Pyin U Lwin is all about rest and relaxation. On my 6th day journey through Myanmar, I decided that it was the perfect day to turn-off the alarm clock and stay tucked under the sheets a bit longer than usual. Letting the cool climate dictate when I should be up and about. But that plan partly failed as I was already up by 7am. Good thing I was excited to explore Pyin U Lwin, a town which is still part of Mandalay Division is characterized by its strong British influence found almost 3500ft above sea level at the Shan State Highlands.
I immediately noticed the heavy Indian influence in Pyin U Lwin as well. Looking at the map, this northern part of Myanmar is close to India. No wonder their cable channel shows seems to be pulled straight out from India. But it was also the British who brought them here to work on the rails and roads connecting Mandalay to the far northern town of Lashio. It was 1896, when the British “discovered” this charming hill town composed of about 20 houses. A military post was set-up here and named the town Maymyo (from May-town) after Colonel May of the 5th Bengal division. When the rail and road was constructed, it became a popular British summer vacation town. By 1948, the name was changed to Pyin U Lwin, also marking the end of the British rule in Myanmar.
Until now, Pyin U Lwin has become a favorite summer destination not only from the common people but from the government officials as there are military camps for training their soldiers here. In my walk from the hotel, I also saw the influence of British architecture in a lot of structures in town. Not to mention the numerous horse-drawn carriages designed in varying fashion from the elaborate, to simple and boldly colored types can be found scattered in town. They are used as local transportation and attraction for tourist. The architecture and this carriages make Pyin U Lwin unique in Myanmar.
All Saints Church with its crimson and white walls definitely caught my eye several times when I passed by it. I was finally able to see it up close during my walk. This was built in 1912 as a regimental church for the British soldiers. Unfortunately, the church was closed. A lot of British visit this church hoping to find relatives who were buried on the cemetery behind the church.
Passing by low rise houses, I crossed paths with several monks begging for alms in the early morning. I was headed to the town center and the much cooler weather definitely made the walk easier despite the sun being up. I heard temperature at night goes down to 10 degree centigrade here. I wasn’t sure if that was the case last night but I definitely wished I wore a thicker jacket. My mouth was blowing cold smoke on every breath and I was half-jogging on my way to the Inn after having dinner to keep my body warm with activity. Temperature inside my room was around 20 degrees centigrade that I had two thick blankets when I slept.
I reached Purcell Tower at the main road intersection corner. This was said to be a gift from the Queen and a replica of the Big Ben in London. Just a few steps away from the tower is the beautiful Jamah Mosque, a place of worship for the Muslim faith. It’s also a refreshing to see different structures of faith apart from the usual temples in Myanmar. The building facades themselves are lent as an interesting backdrop for the local colors passing by them.
The market center was bustling and colourful. I definitely enjoyed the different characters here from the fruit and vegetable vendors, young shoppers and even those serving different kind of street foods. The people were so kind here they enjoyed having their pictures taken. I wasn’t able to catch some mountain tribes who visit here early morning to trade though.
I took a different route on my way back to the hotel, trying to see more of the inner streets. One thing I can say, the place is a departure from the usual Myanmar sites I know. There are only a few temples here but I did notice a lot of pharmacies and clinics. Pyin U Lwin reminds me of our own Baguio in the Philippines but in a more charming and miniature scale of low rise buildings mixed with pine trees. I wished I could stay here a day more but my room price would be double since they have a Balloon festival happening later that day. I was also scheduled to leave for Mandalay that afternoon en route to Inle Lake. I sure am glad I took this detour as it gave me a much needed respite.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.