A one hour hike from the falls (take a guide, it is easy to get lost) gets you to the natural caves of U Naung Gu where you'll find several Buddhas.
Pyeik Chin Miang - further along the road to Lashio are these deep caves full of Buddhas. Almost everything is new so don't get carried away! A huge pool a little way down is a popular swimming hole. Share taxis to Pwe Kauk Falls often make the trip here as well.
Shan villages - if you're not planning to go on to Hsipaw or Kyaukme, you can stop by at the Shan villages of Mogyopit, Yechando and Ye Negye on your way to Pwe Kauk Falls.
Pyin U Lwin is famous, in Myanmar that is, for strawberries, coffee, flowers and sweaters and the market is full of shops selling these products. In Spring (late February, early March), flower stalls line the road to Mandalay. The Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery sells organic ground coffee from local plantations. Strawberry jam is readily available (it'll show up in your breakfast). And, many stores around the clock tower sell sweaters the specialty of all old British hill stations everywhere.
Pyin U Lwin has quite a few Indian sweet shops with the usual complement of Indian sweets (barfi, laddoo, gulab jamun, etc.). If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to indulge it. There are several shops close to the Mandalay pick-up stand (on Lashio Road by the Clock Tower), and at least one near the Central Market.
Aung Padamya Restaurant A bit of a distance from the clock tower (behind the Shan Market) and in a residential neighborhood (in what looks like a converted garage) this is possibly the best Indian restaurant in all of Myanmar.
Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery: An American run cafe and bakery on the Mandalay - Lashio road (across from Grace Hotel II), this was the one place in Myanmar where you could get a decent espresso ( it has to be good, as it is twice as expensive as in your own Country). Pizzas, Burgers (mutton and veggie, beef is rare in Myanmar), sandwiches. Try their milk shakes and fresh fruit juices.
Krishna Restaurant: An unmarked South Indian restaurant in a lane behind Grace Hotel II (House 50, Block 5, Gorakha Road - parallel to the Mandalay-Lashio Road), Krishna serves Indian curries with lentils, chapatis, and rice. Well priced and good home cooked food. Another alternative for those into South Indian food might be the "South Indian Food Centre" (walk the main road east of clock tower and take the first lane to the right, just follow the signs). No chapatis here though. As of may 2014, they do serve chapatis.
The Night Market : Every day around 5PM there is a night market with a lot of street food, behind the clock tower, which replaces the day market. You can find a lot of fried stuff also suitable for vegetarians, as well as traditional tea, amazing Myanmar salads as well as Indian food.
If you are vegetarian or simply feel like having a tasty salad, try one of the Myanmar traditional salads (Tomato salad, ginger, cabbage, lemon, pickled tea leaf, etc. ). They are very tasty and can be found in every city. You can find them in Pyin Oo Lwin at the night market, or during the day in several local eateries. One of these is on the main road, on the turn to the Hindu temple on the right, next to a big tree. If you are in doubt, just ask for it!
Pyin U Lwin has a few magnificent restored colonial houses for hotels. Unfortunately, almost all of these are run by the government. Candacraig, the place immortalised by Paul Theroux, is worth a visit but don't waste your money on a meal there.
Although staying in the town center is convenient, the town itself doesn't offer much things to see and can be quite noisy in early morning. This is because the road is the main artery connecting Mandalay and Lashio. Hence, it is better that you stay in uptown near the Kandawgyi Garden, for examples Circular Road. There are plenty of cheap to midrange guesthouses on the road starting from the location of former Croxton Hotel. From there the garden is within walking distance, air is fresher. Many nice bars such as Woodlands, Hiromi Cafe and Greenland cafe and local eateries are also nearby.
San Fransisco Resort Guest House & Restaurant, Club Rd. (1km south of the Clock Tower, near the golf club), ☎ +95 (0) 85-21534 / 09-2044293, . Newly opened for foreigners since December 2012 after the government allowed for guesthouses with less than 20 rooms to cater for foreigners. Small houses set in a beautiful garden with outside dining areas. Rooms are clean, spacious with TV and hot showers. Nice towels, toothbrush/toothpaste & shampoo included. Rooms from $15-$25 per night for a single person in a double room or $30-$35 for two persons, depending on season. Breakfast is included. Bicycles are available for hire, 2000kyat/day. The staff is most friendly and the service is great. WIFI is reliably available in the restaurant and often in the guest houses. There is a separate connection for Apple products.edit
Star Hotel $25-30 for a single room. Slightly dingy/dark rooms but clean enough and has working (and fast!) Wi-Fi in the rooms.
