Pyin U Lwin
|Mandalay Division of Myanmar.
By Train: Trains from Mandalay (US$2/US$4)leave at 4:30 am and 2:30pm for the five hour ride to Pyin U Lwin. Numerous switchbacks 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. From Hsipaw and Lashio the journey is about 6 hours and 10 hours respectively.
By Bus: There are no scheduled bus services to Pyin U Lwin. Buses to and from Hsipaw will drop you off but you have to pay the fare for the entire trip.
By Pick-up: Pick-ups from Mandalay leave every 10 to 15 minutes as they fill up (expect more in the mornings, fewer around mid-day, and more in the evening). K1000.
By Shared Taxi: Shared Taxis (K5000) leave from downtown Mandalay (ask at your hotel) for the two hour journey to Pyin U Lwin. You can walk into a shared taxi during the morning hours but it is best to call ahead if you plan on leaving after about 10am.
By Taxi: A private taxi to Pyin U Lwin should be about K25,000 from downtown Mandalay or K30,000 from the airport. Negotiate.
By Plane: An airstrip is under construction nearby. Soon, unfortunately, you'll be able to fly there.
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.
SeePyin 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.
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 speciality 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 probably the best Indian restaurant in all of Myanmar. Don't miss it.
Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery: An American run cafe and bakery on the Mandalay - Lashio road (across from Grace Hotel II), this is the one place in Myanmar where you can get a decent espresso. Pizzas, Burgers (mutton and veggie, beef is rare in Myanmar), sandwiches, and you have a nice place to sit in and miss home. Try their milk shakes and fresh fruit juices.
Krishna Restaurant: An unmarked Indian restaurant in a lane behind Grace Hotel II (parallel to the Lashio Road), Krishna serves Indian curries with lentils, chappatis, and rice. Well priced and good home cooked food.
A local grape wine is available in addition to the various beers. A bit sweet for Western palates but worth a try.
Pyin U Lwin is the center for coffee plantations in Burma. Try the Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery for the only good espresso in all of Myanmar.
Pyin U Lwin has a few magnificient restored colonial houses for hotels. Unfortunately, almost all of these are run by the government. Candacraig, the place immortalized by Paul Theroux, is worth a visit but don't waste your money on a meal there.
Grace Hotel I 114 Nan Myaing Road. Fans; hot water; private bath; US$5/10 single/double. A short walk (little less than a km) south of the clock tower, Grace Hotel I is threadbare but clean and is easily the place to relax in when in Pyin U Lwin on a budget. It has a nice garden, ideally suited for catching up on your journal or enjoying the (meagre!) breakfast provided. A nice nepali shack nearby provides quick and tasty 'daal bhaat,' and there are several restaurants a little further away including an interesting chinese one.
Grace Hotel II 46/48 Lashio Road. Fans; shared/private bath; (US$4-10). Better kept than it's sister hotel but it comes with all the noise associated with being on the old Burma road. The noise starts early, so beware!
Golden Dream Hotel Lashio Road (a couple of buildings from Grace Hotel II). Fans; shared/private bath; US$4-10. Clean and friendly. You have to deal with the noise though!
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 single/double.
By Train: Two trains daily to Mandalay and one to Hsipaw and Lashio.
By Bus: There are no scheduled bus services from Pyin U Lwin. Buses to and from Hsipaw are usually full and it is unlikely that you'll get a seat if you flag one down.
By Pick-up: Pick-ups for Mandalay leave every 10 to 15 minutes from across the clock tower (K1000). Pick-ups for Hsipaw and Lashio leave early (by 7am) from the Shan Market and make their slow way across the mountains, stopping often in the search for fares.
By Shared Taxi: Shared Taxis for Mandalay (K5000) leave from the pick-up stand across from the Clock Tower or ask your hotel to find you one (ask at your hotel) for the two hour journey. For Hsipaw and Lashio, share taxis (K10,000) leave from the Shan Market only when full. Best to reserve a share taxi the night before (your hotel can do it for you).
By Taxi: Your hotel can find you a private taxi if you want one. K25,000 for Mandalay and K40,000 for Hsipaw or Lashio. Negotiate.