Pyin Oo Lwin was a “hill station” under the British Raj government, a cool respite from the heat of Mandalay and about two hours northeast by bus. The small city still contains many interesting old colonial buildings nestled under the shade of its many trees.
Pyin Oo Lwin is also home to the National Kandawgyi Gardens, a large and well-maintained botanical garden, as well as big academies and training centers for the Myanmar military.
As I walked around the town I occasionally saw men in military uniform. I also noticed many people who looked Nepali or Indian, most likely the descendants of laborers brought to Burma by the British to help build the railway, according to my guidebook. I took note of the signs advertising nearby Indian restaurants and storefront shops selling Indian delicacies like laddus (I must admit I partook of some of these sweets!).
Today I rode a bicycle from my hotel through leafy neighborhoods to the botanical garden. I paid the very affordable $5 entrance fee for foreigners. I noted a sign at the ticket office said the entrance fee for Myanmar citizens was $1, which after consideration I realized was very expensive for the average citizen, given that Myanmar’s annual per capita income was about 5% of that of the U.S. I reminded myself that with its expensive homes and fancy restaurants, Pyin Oo Lwin was in no way representative of the lifestyle of the vast majority of the country’s people.
As I reviewed the map of the garden’s grounds, I saw an area labeled “teak plot.” I realized that in my travels in Southeast Asia I had seen many examples of teak homes and furniture, but I had no idea of what an actual teak tree looked like! So I made sure to traverse this part of the garden to inspect the specimens of Tectona grandis.