Pyin Oo Lwin, a British colonial town

Mark Levitin | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Pyin Oo Lwin, a former British hill station in Burma, has remained so colonial it does not even look like Myanmar. Old European villas seem to be more common here than the usual Burmese wooden and bamboo houses. Hindu temples and churches replace the typical pagodas. The market is just as rural, colorful and smelly as any such venue in Myanmar, but not all the faces are Burmese, not even the majority, probably. The town is very multi-national: Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nepali and various tribal communities make almost half of its population. As in the good old days, Pyin Oo Lwin still makes a great escape from the heat of the plains, a spot to chill out, stroll around town, or grab a cup of tea in a former colonial mansion. For those craving non-stop adventures, there are plenty of waterfalls just out of town and an Indiana Jones-like railway bridge on the way to Lashio.

Downtown Pyin Oo Lwin

© Mark Levitin

There are few specific attractions in downtown Pyin Oo Lwin, but a stroll around town is a nice way to spend half a day. Photographers should head for the market, preferably in the morning. Fans of colonial history might check out the old mansions, some of which have been converted into hotels. The most famous of those is Candacraig, nowadays Thiri Myaing hotel. Purcell Tower, the clock tower in the center, is more symbolic than visually impressive, bit is rumored to chime like Big Ben. The culinary specialty of Pyin Oo Lwin is as European (exotic for Myanmar) as the place itself - strawberries. Farmers sell them in the market and from street stalls, shops stock strawberry jam, and bakeries produce strawberry cakes. It could be a palliative cure for your homesickness if you need it. Otherwise, well, it is just strawberries.


© Mark Levitin

The hills around Pyin Oo Lwin are steep, and the differences in elevation create lots of waterfalls. The two most popular spots are Anisakan and Pwe Kauk. Both are, in fact, whole systems of drops, cascades and rapids, rather than single falls. It will take at least a couple of hours to explore each, not counting getting there. The environment is forested, with streams flowing and plummeting off the rocks right between trees. Sturdy sandals with a good grip are advisable. At Pwe Kauk, if you do not mind a bit of risk and your footwear is good enough, you can even wade to the point where the main current drops off a sheer precipice to splash on the ground some 50m below. The water is surprisingly shallow there, but one wrong step, and you will splash too.

Goteik viaduct

© Istock/mathess

"A step back in time" may be an attractive description when applied to the ambiance of a town, for example. When it is said about a bridge one is going to cross on board a train, it sounds a bit scary. Especially if it is the tallest bridge in the country, once a great feat of British colonial engineering. Completed in 1899, the Goteik viaduct was the largest railway trestle at the time of construction. It has since been maintained and repaired regularly but has not changed significantly and is still in operation. Take any train from Pyin Oo Lwin in the direction of Lashio, and enjoy the ride. Be sure to sit on the left to be on the inward side of the curving viaduct - this way, you can see it ahead and behind you. 

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