Founded in 1896 as a British hill station known as Maymyo, Pyin Oo Lwin remains a popular escape from the heat of Mandalay. These days, though, most visitors are well-off Burmese who stay in comfortable hotels or holiday homes south of the centre. The town is also an important military training centre and a sign as you approach from Mandalay hails “the triumphant elite of the future”.
You can get around the sights on foot, or hire a motorbike. Alternatively, you could take one of the town’s iconic horse-carts on a short tour for K3000–4000. They wait for customers in the centre of town, particularly around Purcell Tower and the Central Market.
The most rewarding half-day trip out of Pyin Oo Lwin is to the Anisakan Falls, located amid densely forested hills 9km southwest of town. The easiest way to visit is to take a taxi from the roundabout on the edge of town. The walk from the car park to the base of Dat Taw Gyaik – the most impressive of the falls – takes 45 minutes, and it’s a fairly strenuous hour back. The falls are at their most spectacular in the rainy season.
Circular Road is one of the richest hunting grounds for the town’s colonial architecture. Some of the buildings have retained their old function, such as the grand Croxton Hotel (now renamed the Gandamar Myaing Hotel) and the No. 4 Basic Education High School, both on Circular Road. Others have changed function: the British Club on Anawrahta Road is now the government-owned Candacraig Hotel, worth popping inside for its hunting-lodge vibe. An old single-storey mansion on Cherry Street is now the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
The town’s most popular attraction, for locals and tourists alike, is the National Kandawgyi Gardens on Nandar Road, 2.5km south of the centre. Founded in 1915, this large botanical garden includes a short swamp walkway and an aviary that is a particular hit with children. Close to the main entrance there’s an outdoor swimming pool, while views from the Nan Myint tower on the northwest side give a good sense of the affluent part of town in which the gardens are set. Note that the gardens are owned by Htoo Group, which has been subject to international sanctions.
The commercial centre of town, marked by the Purcell Tower, is rather more down-to-earth than the southern suburbs and has a flavour of South Asia thanks to the descendants of Indian and Nepalese workers brought here by the British. Further east, the Shan Market on Circular Road attracts farmers from surrounding areas and is at its best around 6.30am.