In and Around Union Day in Pyin Oo Lyin – British-Built Escape from Mandalay

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Downtown Pyin Oo Lyin, where the clock tower is a landmark
In just over a few hours the mini-bus whisks you from Mandalay to what feels like another world.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Horse drawn carriages ferry visitors from one part of town to another, as well as tuk tuks, taxis, and truck taxis. The carriages are very decorative and are used mainly by tourists who visit Pyin Oo Lyin for the gardens or vineyards.
That’s just what the British colonizers wanted you to feel.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
A shop in town
Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
A military academy is on one side of town, and also military barracks scattered in and around the town. We head that many retired military settle in Pyin Oo Lyin
You see the British colonial mark in surprising ways.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
An Anglican Church, dating back to colonia times, still has an active congregation
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Two proprietors of another Indian restaurant in town, owner and father-in- law, pose for us in the Christian shrine they have adjoining their restaurant
That’s the story of one seed of many that planted the sizeable Indian community you meet all over town.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Who knew? Our mid-to low priced hotel turned out to once be the Governor's Mansion
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
This British educated retired miitary surgeon helped steer us to the Gardens when we had lost our way. Like many we met in Myanmar, when we told him we were from Chicago like Obama, he beamed broadly and expressed his approval of Obama
But the real Pyin Oo Lyin of the Burmese is actually just a very pleasant place to hang out in, and without colonial posh.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Many of the buildings in Pyin Oo Lyin are painted in cheerful colors
Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
krishna, the Hindu restaurant recommended to us by an Indian taxi driver
After a superb thali at the Indian restaurant that the taxi cab driver referred us to, we ambled past what seemed like a wedding.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
We were able to order a vegetarian thali at Krishna
Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Krishna was a family-run restaurant, with the sisters who worked there looking so similar we couldn't keep track of who was who. Here is a shrine in their restaurant
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
When we peeked into a wedding celebration to take photos we ended up being special guests of this much photographed bride and groom
It wasn’t just the wedding photographer, but also the parade of cellphone selfie wannabees.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
At this wedding reception, it seemed as is many, if not most, of the people who lived downtown came in and out to give gifts and grab some cake
We inferred that our unexpected (and uninvited!) presence was a portent of very good luck for the happy couple.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
A beaded curtain beuaty salon on the main street
Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
A barber shop just off the main street
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
These highly decorative floral displays were near the fork in the road towards the famous gardens, and also near the great number of nursery businesses that you find in the town
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
The entrance to National Kandawgyi Gardens
Like the many colonial mansions, National Kandawgyi Gardens, is a relic of the British colonial times and is an oasis –

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
One of many beautiful vistas in the highly manicured National Kandawgyi Gardens
435 acres- of flowers, labeled trees, ponds with black swans and lilies,

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
National Kandawgyi Gardens' aviary is a top attraction in the gardens, with many colorful birds within
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,

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
An elevated walkway through trees with wildlife below, ia another very pleasant way to spend time in National Kandawgyi Gardens
and many cool tree-shaded vistas from which to take it all in.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Pyin Oo Lyin's manicured National Kandawgyi Gardens was apparently a domestic tourism destination during Myanmar's Union Day holiday
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.

Pyin Oo Lyin Myanmar
Pyin Oo Lyin is a pleasant place to cycle where you canfind the many touches of personality, such as this roadside shrine, that give the town character
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.

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