Pyin Oo Lwin

Visiting an old British hill station in the middle of Burma definitely felt a bit unsettling. No matter how much I'd read about it, stepping into this charming little town felt so odd after we'd just spent days seeing hundreds of pagodas everywhere. It was now time for horse-drawn carriages, colonial houses and lots and lots of trees! We were most excited to spend a few days in Pyin Oo Lwin because of its much cooler climate (it's situated in the mountains, a couple hours by car from Mandalay). Temperatures still reached 25ºC during the day but after months in near 40ºC weather every day, the air almost felt cool and actually a bit cold at night. Like most people, we came here to relax, which we sure did plenty of. But looking back on our time in Pyin Oo Lwin, what I remember most is the friendliness of its inhabitants. Yet again, Burma treated us with nothing but kindness.

To start with, there was our guesthouse, Royal Flower Guesthouse, which is owned by a family. When the mother wasn't cooking delicious breakfasts (local specialties or eggs & toast with homemade strawberry jam), she was preparing snacks. One evening, we were sitting outside with a bunch of other guests, drinking beer and she came out with a tray of fried tofu! Another afternoon, when Tyler and I came back drenched after getting caught in an afternoon rain storm, she brought us an entire freshly fried fish for us to share. The son was just as friendly, giving us all kinds of advice on things to do and places to see. Oh! And the afternoon we came back drenched, they took our muddy shoes and cleaned them for us, just because. By the way, if you happen to stay there, make sure to ask the son, Coco, to bring you to his neighbors so you can buy some homemade wine. It doesn't get much better than that.

Breakfast is served

Then, there was that time we went to have dinner at the Shan market. With no menu on hand, we were left to our own devices and our “Point It” book. We were craving noodles so we pointed to that picture and at the same time asked “noodles?” while attempting whatever hand motion you would imagine noodles to look like. But he couldn't quite tell what we were talking about (understandably) so he took the book and passed it on to a couple others for their opinion. Soon, there were about 8 people, including some customers, hovering over the book. Finally, the owner brought a fistful of fresh noodles, Tyler and I both nodded enthusiastically and within minutes, we were devouring a delicious dinner.

Finally, we rented a motorbike one day and after pulling over on the side of the road to wait for the rain to stop, we couldn't figure out how to get the key back in the hole (there was a cover on it). Luckily, a gentleman nearby didn't hesitate to come over and help us. From there, we rode to Anisakan Falls and hiked down the muddy path to the waterfall. Of course, within 5 minutes, we were hit with another rainstorm (you guessed it, this was the day we came back to the guesthouse with muddy shoes). After watching a couple kids splash water at each other while we sought cover under a tarp, a man came over and invited us to a small hut nearby. A few of the monks from the nearby monastery were hanging out in there and we were greeted with wide smiles. They spoke to us in Burmese but after failed attempts at understanding each other, they called over an older monk who did speak English. He asked us a few questions such as where we were from, how old we were and long we were staying in Burma before offering us some of their tea leaf salad. One of the monks left for a few minutes before returning with coffee and powdered cream. After a good half hour of enjoying some coffee and smiles, we thanked them and hiked back up, warm and happy.

When we weren't busy making friend, we also enjoyed some nice afternoons biking around town and walking around the National Kandawgyi Gardens.

From Pyin Oo Lwin, we left for Kyaukme by train, which meant crossing the Gokteik Viaduct, the highest bridge in Burma and the largest railway trestle in the world when it was completed in 1900. Crossing over a 102 meter-high drop (335 ft) was quite exciting, especially considering how slowly the train moved, giving you plenty of time to really freak out.

Leaves from bushes alongside the thin railway get chopped off as you ride along