Bravo Hotel, (a couple of buildings from Grace Hotel II). 22.02799N, 96.46478Eshared/private bath; US$15-25. Wow this is a very nice upscale place to stay with budget prices. The room was very clean and modern with a nice bathroom and televison. UPDATE MAY 2013: Double ensuite $30, really nice room. Haggling down to 20$ without breakfast was possible in MARCH 2013. Fast WiFi!. (22.02799N,96.46478E)edit
Golden Dream Hotel Lashio Road (a couple of buildings from Grace Hotel II). Fans; shared/private bath; US$6-10. Dirty, Dark and does not provide sheets, (along with Grace Hotel I) one of the oldest hotels licenced for foreigners in Pyin U Lwin. Buckets of hot water available on request. You have to deal with the noise though.
Grace Hotel 2, 46/48 Lashio Road (Near clock tower, ask a local to point!), . checkout: 12. They only have double rooms with attached bathroom - 18$ for a couple, 10$ for single (You can get a discount if you stay for 3+ nights). UPDATE FEBRUARY 2014: Our double ensuite room cost $17, sheets clean, new power sockets, shower pointed directly at toilet (we know this is an Asia standard). You can rent a motorcycle from the hotel for USD 10 with full tank of gas, and from the morning till late evening(March 2014.)Pretty good wifi in rooms.10/18$. edit
Cherry Guesthouse, Lashio road Road (Just north of the clock tower, about 100 metres), ☎ +95 (0) 85 21306 / 21911, . checkout: 12. Sheets were clean, big double rooms, padlock on the outside for security, large bathroom and ceiling fan. Hot water not available at times, be sure to ask. Friendly owners, basic English. Wifi works but weak on 2nd floor. No breakfast. They don't have a website but we've included photo/video in the weblink$20 double ensuite. edit
Royal flower Guesthouse, (south east from train station). Nice family run guesthouse. Very quiet, very nice rooms, with hot shower. Owners are warm and helpful$20/$25 single/double ensuite. edit
Queen Hotel Lashio Road. Fans; shared/private bath; KYAT$5000-7000 single/double. This hotel had cleaner sheets then many of those charging $10 dollars. Bathroom in horribly unclean shape and shower is fixed directly above the toilet. 09-2044030, 08521405
Dahlia Motel, in the green area, have 10 dollars single with bathroom, hot shower on the back, good value, through you will probably to insist to get a cheap room, breakfast incluses, wifi, serves curries with side dishes for 1500kiat, green and cheap...insiste for clean sheet...maybe...
Grace Hotel I 114 Nan Myaing Road. Fans; hot water; private bath; US$15/25 single/double. A short walk (little less than a km) south of the clock tower, the spacious rooms are threadbare but clean. This is easily the place to relax in Pyin U Lwin. It has a nice garden, ideally suited for catching up on your journal or enjoying the (meagre!) breakfast provided. A nice, though nameless, Nepali shack nearby provides quick and tasty 'daal bhaat,' and there are several restaurants a little further away including an interesting Chinese one with private booths in the garden!
Mya Nan Taw hotel Junction of Circular Road and Multi Office Road. About 200-300 meter away from former croxton hotel building and opposite of multi-office road. Room are very nice with big polished wooden floor, modern toilet and sun receiving window. No single room. Double room from us$ 25 with breakfast and wifi. Email: email@example.com. Tel: 085 211 94 , 011 200163
Kandawgyi Lodge. Privately run (to the extent that anything in Burma is privately run) but partly lodged in a colonial bungalow, this is the upscale choice in Maymyo.US$50-60. edit
Sweety Land Hotel, Club Road (Near Golf Club), ☎ +95 85 21348, . Near the golf club and Botanical Gardens. A well equipped new hotel with satellite TV and popular with middle class citizens of Myanmar.US$20-40. edit
For some reason, international calls are cheaper in Pyin U Lwin and you can get to call overseas to the UK and US for about US$3-4 a minute by shopping around. Try the call office just before the cinema on the road from Grace Hotel I to the clock tower.
There are a few internet cafes in town. Once Option is T.Net around the corner from the Golden Triangle Bakery, 400 kyat/hour. Another one on the first street to the right after the Bakery, Day and Night Internet, has 14 computers.
Gokteik Viaduct - this famous bridge, a marvel of British ingenuity and American engineering is a couple of hours away by train. Most tourists stay on the train and head for Hsipaw and/or Lashio, but it is also possible (and well worth the time) to make the trip there and back in a day. Train leaves Pyin U Lwin at 8:30am.
Hsipaw - laid back Shan town a few hours to the north-east, and a good place for trips to Shan and Palaung villages.
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