Retreating to the colonial hill top station of Pyin Oo Lwin
11.08.2011 - 11.08.2011 30 °C
Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
With heat and humidity affected Mandalay we decide to do as the colonial government did, over 100 years ago, and retire to the summer Hill Station of Pyin Oo Lwin for cool exploration. Departing by shared taxi proved the most efficient and economical method of transport. Shared with two Burmese locals the taxi collected us from our hotel and delivered us to our new hotel some hour and a half later for a cost that was approximately 1/10th that of a private taxi – a revenue model that made no sense at all to us.
Departing the city for the relatively short forty mile journey we soon traded the familiar city landscape for one of paddy fields and bamboo dwellings. Rising from the dusty plains of Mandalay the road to Pyin Oo Lwin climbs steeply into the green hills of the Shan Plateau. We continue to pass quiet, ramshackle country villages, which offer a taste of rural life without any of vestige of the commercialism we have become familiar with, in Mandalay. Replete with scooters, pickup trucks and buses, ferrying undoubtedly like minded individuals to cooler climates, our journey passes quickly.
At 3,500ft above sea level Pyin Oo Lwin readily offered the cool, dry climate we expected. Whereas the British generally left a relatively small cultural mark on their colonial processions in Burma, Pyin Oo Lwin is a notable exception. Founded in 1896, the hill station became the destination of the colonial government, eager to escape the oppressive heat of a Mandalay summer, a role it held until the end of British rule in 1948. Whilst the name of the British summer capitol changed from Maymyo, when the British departed, the colonial buildings remain.
Curiously, our hotel overlooking the Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens and resembling a English Lake District guesthouse, formerly housed British Military Intelligence – providing an almost complete set of intelligence headquarters having visited both former KGB and Gestapo offices earlier in our trip.
Founded in 1915 by English botanist Alex Rodgers, the 100 acre botanic garden of Kandawgyi is clearly still lovingly maintained. With Swamp walkways, a rather sparse orchid garden but some lovely ornamental flowerbeds reminiscent of the best that a Harrogate or Bournemouth might offer in the summer months we are immediately transported to a lazy summers afternoon back in England. With the preponderance of plant nurseries outside the park it is clear that the British penchant for gardening, something we have not seen anywhere else in Myanmar was transplanted here along with a similar Climate, scenery and architecture.
In the gardens we are able to ascend the Nan Myint Tower for panoramic views of Pyin OO Lwin before walking the mile or so into the town, simultaneously arriving with the afternoon monsoon. Sheltering in a promising but ultimately disappointing Burmese bakery we head to the local vaguely covered market with the hope that the rain will soon desist. With little sign of a change in the weather and relatively few tourist sites, after the Purcell Tower – donated by Queen Victoria – we return to our hotel by way of horse and carriage. Lavishly decorated and highly photogenic our carriage bumps and jerks along the bumpy, generally surfaced roads. In typical fashion no sooner than we ascend into our carriage but the rain halts. No matter. A brief respite before supper is now too appealing.
Supper is found at an up market Thai restaurant, housed in a old colonial building with an outdoor, lantern lit, terrace for evening dining. With a good forty minute walk to the restaurant down unlit pot hole filled roads, with the potential for erratic scooter drivers – often with no lights themselves – at every corner a taxi returns us to our accommodation, having enjoyed an excellent supper in cool no air conditioning surroundings.