Pyin U Lwin (Maymyo) is a city in the Mandalay Division of Central Myanmar.
Once the summer capital of the British 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 communities. As a town near the border of China, many Chinese 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. It is home to the Defence Academy of the Burmese military, and an important military base. At an elevation of 1,070 m, there is an abundance of flowers, strawberries, and coffee beans.
The British "discovered" Pyin U Lwin after the capture of Mandalay at the end of the Third Burmese War. An early Englishman wrote: "Pyin U Lwin, a charmingly situated village of some five and twenty houses, with a market-place and a gambling ring, won our hearts." (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 (in the hot season, the civil service, almost to the man, would move from Rangoon to Maymyo). A little later, it was made the headquarters of the Burma Division, a largely Gurkha and Indian division, and the remnants of that division forms the core of the Nepali population of Pyin U Lwin today. White goes on to say that: "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.
Cooler, relatively speaking, than the plains and the temperature rarely goes over 30°C in summer. Winter temperatures often fall below 10°C at night, so be prepared.
- Ellis, Beth, An English Girl's First Impression of Burmah, Bangkok, Orchid Press, 1997. First published in 1899, 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 did 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 recommended read.
The train station is north of the city and there are services to and from Mandalay, Hsipaw and Lashio. Trains from Mandalay (upper class 1,200 kyat, ordinary class 550 kyat) leave at 04:00 arriving at 07:52 (but delays are common). Four 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 is one train daily to Hsipaw and Lashio (08:34) the journey is about 6 hours and 10 hours respectively and goes over the famous Gokteik Viaduct. To Hsipaw, upper class 2,750 kyat, ordinary class 1,200 kyat. The train from Hsipaw and Lashio arrives at 16:05 and departs for Mandalay at 17:40. 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 no scheduled bus services to/from Pyin U Lwin. 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 for a seat in the back, 2,500 kyat in the front) depart throughout the day from near the gas station, on the Mandalay-Lashio Road about 600 metres south-west of 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 (8,000 kyat) and to/from Hsipaw (10,000 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 (central Mandalay) or 35,000 kyat (Mandalay airport). Negotiate.
An airstrip is under construction nearby.
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 live on in Pyin U Lwin. For far-flung places, frequent pick-ups ply the Mandalay road, motorcycle taxis 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 to about 1910.
- 1 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.
- 2 Chinese Temple (S of town, near Candacraig). A large and colourful Chinese temple built by the many Yunanese immigrants to the town.
- 3 English Cemetery (Maymyo Christian Cemetery) (Across town, beyond the tracks and the train station). 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.
- 4 National Kandawgyi Gardens (About 1.5km south of the city and you'll need your own transport (walk, bike, carriage, taxi) to get there and back). 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 among the highlights. Seeds are available for sale. A popular spot for locals. Open from 08:00 to 18:00. 6,500 kyat or US$5.
- 5 Purcell Tower (On the main intersection in Pyin U Lwin, across from the Mandalay pickup and share taxi stand). The clock in this tower is reputed to mime the chimes of Big Ben (or so says Lonely Planet).
- 6 Shiva Temple (On the road behind the clock tower). Hindu temple to the god Shiva.
- 7 National Landmarks Garden, next to botanical gardens. A grandiose collection of large models of Burma's landmarks. Generally pretty boring but has interesting touches like proudly displaying oil wells in the middle of a line of stupa. Entrance fee for foreigners is US$4 (or the kyat equivalent).
- Anisakan Falls. In a rugged gorge and framed at the base by a Buddhist temple, Anisaken Falls makes a good half day hike from Pyin U Lwin. Mandalay-bound pick-ups (300 kyat) 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 trailhead and back (about US$15). It's also possible to get there by bicycle, since it's only 12 km from town centre, but it's not a very nice ride as the road is steep, with a lot of traffic. Stalls at the trail head sell water, soft drinks, and snacks. The path is very 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 trail head. If you came by pickup, walk back to the main road and flag a Pyin U Lwin-bound pickup, there are plenty.
- 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 taxi (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. A large pool a little way down is a popular swimming hole. Share taxis to Pwe Kauk Falls often make the trip.
- 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.
- Gokteik Viaduct daytrip. You can cross the viaduct and come back the same day. Take the Lashio bound train at 08:22to Naung Paing (700/1,600 kyat ordinary/upper class), the first stop after the viaduct. You will arrive there around 11:50. Get out and take the Mandalay-bound train at 12:30. At around 10:30 the train will stop in Naung Che (Naung Hkio) for about 10 min. This is the stop just before Gokteik and your chance to buy lunch: Rice and chicken in banana leaf is sold on the platform by a couple of ladies. Make sure to tell the conductor that you want to cross the viaduct and take the train back to Pyin U Lwin. Sometimes the train delays and has to wait at Gokteik station (before crossing the viaduct) for the train from Lashio. This means you can't cross the bridge without missing your return train. They will then tell you to change the train there at Gokteik station. Although you are not able to cross the viaduct by train, you can still watch the other train doing so and best of all: you can walk on the viaduct and photograph the spectacular scenery. The local officers will guide your way and take care of your safety.
Pyin U Lwin is famous, in Myanmar that is, for strawberries, coffee, flowers, sweaters and damsons. The market is full of shops selling these products. In spring (late Feb, early Mar), flower stalls line the road to Mandalay. The Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery sells organic coffee from local plantations (ground and whole beans, all vacuum packed). 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 Rd 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). closes at 21:00. This is possibly the best Indian restaurant in all of Myanmar.
