We’d arrived really late and just crashed but morning showed us our hotel was in fact a former British Military Hill station – complete with teak floors and decorative staircases.
Originally founded by the British in 1896, as a place to escape the heat of Mandalay, it became the centre for British colonial administration, and their influence remains in the colonial buildings dotted around town. We took breakfast in the rather grand “Dinning Room” then jumped on the bus for our first stop, the Central Market.
Housed in the centre of town, next to the rather grand Purcell Tower, a 1936 clock tower which looks like a Big Ben dipped in white icing, the central market is a covered grid of stalls selling fantastic seasonal veg, jams, traditional longyi and western style clothes.
Our guide, Thura took us through the sections explaining some of the more random items, including sticky rice sold in gelatenous grey blocks, piles of the most amazing looking veg and stalls selling dried fish and shrimps. It looked amazing and Wayne and I resolved to do a cooking course at some point in Myanmar.
Pyin Oo Lwin is famous for it’s horticulture, in particular its fruit, jam and fruit wines, so we headed for the bottanical gardens taking one of the local forms of transport – horse and cart – which are known locally as “wagons”.
Our train of white carts each individually painted, ours was pink on the interior and covered with roses on the outside, clip-clopped around town and dropped us at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens.
The National Kandawgyi Gardens, were founded in 1915 and are lovingly maintained by teams of ladies who on our visit were planting up the new spring flowers, carrying the young plants to the freshly dug beds in large baskets which they balanced on their heads.
The gardens contains several distinct areas including the rather odd Nan Myint Tower which looks like a giant helter skelter, with steps rather than a slide which you can climb to catch the view from the top. The bird enclosure has huge toucans, peacocks and parrots all set around a central lake with a small guilded pagoda and wooden walkways.
Having grabbed a quick lunch we jumped back on the bus for the drive to Mandalay, stopping for the sunset at the U-Bein bridge. Now this is supposedly the worlds longest teak footbridge which gently curvevs the 1300yrds over the shallow Taunthaman Lake – but as it’s dry season the water was a little puddle in the centre and the majority of the bridge was over dry land.
The “bridge” is basically giant teak posts planted in pairs across the river with rickety beams and no railings and feels really high so I have to confess I stuck to dead centre of the bridge until we reached one of the islands in the middle, where I could climb down from the bridge and have a cold beer on the safety of the ground.
Katie had arranged for us to take paddle boats back across the lake as the sun set – so we climbed into a wooden row boat, skillfully manovered by a chap with 2 oars held crossed to the centre of the lake to watch the sun drop down behind the U-Bein bridge. Stunning!
Jumping back on the bus, the team negotiated the fairly crazy roads of Mandalay, which are set out in a grid formation, until we got to the Emerald Land Hotel on 88th and 16th street. It was Zoe’s birthday so we met at 7pm for a traditional asian cake of white raw merange complete with luminous flowers and brilliantly – gin and tonic – purchased by the fabulous Katie.
Suitably charged with local grog, we made our way to a local BBQ / Beer hall – mainly populated by fairly rough looking men – to eat BBQ delights and drink beer or the local Myanmar Rum – only 3000 kyats (£2) – cheep to buy, expensive to recover from.
We had a great night, with lots of beer, lots of interest from the locals and a team photo taken on the insistance of the lovely owner. Rather worse for wear we staggered through the streets – stopping briefly for a quick dance to a Psy tune that was blasting out at a random temple party before stumbling home to bed.