Memories of Maymyo



There are many sources of historical and modern photographs of Pyin Oo Lwin.  You may like to look at for a start.  Click here for many of his astonishing paintings from the 1920's. This is a family album with many pictures of Rodway Swinhoe, in whose memory the stained glass windows of All Saints' Church were installed in about 1927.  Below are a few memories, mostly from colonial times. 


For more up to date reading there are many bibliographies available through the web (search suggestion: burma bibliography Maymyo, etc).  Click here for the 1945 Maymyo map. Or here for memories of a wartime childhood in Maymyo and Rangoon (there are other memories on this ww2peopleswar site, too).  For a good description of many cultural and traditional festivals, see Myanmar Traditional Monthly Festivals by Dr Khin Maung Nyunt, Innwa Publishing House, 2005 (summarised in the Calendar elsewhere in this website). 


Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987), visited Maymyo in 1942 and took photographs of the results of some of the Japanese bombing of the town. 


General Stilwell was summoned to Flagstaff House at Easter 1942, just before the worst of the Japanese bombing of Maymyo.  Click here for his diary of that period.  Click here for a list of British Commissioners and Governors, 1862-1948.  Larger versions (about 500 kb)of part of the 1945 map can be seen here (Circular Road area, Railway Station area, Government House area, Craddock Court area). 


A list of house names and plot numbers (Microsoft Word *.doc) can be found here.  Many foreigners who were evacuated from Burma during WWII had lived in Maymyo at one time or other. 


The Evacuees List can now be found at  The diary of Walter Cecil Sherman (April 1942 - April 1945) can be found here.  A first hand account of the Japanese invasion of Burma, especially dealing with the area around Maymyo and Lashio can be found here.  Fascinating photos of Chiang Kai Shek in Maymyo.


Maymyo (meaning: May's town), was designed, partially, by Colonel May, while he was stationed in Burma between 1886-7.  The only photograph we have of him is on our home page..  His citation in the India Office Family Search site of the British Library reads:

Maj.Gen James May CB 1893, b.1837; died 5 Dec 1903, served Indian Mutiny; 1858 (despatches, medal with 2 clasps); Bhootan Expedition 1864-65 (despatches, medal with clasp); Burmah 1886-87 (despatches, clasp).




Some literary extracts about Maymyo


1. The White Umbrella – Patricia Elliott.  2006

2. Wanderings in Burma – George W Bird, 1897

3. Golden Earth – Norman Lewis, 1951

4.  Land of the Crested Lion – Ethel Mannin, 1955

5. Video Night in Katmandu – Pico Lyer, 1988

6.  I Lived in Burma - ECV Foucar, 1956

7The Forgotten Land – Gordon Hunt, 1967

8Secret Histories - Emma Larkin, 2004

9.  Homage to Catalonia.  Arrival in Maymyo by train - George Orwell

10. Myanmar Traditional Monthly Festivals - Dr Khin Maung Nyunt, 2005

11. Thingyan by Major Michael Symes, in An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, 1795

A book, 'Pyin Oo Lwin' by the late U Chit Swe was published in Burmese in December 2008.  Excellent background to the indigenous history of the town, but does not cover well the colonial period.


Extract from The White Umbrella – Patricia Elliott.  2006

Maymyo sprouted from the campsite where the British troops rested before beginning their conquest of the Shan States.  Named for a British officer, Colonel May, the town gained rapid fame among the colonialists as a pleasant refuge and desirable army posting.  The Tai wondered at the choice of townsites; it was a scenic spot, washed by cool breezes and pine needle scent, but there were no paddy fields or irrigation canals.  Such places were suitable only for tough mountain tribes who practiced hai farming, the most basic form of shifting hill-cultivation.  But then the British didn’t come as farmers, everyone knew.  Throughout the Shan States they chose high, rocky places from which to rule.


 Daily, trainloads of pianos, silver tea services and bulky furniture crawled up from the Mandalay plain and disgorged their contents on the railway platform, causing knots of English women to squeal at the crushing of hat boxes and the overturning of fine china.  The wives of Sikh and Gurkha soldiers waited anxiously for trunkfuls of saris.  Crates of Bibles and bandages were deposited at the feet of American Baptists, who operated schools and hospitals in remote valleys.  Maymyo was a jumping off point for a great cultural spread engulfing the Shan States.


 Outside the station, horse drawn Gharries – covered taxis imported from India – waited under the clock tower for the new arrivals.  They departed one by one down Station Road with a clatter of hooves on cobblestones, toward the tall pines that ringed the town and shaded its country mansions.  There were a few especially large buildings hidden in the suburban forest, including Candacraig, the bachelors’ chummery for the Bombay Burmah Trading Company, which held the teak forestry concession.

