Myanmar has a vibrant history that can readily be traced through the country’s magnificent architecture. The ebb and flow of power among ancient kingdoms is illustrated by sites such as Bagan, Mrauk U and Mandalay, each of which served for a time as the seat of kingly power.
More recent history is no less stunningly demonstrated by the architectural legacy of the colonial era, a 120-year period ending with Myanmar independence in 1948."
Many of the structures built by the British during this time can still be seen in cities like Yangon and hill stations like Pyin Oo Lwin. Elegant homes and monumental government buildings point to a yearning for home and yet, with their frequent incorporation of local design elements, a willingness among the British to accept the influence of their temporary home in the tropics.
Yangon boasts one of the most extensive collections of colonial architecture in Southeast Asia. Grand colonial houses are hidden away in quiet, shaded neighbourhoods throughout the city, while some sections of downtown are densely packed with everything from modest apartment buildings to monumental government structures built by the British more than 70 years ago.
Some of the more eye-catching examples can be seen along Strand Road. The Post Office provides a rare chance to study the interior of a colonial-era administrative building, while the landmark Strand Hotel, built in 1901, is the perfect place for architecture buffs to stop for afternoon tea while taking in the sights of downtown Yangon.
The centre of downtown is anchored by majestic City Hall, designed by a local architect and incorporating traditional Myanmar themes into its façade, including floral motifs and mythical creatures. Such buildings illustrate the surprising ways in which architects combined British style with traditional Myanmar sensibilities.
This hilly town sits at an altitude of 1320 metres on the Shan Plateau, shrouded in cool air and surrounded by pine forests, bamboo groves and misty mountains. These elements surely contributed to its status as a favourite hill station retreat for the British during the colonial era.
European-style villas can still be seen around town as a reminder of this time, and the old train station evokes days gone by as well. Another landmark worth visiting is the Christ the King Church just south of town.
Kalaw’s market is a good place to see people of the Palaung, Pa-O and Danu ethnic groups, but for full immersion it is better to visit their villages by trekking through the region’s remarkably beautiful countryside, which is home to hundreds of species of birds, butterflies and orchids.
Also outside of town is the mysterious Cool Water Lake, fed by a natural spring whose waters are said to promote health and longevity in those who drink it.
Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo)
Only 70 kilometres from Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin offers colonial architecture, stunning mountain scenery and moderate temperatures that promote year-round plant growth, a combination that adds up to one of the most uniquely picturesque towns in Myanmar.
Pyin Oo Lwin originated in 1896 as a summer retreat for Europeans living in Mandalay, who built Edwardian-style cottages that can still be seen today. One example is Candacraig, a hotel described by Paul Theroux in his book The Great Railway Bazaar. In the centre of town is Purcell Tower, whose hourly chimes duplicate the 16 notes played by Big Ben in London.
Other sights include Kandawgyi National Gardens, featuring exotic orchids and whispering pine forests. Farther outside of town are Peik Chin Myaing Buddhist cave complex and several waterfalls where visitors can picnic.
Not to be missed during a visit to Pyin Oo Lwin is a ride in the local horse-carriages, which look like brightly painted 19th century stagecoaches and provide an enjoyable means of getting around town to see the sights.