Although most visitors to Myanmar stick to the major tourist sites of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle, one place that has caught the attention of many travellers, particularly those who love flowers, is the mountain resort town of PyinOoLwin, a one-hour drive away from Mandalay and the gateway to northern Shan State. This cool town is also gaining popular on account of many Myanmar movies being shot there.
Located at an altitude of 3,515 ft (1,070m), PyinOoLwin was originally called “May”, after its first governor Colonel James May who was stationed on an early army base here to administer Bengal Infantry-led operations to quell the rebel fighting in Shan States. The British found the hill station’s weather lovely and resemble that of England, and turned the army base into a summer capital officially in 1896 taking refuge from the oppressive heats of Yangon and Mandalay during summer. One advantage of PyinOoLwin is that, thanks to its good climate, flowers can be grown here all year round.
The colonial heritage of PyinOoLwin has largely remained today. Many former government office buildings and red-brick mansions inside large compounds where thick trees of pine, cherry and jacaranda grow can still be seen across the town. These heritage buildings now serve as guest houses providing unique colonial-era atmosphere. The Rough Guide to Myanmar’s writing beautifully depicts PyinOoLwin with colonial memories as follow:
“PyinOoLwin’s history is still in evidence today in other ways, making it a wonderful place to explore. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop past colonial mansions, the Purcell Tower’s bells – cast in London in 1935 for King George V’s Silver Jubilee – chime every quarter hour, and strawberries nestle alongside tropical fruit in the Shan Market.”
Another British legacy and one of the main tourist attractions here is the Kandawgyi National Gardens (formerly called “Botanical Garden”), a 437-acre park with a 70-acre lake, forestland, and rose, tulip, orchid and bamboo gardens. The idea to establish the Botanical Garden was initiated by a British forestry official, Mr. Charles Alex Rogers, in 1915. When it opened in 1917 it was 150 acres in size.
The park was taken over by the government in December 1942, after which it was expanded to 240 acres. It’s an excellent stop off for flower lovers and is immaculately cared for by a dedicated team of local park rangers.
PyinOoLwin is also famous for its both natural and man-made water falls such as PweKauk Fall and Anisakhan Fall; as well as the Peik Chin Myaung Cave, a natural limestone cavern of the Shan Plateau. There visitors can take a 30-minute stroll along a path built beside a stream of crystal clear groundwater – a perfect place for speleologists.
Another popular tourist attraction near PyinOoLwin is the Gokteik Viaduct, a railway trestle between PyinOoLwin and Naungcho townships on the Mandalay-Lashio railway. Built and completed in 1900, it is the highest bridge in Myanmar and when it was completed, the largest railway trestle in the world. Both local and foreign visitors usually catch the Lashio-bound train at PyinOoLwin Station in the morning to experience the train ride over a 300-ft-high canyon across which the 2260-ft-long viaduct spans. The more-than-a-century-old viaduct itself and the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding mountains prove themselves worth paying a visit.