 St Joseph’s convent school was bigger than Candacraig but there was a homey, cottage-like feel to the place.  Its buildings were clad in sun-warmed rosy-coloured bricks.


Extract from Wanderings in Burma – George W Bird, 1897


May-Myo is the head-quarters of the Pyin-u-lwin Subdivision of the Mandalay District.  It is a military cantonment, and a civil and military police-station.

The principal public buildings are the barracks and officers’ quarters, the court-house, military and civil police posts, the Public Works Department and Forest Department rest-house bungalows, and the postal and telegraph offices.  There is also an inland trade customs station where returns are kept of the traffic from and to the Shan States.


 Climate (in 1897): Total 50.30 inches (rainfall)

 To the Burmans of the plains, the climate is unsuited, but natives of Northern India, Gourkhas, and Europeans, who pay adequate attention to dress and dwelling houses enjoy excellent health.


History.  Of the history of the place little is known.  It appears to have been alternately subject, either to the King of Ava, or the Sawbwa of Thonzé.

Alaung-pya settled some thousands of his Siamese and Shan captives in the neighbourhood of Pyinŭlwin.

The captives were originally kept in and around Ava, and many were allotted as slaves to the King’s Ministers. ….

In the neighbourhood of the town are the remains of an old fort, said to have been built by the Chinese, during one of their incursions into Burma.

Mindon Min started works here for the formation of a large lake to supply his capital with water, but it was never completed.

Now that the Shan Hills Railway has been sanctioned, which will pass through May-Myo, it will no doubt, in the near future, become the hill resort of large numbers of people from Mandalay, and even from Rangoon and other parts of Burma.  Although the site has neither the elevation nor the scenery of many of the Indian hill stations, it is the nearest approach to be got at present, and as such will doubtless be a popular resort.


Itinerary.  The best way to get expeditiously to May-Myo from Mandalay is to ride.  With two ponies, and a bullock-cart for servants and kit, the journey up can be comfortably made in two days…..The return journey can be made in one day, by sending off your cart and servants to Nyaungbau the day before, with your spare pony.



Extract from Golden Earth – Norman Lewis, 1951

But if unadventurous and simple by French colonial standards, life in Maymyo was full of solid comfort.  It was quite extraordinary to experience the sensations so often associated with fatigues and discomforts of remote places in these well ordered surroundings, to lie at dawn between well laundered sheets, watching the flocks of green parakeets in the tree tops, and listening to the early jabbering of exotic birds.  Fifty yards from my window, beyond the show of sweet peas, the jungle was kept in check behind an iron railing.  The jungle was not particularly exuberant, and had been made to look rather like a gentleman’s sporting estate in the Home Counties, by the cutting through it of numerous walks and avenues. 

In the early hours there was a great scratching of fowls down by the fence, and as it seemed unlikely that the Consul, a dashing figure, should keep chickens, I went down to inspect them.  I was amazed to find that they were actually jungle-fowl, a cock, with mane and rump of copper and glinting blue thighs, with his numerous harem.  As no one had ever bothered them you could get within a few yards and watch their bright, busy foraging among the leaves.  Duffy, the Consul, said that they were there every day as he had resisted the servants’ implorings to shoot them; he knew that as soon as the first shot had been fired, this decorative adjunct to his demesne would vanish for ever.


Extract from Land of the Crested Lion – Ethel Mannin, 1955

“You will like Maymyo,” everyone said.  “It is like England!”….More welcome was the assurance that it was ‘cool’.  Actually at mid-day it was 85°f…..But the wind was cool, and when the body has been wet, day and night, for weeks, it is astonishing and very pleasant suddenly to realize that one’s skin is dry.

But Maymyo is not really ‘English’; it is much more like ‘French Riviera’, with its avenues of eucalyptus trees and its bougainvillea-covered walls and arbours.  In what Burmese call ‘The English Time’ it was a very popular hill-station, as indicated by the street names – The Mall, Downing Street, Church Road, Club Road.  The houses are red brick, with vaguely pseudo-Tudor effects in the shape of nailed on timber.  The residential area is mostly pine woods, with English-style half-timbered houses standing back in large gardens.

