In just over a few hours the mini-bus whisks you from Mandalay to what feels like another world.
That’s just what the British colonizers wanted you to feel.
You see the British colonial mark in surprising ways.
Asking an Indian taxi cab driver where the best vegetarian food in the city was to be found, he answered with a Masterpiece Theater type British accent. He hadn’t been to England, but his great grandfather who had fought with the British during World War I had, and later migrated to Pyin Oo Lyin along with his British soldier commander.
That’s the story of one seed of many that planted the sizeable Indian community you meet all over town.
Booking a low to mid-range hotel via the Internet sight unseen, we were a bit astonished to land in quite the grand estate that had been the Governors, including the ballroom for social events that today is now a TV Room lounge. When we bicycled in and around town the next day, we saw that many of the hotels aped this colonial grandeur.
But the real Pyin Oo Lyin of the Burmese is actually just a very pleasant place to hang out in, and without colonial posh.
After a superb thali at the Indian restaurant that the taxi cab driver referred us to, we ambled past what seemed like a wedding.
Flower girls on the outside and people across the street encouraged us to go in and take photos. Within minutes upon entering though, we found ourselves as special guests of honor at the wedding— much photographed and videotaped and feted with cakes and teas galore.
It wasn’t just the wedding photographer, but also the parade of cellphone selfie wannabees.
We inferred that our unexpected (and uninvited!) presence was a portent of very good luck for the happy couple.
If there is a lot of poverty in Pyin Oo Lyin it’s relatively hidden. While cycling, when we asked a gentleman for directions en route to famed gardens we were having trouble finding, we learned that many of the city’s residents, like him, were retirees from the military.
You see manicuring of gardens as you cycle through neighborhoods that you don’t see in many other Myanmar places—perhaps a sneak preview for the comely and well-kempt National Kandawgyi Gardens.
Like the many colonial mansions, National Kandawgyi Gardens, is a relic of the British colonial times and is an oasis –
435 acres- of flowers, labeled trees, ponds with black swans and lilies,
an aviary with striking birds, an orchid garden, a butterfly museum (warning: all dead and pinned and not what you’d expect in the States), a lake,
and many cool tree-shaded vistas from which to take it all in.
Our visit to National Kandawgyi Gardens was on Myanmar Union Day, a Myanmar equivalent to July 4, which meant that we shared the space with many Burmese families and friends on holiday outings. The cleanliness of these beautiful surrounds took on even more significance as our Myanmar tour continued in the many cities and parts of the country where littering and garbage dumping in the public space are the norm.
Later that day, curious as what Union Day really meant in the hearts and minds of Myanmar citizens, we asked an Indian restaurateur with very good English to explain how people felt about the holiday. He gave a bah humbug type sound and said, “You mean B---S--- Day?” To which we commented on his excellent command of the English language, and made another mental note that the guidebooks’ claims that people in Myanmar don’t want to talk politics is woefully out of date. This was just a few short weeks since its first democratically elected Assembly gathered after the country’s recent breakthrough democratic elections. At this rate, Myanmar may soon be closer to a Parisian café where political debates are the norm, rather than the tight lipped and fear-gripped nation described in most Myanmar reports of recent, pre-democratic election, years.