Wild waters: Pyin Oo Lwin

For the fifth installment in our travel series focused on wild swimming spots, we explore canopy shrouded streams, trek through the jungle to giant waterfalls and profile one jaw-dropping spot that remains off limits due to conflict.

By DOMINIC HORNER | FRONTIER

ALREADY ONE of the coolest (pun intended) destinations in Myanmar, you’ve now got 10 more reasons to visit Pyin Oo Lwin.

Some of these waterfalls can be done independently, some require a guide, and one is completely off limits to foreigners – guide or no guide. Pyin Oo Lwin Trek can take you to just about every fall listed below, as well as organise cultural tours, kayaking and a truly wonderful treehouse homestay.

So without further ado, here they are in order of visit, mostly with GPS coordinates for those so inclined.

10. Inn Wine (22.178239,96.722436)

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Inn Wine is a broad two-step fall, not so good for exploring, climbing and jumping but great for real, actual swimming. Nice spot for a picnic too.

Guide needed? No.

9. The Golden Step

So remote is the Golden Step that tourists have only recently started visiting. The name originates from a local legend that claims that whomever climbs the falls from foot to summit will inherit vast wealth. Okay, not true – I made that up. But climbing the multi-step-fall after a one-hour bus ride, a three-hour jungle trek and a 45-minute cruise along the Myitnge River is its own heavenly reward.

Guide needed? Yes, you’ve got no chance of finding this by yourself.

Swimming at Lai Gaing waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Swimming at Lai Gaing waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

8. Lai Gaing

Just spitting distance from Pyin Oo Lwin Trek’s treehouse lodging, Lai Gaing is a super-chilled canopy shrouded stream and fall, perfect for splashing around in and throwing back a Myanmar Beer or three.

Guide needed? Yes. Stay at the treehouse and make a weekend of it.

7. Twin Garden Falls

Nestled amongst flowery farmlands, the Twins also fall within the orbit of the treehouse. The first twin is attractive enough, but it’s the second, with its limestone cave and swirling upper pool, that’s the real looker of the pair.

Guide needed? Yes, see 8.

6. Yay Pyan Taung (21.934271,96.494260)

This one certainly scores points for variety. As you ascend – or descend, it’s up to you – you’ll find plunge pools, babbling brooks, felled trees jutting out the waters, heavy spray, dripping showers and seriously impressive falls both at the top and bottom. If you’re a fan of water, there’ll be something for you at Yay Pyan Taung.

Guide needed? No.

5. Kant Kaw Aine (21.849234, 96.420697)

Kant Kaw Aine is a full-on, full-day trek down and back up through a steep valley. Expect to clamber over rocks with ropes, scramble across makeshift bamboo bridges and in general do some serious Indiana Jonesin’. The fall itself is very striking in the way it twists its way down the rocks like a ribbon. But make no mistake, Kant Kaw Aine is a real expedition and afterwards you’ll be able to justify skipping the gym for a week.

Guide needed? Yes. Doing this without a guide is dangerous.

Facing the spray at Powerhouse Falls. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Facing the spray at Powerhouse Falls. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

4. Powerhouse Falls (22.099221, 96.631046)

Escape the crowds at Peik Chin Myaung by heading through the gate (22.097411,96.624523) and following the path down the hill. There’s a viewpoint en route (22.099057,96.628891) and once you see the corrugated iron building (22.098850,96.631711) you’ll need to make your way down to the river and traverse it. Once you’re on the other side follow the path left. Powerhouse by name, powerhouse by nature: even from a distance the spray is intense, so good luck getting that close-up photo.

Guide needed? No, but if you have a lousy sense of direction, consider it.

3. Myin Zin (22.098284,96.636007)

A 15-20-minute walk apart, you could argue that Myin Zin and Powerhouse are the same waterfall. My guides were adamant that they weren’t. Just as well though – how else could I have made this a top-10 list?

Guide needed? See above.

A moment of tranquility at Myin Zin waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

A moment of tranquility at Myin Zin waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

2. December Falls (22.066443,96.552716)

From the powerhouse to the farmhouse, this farm/restaurant/man-made waterfall is the perfect place to get the kiddies into wild swimming with even a couple of beginner jumps available. Probably don’t let them drink as much beer as your Wild Water correspondent before they jump though.

Guide needed? No. If you need a guide for December you shouldn’t even be reading this list.

1. Bant Bwe Gyin (22.408153,96.380516)

Only in the past year have visitors started trickling into Bant Bwe Gyin, and with its extraordinary sheer cliff of cascading waters, you can fully expect that trickle to turn to a torrent in the future. Unfortunately, though, due to ethnic armed group activity in the area it’s currently closed to foreigners.

Ban Bwe Gyin has it all: family-friendly swimming pools, some formidable jumps, fantastic photo ops and a vertigo inducing infinity pool – yes, an infinity pool. For wild swimmers, it’s a full course meal and one of the best waterfalls in Myanmar – if not the best.

Guide needed? No, peace is needed first.

View from the infinity pool at Bant Bwe Gyin. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

View from the infinity pool at Bant Bwe Gyin. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

How do I get there?
Flights run daily from Yangon to Mandalay airport, from where you can taxi directly to Pyin Oo Lwin (about 90 minutes). Buses are a cheaper option and run regularly from Yangon to Pyin Oo Lwin. Another option is the daily train from Mandalay, which departs early in the morning and is supposed to reach Pyin Oo Lwin in around four hours.

How long do I need?
Seven to eight days to see everything. Twin Gardens and Lai Gaing can be squeezed into one day, as can Powerhouse, Myin Zin and December. Everything else is a day trip.

How do I get around?
For Inn Wine and Yay Pyan Taung you’ll need a motorbike (K12,000 to K15,000). For Powerhouse and December, a taxi also works (K30,000 to K40,000). For everything else, get in touch with Pyin Oo Lwin Trek; they’re your only ticket to some of these falls (winkoko212@gmail.com – 095109973).

When should I visit? 
Rainy season churns many of the falls brown so aesthetically the best time to visit is November through May.

Where do I stay? 
There are plenty of hotels in town but Pyin Oo Lwin Trek runs some of the better-value options. Royal Flower (09-2044855) has dorm rooms at US$11 and standard rooms at $25. Flashier Shwe Nann Htike (085-2021654) has rooms starting at $35.

Note: The writer travelled to several of these locations as a guest of Pyin Oo Lwin Trek (www.pyinoolwintrek.com).

This is the fifth installment in my six-part “wild waters of Myanmar” series, which will take me to lakes, rivers, creeks, dams, waterfalls and remote beaches across the country.

TOP PHOTO: Lower step of Inn Wine waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

By Dominic Horner

By Dominic Horner

Born and raised in London, Dominic Horner is an English teacher at the British Council. His writing can be found at Myanmar Mix and Lonely Planet.
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