The town itself is nothing much.  There is a main street of open fronted shops, but no wandering cows and comparatively few pariah dogs……


Extract from Video Night in Katmandu – Pico Lyer, 1988

The scent of elegy was most haunting amidst the pine-scented country lanes of Maymyo.  The Motor Association Head Office was crumbling now, but it still took its place proudly on the main street beside the Golf Club Repairing Shop and Diamond Confectionery.  Down Charing Cross Road and through Downing Street stepped horse drawn victorias redolent of a gas-lit London.  And all around the hills were snug little half-timbered cottages with names like All in All, and Fernside, tidy with flawless Cotswold gardens.  The queen of them all, of course, was Candacraig (formerly the ‘chummery’ of the Bombay-Burmah Trading Company), the boarding house where roast beef and vegetables were served at seven sharp every evening, and coffee was taken by the fireplace.  I could hear the central town clock tolling with the same chime as Big Ben.


Extract from I Lived in Burma - ECV Foucar, 1956

In Maymyo the war was resolutely thrust aside (March 1942).  The Club was crowded each evening, one of the great attractions being whisky, then almost unobtainable in the shops.  This was rationed, a glass barrel being filled each night to limit the supply.  Early arrivals flocked to the bar for their share; late comers found the barrel empty.  To those who came up from the front it must have been strange to encounter the seeming inconsequence of life in the hills.  In the plains men fought continuously against a superior and pitiless foe; contended, too, with sun, fever and a lack of water; made do with inadequate equipment and weapons.  Yet Maymyo enjoyed dancing at the club, strawberries and cream for tea, and all material comforts.


Extract from The Forgotten Land – Gordon Hunt, 1967

Maymyo in those days was perhaps one of the loveliest hill stations in the whole Far East.  It was only an hour’s drive from Mandalay.  True, the drive was a tortuous one as one climbed from the dreary plain of the Irrawaddy into a land of rich red soil, rolling hills covered in oaks, gracious houses with gardens rich in colour the year around.  Government House, Flagstaff House.  A paradise for the privileged, a place where sick men convalesced if they were lucky enough to belong to the right firm.  Tourists had never been heard of.  Who, anyway, had heard of Maymyo?..... Its centre was the club.  It sprawled and stretched overlooking polo grounds and fairways of a golf course maintained to international standards.  But all this display of opulence, this Victorian extravaganza, was nought compared with what the Forestry Department had done.  Like a complicated necklace of interlaced jewels they had encircled the station with a hundred miles of well-kept rides.  There was Ladies’ Mile, Five Mile Bottom, Rotten Row, a whole maze of pathways for a man or woman on a horse, every yard beautifully kept, even hurdles for those who wished to jump.  Nowhere in the world have I seen anything to equal it.


Extract from Secret Histories - Emma Larkin, 2004

The Candacraig sits at the top of a long driveway which sweeps past a lawn of manicured flower beds.  It is an impressive mock-Tudor style mansion, with turret rooms on the first floor and deep green vines growing up the front wall.  The six-bedroom hotel is run by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, and the staff, as might be expected, are somewhat strict.  The sanitized feeling of a British boarding school lurks in its corridors and swirls around in the weak tea served in stainless-steel pots.  In the high ceilinged bedrooms the disused fireplaces are stained with pigeon droppings.  I had stayed here a few times on previous visits, and remember the first time, when the front-desk manager asked me what time I would like my supper.

'Seven-thirty?' I suggested

'That, madam, is the correct answer.'

As I turned to walk away, he asked, 'And what would madam like to eat?'

'Um .... fish?'

'That, madam, is incorrect.  There is chicken or there is beef.'

Extract from George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.  Arrival in Maymyo by train

It is a rather queer experience.  You start off in the typical atmosphere of an eastern city - the scorching sunlight, the dusty palms, the smells of fish and spices and garlic, the squashy tropical fruits, the swarming dark-faced human beings - and because you are so used to it you carry this atmosphere intact, so to speak, in your railway carriage.  Mentally you are still in Mandalay when the train stops at Maymyo, four thousand feet above sea level.  But in stepping out of the carriage you step into a different hemisphere.  Suddenly you are breathing cool sweet air that might be that of England, and all round you are green grass, bracken, fir trees, and hill women with pink cheeks selling baskets of strawberries.


Thingyan - Extract from Myanmar Traditional Monthly Festivals - Dr Khin Maung Nyunt, 2005

Usually the date of Thingyan festival falls in mid April.  Normally it lasts three days but in certain years four days.  The day before the festival begins is called "Akyo Ney" which means the even day of Thingyan.  The first day of the festival is called "Akya Ney" which means the day Thagyar Min descends to earth.  On this day when the exact time of his descent is announced either by beating the big drum (in old days) or sounding the siren or by the report of the cannon, people perform the Thingyan rite of pouring lustral water out of the Atar pot.  A new earthen pot of about four to six inches in diameter especially made for Thingyan festival is known in Myanmar as "Atar Oh".  It is filled with clear cool scented water, and is placed in the front of the house.  Sprigs of seven kinds of flora representing seven days of the week, such as Ohn Let (coconut palm leaf) to represent Sunday, Gantgaw (Iron wood) or Khayey (Star flower tree) for Monday, Sein Pan (gold / diamond mohur tree) for Tuesday, Ywet Hla (Croton) for Wednesday, Myey Zar (Couch grass), Thursday, Thi (Wood apple tree) or Than, Friday, and Dan (Henna) for Saturday. are arranged in order in the Atar pot.  Sprigs of Thabyey (Eugenia) are also added because Thabyey, like Laurel, is the symbol of victory for the Myanmar people.

