Sunday, 25 February 2018

Pyin Oo Lwin and The Lashio Road

Pyin Oo Lwin.

Until 1896 Pyin Oo Lwin, 76 kilometres east of Mandalay was a small Danu hill tribe village. The British colonial authorities then set about turning the area into a hill station, naming it Maymyo after Colonel James May of the 5th Bengal Infantry who was stationed here. Once the British had built the railway from Mandalay, Maymyo became the Summer Capital.

The British administrators built Edwardian-style summer cottages to retire to during the hottest months of the year. These and other grand colonial buildings such as the Survey Training Centre and the quaint railway station are the main attraction for visitors today. The British also brought with them labourers from India and Nepal. Their descendants today make up a significant proportion of the population.

At 3506 feet (1050 metres) above sea level, Pyin Oo Lwin is noticeably cooler that the dry, tropical lowlands of Mandalay. You will notice the temperature changing as you drive up the winding road into the hills through plantation forests. There is a viewpoint along the road with fantastic vistas over the Ayeyarwady valley. The mild climate prompted the British to establish Myanmar’s Botanical Gardens here. The area is also perfect for the cultivation of flowers, fruit and vegetables and is a major agricultural production centre.

All Saint’s Church.

Just off the main road on the approach to the town centre from Mandalay, this was the regimental church for Maymyo. The area of town known for its colonial houses starts south east of here.


Built in 1904, Candacraig was originally a ‘Chummery’, a boarding house for on-leave single male colonial administrators. This is the hotel patronised by renowned travel writer Paul Theroux whilst writing his classic travel book, ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, and its sequel ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’. *He stayed in room eleven.

Purcell Tower.

Marking the centre of colonial Maymyo, the Purcell Clock Tower was a gift from Queen Victoria. The clock’s chime plays 16 notes before the hour, the same as London’s Big Ben.

Kandawgyi Gardens.

Established in 1915 by British forestry officer Mr. Charles Alex Rodgers, this fine botanic garden now covers some 176 hectares. These immaculately landscaped gardens boast more than 480 species of tree (all tagged with their botanical and common names) including the extremely rare Ginkgo, 80 species of bamboo and 133 species of orchids. The gardens are centred on a pretty 70 acre lake which offers bird watching opportunities.

Pwe Kauk Falls.

Five miles from Pyin Oo Lwin off the road to Lashio, these falls (known as Hampshire Falls to the British) are a popular weekend excursion spot for local people. There is a picnic ground, swimming area and local market selling fruit wines and jams, specialities of the region.

Peik Chin Myaung Cave.

About an hour’s drive along the Lashio road this 1,500 metre long limestone cave features an underground stream, and many stalagmites and stalactites. The cave is used as a Buddhist shrine and also contains many Buddha images and models of famous Pagodas.

The Train Ride to the Gokteik Viaduct.
An alternative to the car journey between Pyin Oo Lwin and the next major town, Hsipaw is the train, a six hour journey through the hills and villages of the high country. The undoubted highlight of the journey is the crossing of the Myitnge River over the century-old Gokteik viaduct, at the time of its construction the second highest in the world.

The train departs Pyin Oo Lwin at around 0815 each day and rattles slowly through the hills passing farms and stopping at small villages along the way. As the train approaches the viaduct, built in 1901, it slows to a crawl to avoid putting stress on the structure. Crossing the bridge with the train doors open to the ravine below is a memorable experience. We recommend that you take something soft to sit on – this is not the world’s most comfortable train. The journey features in the classic travel book ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’.


Four hours further up the Lashio Road from Pyin Oo Lwin lies Hsipaw, a charming small Shan country town situated where the road crosses the Dokhtawady River. Hsipaw was once the centre of an independent Shan Kingdom ruled by a Sao Bwa (Shan Prince). The last Sao Bwa, Sao Kya Seng disappeared in 1962, an event described by his wife, or Mahadevi, Inge Sargent in the book ‘Twilight over Burma: My life as a Shan Princess’.

Hsipaw is laid out around its large market which attracts tribal people from surrounding villages. The market opens very early in the morning and villagers trade by candlelight until dawn lends its light. There are several small factories and cottage industries around the town that can be viewed including our favourite, the popcorn factory. This relaxed, laid-back town is also a base for short river trips and day, and overnight treks into the surrounding countryside to Palaung and Shan villages.

Hsipaw also has the distinction of inspiring our company name. Hsipaw is home to Mr Charles and Mr Kid, the guesthouse owners. You can eat with Mr Food and buy your reading material from Mr Book. Mr Myanmar was ‘born’ here!

Haw Sao Pha.

This European-style Shan Palace, built in 1924 by Saw Bwa Sao Ohn Kya, stands at the northern end of the town. This two storey building boasts bay windows and wide verandas, built so that the family could sit outside and enjoy the view of the river. A spirit house acts as a reminder of traditional beliefs.

Bawgyo Pagoda.

This pagoda, a modern construction has a history at this site dating back 800 years. The four famous wooden Buddha images are displayed only once a year, at a ‘pwe’ (Pagoda festival) held annually around the time of the full moon of Tabaung in February or March. The pagoda is 5 miles along the main road to Pyin Oo Lwin.


Trekking is not a highly organised activity here but day, and overnight treks can be arranged (available guide permitting) to local Shan and Palaung villages, along the river and through hills and farmland. Accommodation is in village homes and Buddhist monasteries.

It is also possible to trek to (or drive to and trek back from) the remote town of Namhsan. This is another ex-Shan Kingdom and has been nicknamed the ‘Switzerland of Myanmar’ due to its altitude, 5,249 feet and stunning scenery of ridges and valleys. The area is home to the Shwe, or Golden Palaung hill tribe and famous for its vertiginous tea plantations.


The major city of Northern Shan State with a mixed Shan and Chinese population and marks the end of the railway from Mandalay. Lashio played an important role in the Second World War as a point of supply for Chinese forces fighting the Japanese. The most important monument here is the large Quan Yin Chinese Temple, dedicated to the merciful female deity. Lashio is the furthest you are allowed to travel towards the Chinese border without a special travel permit.


A small town on the banks of the Shweli River, Muse marks the border with China’s Yunnan Province and is the major border crossing between the two countries. It is possible to stay in this bustling market town, located 190 km from Lashio, whilst travelling overland between the two countries.

Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange travel to the Lashio Road region by private air-conditioned car from Mandalay. For a trip taking in Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw we recommend at least four full days including travelling time. If you do not have very much time available we can arrange a daytrip from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin allowing you enough time to take in the highlights of the colonial hill station.

The Lashio Road region can also be accessed from China. Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange the permit, guide and car needed to allow you to cross from Ruili, Yunnan Province to Muse and onwards along the Lashio Road to Mandalay. The whole journey can be completed in two days if you are in a hurry though we recommend you take your time and take in the sights along the way.

Mr Myanmar Travel also uses the Lashio Road as the springboard for two of Myanmar’s least-known adventures. Our train enthusiast’s trip to the Myanmar Mines Steam Railway at Namtu begins with the (permit only) road trip from Lashio. Another (permit only) adventure starts on the Chinese border at Muse, where an alternative road hugs the border to the old British colonial outpost of Namhkan, and Bhamo – from where we can arrange the Upper Ayeyarwady adventure trip to Mandalay. Please see the ‘Adventure’ box on our homepage for details.


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