Yes it’s true if you have never been to Myanmar, other destinations like Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay may come to mind first. But there are other very special spots that are not to be passed up and Pyin Oo Lwin became one of my favorite places in Myanmar after only visiting once.
Pyin Oo Lwin or Pyin U Lwin (also called Maymyo) is situated in the Shan Highland, just 67km east of Mandalay, at an altitude of 1,070 meters. From Mandalay international airport, if you head straight to Pyin Oo Lwin, it will take about an hour and a half. Not really that far at all.
I was on a very specific mission to visit Pyin Oo Lwin to see a coffee plantation. I was interested in learning a little bit more about where the amazing coffee, I drink everyday, comes from. The expresso roast comes from the Shan Highlands and the owner of Sithar Coffee, Thu Zaw, was so kind and accommodating. We coordinated so that I would go when he was there, and I could get a tour of his coffee estate and a unique visit to the coffee cooperative that he and his company are a part of. Whilst I will focus on this amazing coffee experience, I can not leave out some of the other incredible things I witnessed, in this charming town.
Not a ‘luxury’ boutique hotel but definitely a super unique, charming, rustic group of manor houses that collectively are the Orchid Hotel Nan Myaing Hotel. The owner(s) and staff were so friendly and charming and the property so accommodating, that I immediately decided that this would be the hotel for Thahara to work with. I did see a few others, and was supposed to stay in some of them, but I actually changed my reservation to stay here all three nights. The room was extremely comfortable, nice hot water, good pressure and a great hammock in the garden. Every time I walked onto the property I felt like I was entering a special place - I will be back.
My only disappointment:
All my local colleagues explained that the hotel is definitely haunted. Well I was waiting to meet the resident ghosts and unfortunately that did not happen, but later found out only in room 101….so for you ghost enthusiasts, stay in room 101 if that is part of what you want to experience…sorry no refunds if you don’t see your ghost!
While in Pyin Oo Lwin, you must visit the National Kandawgyi Gardens
An amazing spot with over 450 species of flowers, trees and shrubs. This famous botanical garden founded in 1915 with a size of about 435 acres is a gem worth stopping at and spending at least a few hours relaxing. Have a picnic - but don’t pour the Nepalese goat oil being sold, on your salad, unless you have a tough stomach, cause the oil is for the skin, not to put on your food ;-) Please take 2 hours or more to relax here. Forget about all your Facebook friends and your emails and walk around, stopping near the Wild Orchids or Bamboo forest, or by the water to find a nice big tree, giving you lots of shade for your picnic. The hotel can organize sandwiches for you and remember to ask for a blanket, if you don’t mind shlepping it around!
Did not spend much time at the Chinese temple, Chan Tak, but it was on my way to finding the house of George Orwell, whose first stationing in Myanmar was in Pyin Oo Lwin (then called Maymyo) in 1922 as an imperial police officer!
Chinese Temple, Chan Tak Chinese Temple, Chan Tak
George Orwell's house George Orwell's house
I can not recommend enough just spending some hours walking around the Purcell Tower, check out the surrounding shops (maybe go into one and see all the sweaters being sold, that are actually made in Pyin oo Lwin) and then head to the Pyin Oo Lwin Bazar…there are loads of food stalls around the outside of the bazar, there are old buildings to see, and around the corner I even stumbled upon a crazy pet store. Very rewarding walk.
So I met Thu Zaw at his family restaurant and café, Pan Taw Win, that also hosts the most amazing florist shop, boasting all kinds of flowers and beautiful gardens where one can sit and spoil oneself with the best gourmet coffee you will find in Myanmar and if you have a soft spot for cheese cake, you are in luck.
I do believe that he quickly realized that I was an amateur but I think he appreciated my enthusiasm and while I had a cappuccino that was divine, we also did a proper coffee cupping, where the coffee had been roasted right on site and ground in front of us, before being filtered and tasted…..this I believe is something everyone should partake in if you drink coffee, so as to fully appreciate what you are drinking.
Next was the exciting drive out to see the plantation. Thu Zaw explained that the 48 hectares was not enough space for his demand and he wants the government to allocate more land for coffee growing. I think 48 hectares is huge, but shows my lack of knowledge in the industry! What great fun, walking around the coffee plants. And, nestled in a small clearing around the bushes and coffee plants, a stunning little retreat house with a view over to a lake….a 5 minute walk through the plantation, on a small path, takes you right to the lake.
Next stop was to visit the coffee cooperative that Sithar is a member of. I got to inspect the special coffee testing lab that has been internationally approved, but I was not allowed to take pictures, except of the coffee tasting chart for rookies like myself!
The MCG (Mandalay Coffee Group) cooperative consists of about 50 members and last year they co-invested in a wet mill and other processing equipment, which is used to remove the bean from the coffee cherry. Thu Zaw explained that it was important because one can then upgrade the quality of the washed bean.
Having the whole process explained by someone who is most knowledgable and passionate about coffee, was quite a privilege and thoroughly enjoyable. It was the main reason I went to Pyin Oo Lwin and I promise to inform everyone on our email list, once Thahara has a formalized program in place, as it was really the highlight of my trip to Pyin Oo Lwin.
On our way back, we stopped at a library that also served as a youth center. I played a game of table tennis with some local kids and found out that it is all set up for free to help provide additional after school resources/activities for local kids in the surrounding area. Great work.
A sincere thank you to Thu Zaw, CEO of Sithar, for making the Pwin Oo Lwin expereince a very special one.
If you have any questions about Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo), please contact us, Thahara is happy to give you advice. Thahara has selected Pyin Oo Lwin as one of our destinations and can organize trips from anywhere in the world, around Myanmar, from Yangon or Mandalay with a car service and very special rates at our lovely partner hotel, the Orchid Nan Myaing Hotel.