Chilling out in the highland

Wunna (Meiktila)
Kandawgyi Park attracts lots of local and foreign visitors with its soothing greenery and colourful flora. (Photo - EMG)

With summer upon us, there’s no better way to escape the horrid heat than by making a day trip to Pyin Oo Lwin, a scenic hill station and the former summer capital of British Burma. With an elevation of 1,070 metres, Pyin Oo Lwin, just 67 kilometers east of Mandalay, makes for the perfect summer getaway. I set off under the scorching sun for Pyin Oo Lwin in mid-March from Mandalay’s 35th Street, hoping for a quick, cool high-altitude downtime. 

With the forecast saying this year’s summer is hotter than ever, everyone is flocking to the hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay, which is chock-full of Chinese-made motorbikes and Chinese businessmen these days.

Maha Kan Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda. (Photo - EMG)

With a heatwave sweeping across Myanmar, Pyin Oo Lwin has no choice but to succumb to it. On our way to Pyin Oo Lwin, we passed through small cities of the Shan Highland like Patheingyi, Ohnchaw and Kyautchaw. Even at that elevation, the heat was still inescapable and almost unbearable at noon when we stopped for lunch at a relaxation centre known as “22 Mile”. 

The landscape around here is typical of central Myanmar with slightly steep gradients along the highway leading to Pyinsar, Thonehtaung, Aung Chan Thar and Pyin Oo Lwin.  We saw truckloads of watermelons destined for China by way of Muse in northern Shan State. The sight of blooming cherries on both sides of the highway heralds our arrival in the highland.

“The heat is at its highest around noon in Pyin Oo Lwin. Well, there’s less and less forested hills in the country. Due to widespread deforestation, the weather seems to get hotter these days and the city itself seems to be suffering the impact of climate change as well. Both Local and foreign tourists from other cities love to visit Pyin Oo Lwin to escape the heat. But residents of Pyin Oo Lwin have no idea where else to run to,” said Ye Kyaw, a resident of Pyin Oo Lwin.

Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo (literally “stairway to the highland”), has lately witnessed the relentless onslaught of development and tourism that’s fuelling a land price boom. Every Saturday the streets of Pyin Oo Lwin are teeming with cheerful tourists. 

“The land in downtown areas is worth over billions of kyats. But land prices remain stable in Naungkhagyi, and could spiral to millions Kyats in prime areas. It costs around Ks70 or 80 millions near Maha Kan Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda. The land in villages near Aung Chan Thar is worth about Ks50 millions. Land prices in Pyin Oo Lwin have considerably gone up since the weather is hotter. The land sale peaks around April and May,” a resident said. 

When in Pyin Oo Lwin, many visitors make a point of visiting Kandawgyi Park, which charges an entry fee of Ks1,000 for adults, just to catch a zephyr, take photos of the ubiquitous flowers, or to simply  kick up and enjoy the summer. Another spot well worth visiting is the Maha Kan Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda, which is on the outskirts of Pyin Oo Lwin and usually crowded with local pilgrims.  

“I like Pyin Oo Lwin. It love taking a walk along the circle road in Kandawgyi in the evening. The park may attract more foreigners if they can preserve the city’s natural landscape. Myanmar people are very hospitable to visitors. I will be touring the whole town later today in a coach,” a foreign visitor said.