Dusty Lanes and Colonial Grandeur: Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Pony cart on a wide dusty street,  Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Horse Carriages and Dusty Streets
The colonial hill town of Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar, is an odd mix of dilapidated development and old colonial grandeur.

Pyin Oo Lwin (or Maymyo), a small town 67 kilometers (42 mi) east of Mandalay is an odd place, with it’s dusty streets and Wild-West look. According to Wikipedia: “The town began as a military outpost established near a small Shan village with two dozen households…”, becoming a permanent military town by 1896. Tour books will tell you the town still feels “anglicised” from the days of colonial rule, but this is only noticeable once you are away from the inner-city rubble and litter.

I’ve written about the town, and the flower markets in the streets outside it, before:

Because of its altitude (1070 meters – 3510 feet) and temperate climate, Pyin Oo Lwin was a established as a hill station and summer capital during British colonial rule. The weather, perfect for growing fruit, vegetables and especially flowers, means that the popular resort town is sometimes called Pan Myo Daw, “The City of Flowers“.

It was after our morning stop at the flower markets that we ten photography enthusiasts, along with photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM, piled into gaily painted wooden pony carts for a tour of the town and its surrounds.

Pony and Cart in the dusty main street, Pyin Oo Lwin

Pony and Cart
These dainty ponies hardly look strong enough to manage the cart and driver – even without three sturdy passengers with camera gear!

Grey pony decorated with red flowers, Pyin Oo Lwin

Decorated Pony
With their plastic flowers and gaily decorated harnesses, the ponies were almost as colourful as their carts.

Young Burmese men setting on concrete steps in front of a building, Pyin Oo Lwin

Boyz in the Hood
A pony cart provides a nice (albeit unpredictably bumpy!) elevation from which to watch the life in the local streets.

Street scene, Pyin Oo Lwin

“City” Street
In spite of the shimmering heat, the puddles from the last downpour remain.

The back of a blond woman and a burmese pony-trap driver, Pyin Oo Lwin

Tourists in the Pony Traps
Soon we are out of the downtown, and into greener areas…

Burmese man sprawled on littered grass, Pyin Oo Lwin

Life isn’t Perfect
… but even here, things can be tough.

Looking up a long driveway at the colonial hotel Candacraig, Pyin Oo Lwin

Our first stop is at Candacraig, the oldest hotel in Myanmar.

Looking up the teak staircase Inside Candacraig, Pyin Oo Lwin

Inside Candacraig
Originally built in 1904 by the British Bombay Burma Timber Company for their expatriates, Candacraig is now a government-owned hotel.

Inside an almost-bare room with ten flooring, Candagraig, Pyin Oo Lwin.

Upstairs Candacraig
Paul Theroux, the American travel writer and novelist, tells of his stop here in The Great Railway Bazaar (1975).

Burmese woman in a sarong bating at a well. Candacraig, Pyin Oo Lwin

For all it’s teak splendour, Candacraig is little improved. People still bucket-bathe out the back.

Portrait: Burmese woman in blue dress.

Makeup Ready
While we were there, Candacraig was being used as a set…

Close-up: burmese man and woman in blue, on the porch of Candacraig, Pyin Oo Lwin

Singing On the Porch
… for a music video. We weren’t sure if this was for a song, or part of a movie, as the actors were an ethnic minority whom our guide had trouble understanding.

Pony attached to a cart, Pyin Oo Lwin

Horse Carriage
Meanwhile, our ponies were grazing.

Portrait: Burmese Pony Driver

Pony Driver

Pots and Pans hanging at a shopfront, Pyin Oo Lwin

Pots and Pans
Back in town centre, I had the opportunity to wander through the shops…

Bananas handing in a shop front, Pyin Oo Lwin

… and the fresh-food markets.

red, yellow and pink roses on a market table. Pyin Oo Lwin

Flowers for Sale
Here, too, Pyin Oo Lwin’s famous flowers are for sale.

Smiling  burmese Woman in straw hat, Pyin Oo Lwin

Smiling Woman
But, it is the people I enjoy the most.

Burmese men Delivering Coconuts from the back of a covered pickup, Pyin Oo Lwin

Delivering Coconuts

Portrait: a burmese man behind a heaped tray of rice, Pyin Oo Lwin

Selling Rice

Portrait: Burmese male in front of bags of grain, Pyin Oo Lwin

Selling Flour and Grain
(The beetle-chewing starts young!)

Man in a longhi and singlet, wit a motorcycle, Pyin Oo Lwin

At the Mechanics
The absence of protective clothing in high-risk work areas is always noticeable. Of course, the weeping goldsmith flowers on the bike will appease any mischievous Nats (Burmese spirits), so everything will be fine!

Portrait: Burmese male at a mechanic

At the Mechanics

Burmese woman in front of shelves of bottles. Pyin Oo Lwin

Bottles, boxes and bags…

Burmese woman in a shop crowded with goods, Pyin Oo Lwin

Selling Flowers
– and just about everything else!

Text: Keep smilingTruly a town of contrasts.

But, as is the case elsewhere in Myanmar, the smiles are never hard to find.

There is a lot to be said for that.

May we, too, keep smiling!

 Pictures: 16September2012

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