IT’S Christmas Eve in Australia and I’ve spent the past few hours battling crowds to collect last-minute provisions from the supermarket, preparing tomorrow’s desserts, and rearranging the pile of presents under the tree.
But while pottering around I’ve been thinking back 12 months and reminiscing about where I was this time last year.
Instead of spending Christmas 2015 at home I passed the last two weeks of the year exploring Burma with G Adventures and dedicated December 24 to seeing historic Maymyo.
The mountain retreat – also known as Pyin Oo Lwin, the City of Flowers, and Burma’s Hill Station – is 70km from Mandalay and worth a visit because it’s home to some of the country’s best colonial-style architecture dating from the days the British Empire presided over this part of Asia.
Maymyo is perched 1000m up in the mountains with this lofty location, and the cool climate delivered by elevation, prompting privileged British colonials to build beautiful weekend homes in the hills with no expense spared on design or decoration.
The village was established as a military outpost on the trail between Nawnghkio and Mandalay and became a permanent military station in 1896 before growing into “the summer capital of British Burma” when those in distant Rangoon detected the agreeable temperatures.
According to my G Adventure’s guide the British adopted the name Maymyo – it means “May’s Town” in Burmese and was tribute to the colonel of a regiment stationed at the army post during the 1880s – with the military government changing to title to Pyin Oo Lwin when in power.
It feels like time has stopped in Maymyo, with a lack of development meaning vintage buildings still stand on every street, and whimsical accents on every facade make a feast for those that love this style of architecture.
Round art-deco corners, balconies with intricate wrought-iron balustrades, panel windows with faded shutters, spiral staircases, French doors, facades painted pastel shades long past time for a refreshing coat.
We started in the centre of town and explored the market which dates back to the days when the enclave was a major trading post and is now the destination farmers working on the vegetable gardens and fruit orchards that surround the settlement bring the harvest to trade.
The market takes up a whole block, with wide lanes and narrow alleys snaking between the surrounding streets, and while some sections are well lit others are dark with similar goods grouped together making it easy for shoppers to compare stock and rates.
It was also a wonderful place to engage in a spot of people watching with locals dressed in the colourful clothes of the region dashing about buying provisions, monks and nuns moving from one stall to the next collecting the daily donations that fill their food bowls, and traders arranging stock
After the market we ventured into the leafy streets surrounding the centre and strolled past the ornate government buildings, homes and hotels that make Maymyo one of the premier places in South-East Asia to appreciate the late 19th and early 20th-century aesthetic.
The town’s most famous building is Candacraig – a once-glorious hotel constructed in 1904 to accommodate those with considerable means who were escaping the heat in big-city Rangoon – and while the property is derelict, with someone working on restoring the iconic address, my G Adventure’s group still had a wander around the take a closer look at the old dame.
We did peer inside the front door as tradesmen worked and could see the grand ground-floor fireplaces, stain-glassed windows, hanging chandelier, and staircases sweeping to the second level.