When the report of the Thingyan cannon signals the descent of Thagyar Min, the Atar pot is raised up above the head to welcome him, and then the water is poured out to symbolically cleanse and purify the world and its peoples.  The sprigs are then made into a bouquet to be placed at the entrance of the house to usher in the New Year.

The second day of Thingyan is called "Akyat Ney" which means the day Thagyar Min goes round inspecting the moral behaviour of human beings.  Usually the inspection day is one day.  But, according to the calculations of the astrologers, there can be two inspections in certain years.  Next comes the "Atet Ney" which means the day Thagyar Min ascends to his Celestial Kingdom.  The exact time of the ascent is announced by a signal such as beating drum or cannon report.  Thingyan Sa (a bulletin predicting the time of transition into the New Year and climatic and crop predictions to be expected in that year) is issued by a board of eminent astrologers.  Sometimes the future situation of the world is foretold in it.

Goodwill, loving kindness and cheerful heart vibrate the spirit of Thingyan.  People go out to perform religious and social works such as keeping sabbath, meditating, visiting pagodas and monasteries for worshipping or alms offering, paying homage to the monks, parents, elders, superiors and teachers, bathing and shampooing the aged, cleaning up one's home and surroundings, and throwing cool scented water at passers-by to cleanse them.  Thingyan is a Myanmar national festival held on a grand scale, in which all Myanmar nationalities, regardless of age, race, class and religion participate and revel in water pouring.

Thingyan - Extract from an account of Thingyan by Major Michael Symes, in An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, 1795

On the 12th April, the last day of the Birman year, we were invited by the Maywoon to bear a part ourselves in a sport that is universally practised throughout the Birman dominions on the concluding day of their annual cycle.  To wash away the impurities of the past, and commence the new year free from stain, women on this day are accustomed to throw water on every man they meet, which the men have the privilege of retorting.  This licence gives rise to a great deal of harmless merriment, particularly the younger women, who, armed with large syringes and flaggons, endeavour to wet every man that goes along the street, and, in their turn, receive a wetting with perfect good humour.  Nor is the smallest indecency ever manifested in this or any other of their sports.  Dirty water is never cast; a man is not allowed to lay hold of a woman, but may fling as much water over her as he pleases - provided she has been the aggressor.  But if a woman warns a man that she does not mean to join in the diversion, it is considered as an avowal of pregnancy, and she passes without molestation.

About an hour before sunset we went to the Maywoon's and found that his lady had provided plentifully to give us a wet reception.  In the hall were placed three large china jars, full of water, with bowls and ladles to fling it.  Each of us, on entering, had a bottle of rose-water presented to him, a little of which we in turn poured into the palm of the Maywoon's hand, who sprinkled it over his own vest of fine flowered muslin.  The lady then made her appearance at the door and gave us to understand that she did not mean to join in the sport herself, but made her eldest daughter, a pretty child, in the nurse's arms, pour from a golden cup some rose-water mixed with sandal-wood, first over her father, and then over each of the English gentlemen.  This was a signal for the sport to begin.  We were prepared, being dressed in linen waistcoats.  From ten to twenty women, young and middle-aged, rushed into the hall from the inner apartments, and surrounded and deluged without mercy four men ill able to maintain so unequal a contest.  The Maywoon was soon driven from the field; but Mr Wood, having got possession of one of the jars, we were able to preserve our ground till the water was exhausted.  It seemed to afford them great diversion, especially if we appeared at all distressed by the quantity of water flung in our faces.  All parties being tired, and completely drenched, we went home to change our clothes and in the way met many damsels who would willingly have renewed the sport.  They, however, were afraid to begin without receiving encouragement from us, not knowing how it might be taken by strangers; but they assailed Baba-sheen and his Birman attendants with little ceremony.  No inconvenient consequences were to be apprehended from the wetting; the weather was favourable, and we ran no risk of taking cold.  Having put on my dry clothes, we returned to the Maywoon's and were entertained with a dance and puppet show that lasted till eleven.