- 1 Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery (On the Mandalay-Lashio Rd, across from Grace Hotel II). An American-run cafe and bakery. This is one of the few places in Myanmar where you can get a decent espresso (1,800 kyat). Pizzas, burgers (mutton and veggie), sandwiches. Try their milk shakes and fresh fruit juices.
- Krishna Restaurant, House 50, Block 5, Gorakha Rd (In a lane behind Grace Hotel II, parallel to Mandalay-Lashio Rd). An unmarked Indian restaurant serving Indian curries with lentils, chapatis and rice. Well-priced, good home cooked food.
- 2 South Indian Food Centre (in the back streets north of the market, close to the main road). A depressing looking family establishment that nevertheless does amazing thali-style curry meals at low prices. There are numerous small, cheap Indian restaurants around town that also do similar meals. Meals for US$2.
- 3 the restaurant with no English name, Ziwaka street (from Mandalay-Lashio road walk south at roundabout on Ziwaka street. After passing 3 streets on the left, look for a restaurant that has a big tree in front of entrance with small shrine attached to tree. Located before Ziwaka street branches into 3 roads. Round the corner from Grace 1 Hotel and San Francisco Restaurant.). This restaurant has no English sign or transcripted Burmese name. But it does have an English menu! Go for a traditional set Burmese menu and choose any of their delicious curries. The curry is accompanied by 8 side dishes, 1 massive veggy plate with dressing, a soup, rice and a bowl of more rice to go for seconds or thirds. Plates are refilled by the attentive staff for no extra charge when empty. Meals from 2,500 kyat.
- 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 centre for coffee plantations in Burma.
Pyin U Lwin has a few magnificent colonial houses restored as 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.
- 1 Bravo Hotel, Mandalay-Lashio Road (A couple of buildings from Grace Hotel II), ☎ . Fans, shared/private bath. A very nice up-scale place to stay with budget prices and a rooftop deck. The room was very clean and modern with a nice bathroom and TV. US$15-25.
- Golden Dream Hotel, Lashio Rd (A couple of buildings from Grace Hotel II). Fans, shared/private bath. Dirty, dark and does not provide sheets (along with Grace Hotel I) one of the oldest hotels licensed for foreigners in Pyin U Lwin. Buckets of hot water available on request. It can be noisy. $20.
- Grace Hotel I, 114 Nan Myaing Rd (A short walk (little less than a kilometre) south of the clock tower). Fans, hot water, private bath. Grace Hotel I is threadbare but clean, and is a good place to relax in when in Pyin U Lwin on a budget. It has a nice garden, ideally suited for breakfast provided. A nice, though nameless, Nepali stall 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. US$5/15 single/double.
- 2 Grace Hotel II, 46/48 Lashio Rd. Fans, shared/private bath. Better kept than its sister hotel but it comes with all the noise associated with being on the old Burma road. The noise starts early, so beware. US$14-16 for double room.
- Queen Hotel, Lashio Rd, ☎ , . Fans, shared/private bath. This hotel had cleaner sheets then many of those charging US$10. There is no breakfast, but it's clean and they charge in kyat. US$10 per person for single/double.
- 3 Royal Flower Guesthouse, No 181, 11 St, Ward 8, Quarter 4 (Near the Shan Market), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Family-run guesthouse. Rooms are clean, relatively large, comfortable and bright, with en suite bath (with hot water). Very friendly and helpful staff, generous breakfast, on a quiet street. Very good value/price ratio. US$20-25.
- 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.
- Sweety Land Hotel, 9, Kalatt Street, 5 Quarter, Club Rd (Near the golf club and botanical garden), ☎ . A well-equipped hotel consisting of 16 rooms with satellite TV. Popular with middle class citizens of Myanmar. US$20-40.
- The golden Gate Resort Guesthouse, 91-B, Club Road, Quarter 5 (Walk down Ziwaka Rd from roundabout (at Mandalay-Lashio Rd) and take the third road to the very right.), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bungalows situated in a quiet area have spacy, clean, bright rooms with private bathroom attached. Spring mattress, wifi, TV and hot water (from a solar heater at the roof). The compound is super green and gives you some kind of jungle feeling. Everywhere flowers and trees. The gardeners really do a great job there. And you will have you own veranda to relax and enjoy the greenery. Breakfast is included and taken outside under a grass-thatched roof and you can choose between traditional or western breakfast. And of course, a cup of local coffee. The staff is very attentive, provides a map and helps to organize trips. from US$20 (single), US$22 (double).
For some reason, international calls are cheaper in Pyin U Lwin and you can call overseas to the UK and U.S. 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 the city. One is T.Net around the corner from the Golden Triangle Bakery, 400 kyat/hour. Another is on the first street to the right after the bakery, Day and Night Internet.
- Gokteik - the Gokteik Viaduct, a famous bridge, a marvel of British ingenuity and American engineering, is a couple of hours away by train. Most tourists stay on the train to see it 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 08:30.
- Hsipaw - laid back Shan town a few hours to the northeast, and a good place for trips to Shan and Palaung villages.
- Kyauk Me - a Shan town that is much less touristy than Hsipaw, also a good base for trekking in Shan and Palaung villages.