Pyin Oo Lwin (also called Maymyo, Pan Myo Daw or ‘The City of Flowers’) lies on the railway line between Mandalay and Lashio. Most tourists pass through POL on their way to nearby Hsipaw, a popular jumping-off point for treks into northern Shan State, but if you have time to spare, POL is a great place to alight the train and break up the long, bumpy journey. Established as a British hill station in 1896, the town quickly became the summer capital of British Burma due to its mild climate (to give you an indication of how cool it is, sweater-knitting is now one of the main industries). The POL of today is more Shan than British, but still retains many of its colonial charms – with measures of Chinese, Indian and Gorkha culture thrown into the mix. POL has three main attractions that warrant a day or two of exploration: the spectacular Botanical Gardens, the town’s two markets, and the architecture, all easily accessed by bicycle.
Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens
POL has a alpine climate and a distinctly different feel to clammy Mandalay. Overgrown gardens, orchid nurseries and damp forest borders the roads outside of the town centre, making it perpetually cool and pleasant to explore by rented bicycle. Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens is an easy ride from downtown POL, although you’ll have to leave your bike at the gate and enter the grounds by foot. Established in 1915, Kandawgyi is a surreal time capsule of colonial Burma. Its patrons, Alex Roger and Lady Cuffe, designed the 30-acre plot to mirror Kew Gardens, and the complex features sprawling fields of daisies, a lake (home to a pair of imported mute swans), and perfectly manicured hedge rows. POL’s pride and joy, a whole day can easily be spent wandering the winding paths. Five-hundred species of indigenous trees, 75 species of bamboo, 300 species of orchid, a medicinal garden and an edible garden are among Kandawgyi’s features, as well as an aviary that houses horn bills, a butterfly house, and a treetop boardwalk.
The Wet Market and Shan Market
Unlike Hsipaw’s famous candle-lit market, the wet market and nearby Shan Market in POL are both open for most of the day. Find beautifully arranged wads of betel leaf, high-altitude growing avocados and strawberries, and a vibrant array of fresh Myanmar produce. If this is your first market stop outside of Mandalay, take the time to buy a longyi (traditional tube skirt worn by both men and women) and a wide-brimmed Shan hat, both essential items for trekking in Hsipaw.
Your hotel in POL will provide you with a mud map of the town and the main architectural sites. Highlights include the old Candacraig Hotel, originally a guest house of The Bombay Burma Trading Company, complete with derelict tennis courts. Other tudor-style mansions, catholic churches and old club houses are spread all over town, and stand in various states of decay. The Chan Tak Buddhist Temple is of a different ilk. Built by Yananese immigrants in the early 1900s, it’s a colourful example of Chinese temple architecture, complete with the beautiful gardens typical of POL and fading frescoes on some of the exterior temple walls.
As an introduction to Shan culture and one of the first destinations on our trip through Myanmar, we really enjoyed our time in the city of flowers. Have you been to Pyin Oo Lwin? Do you think it was worth stopping off for?