Than Daung Gyi
Thandaung, a peaceful Hill Resort in the Kayin State by U Thaw Kaung
Myanmar is encircled by hills and high mountains on its eastern, northern and western sides. There are some lovely towns on a number of these hills, where visitors can find peaceful repose. For example, on the Shan Plateau, there are towns like Taunggyi, Kalaw, Lashio, and Thibaw ( Hsipaw ). Myitkyina in Kachin State, Haka, and Tiddim in the Chin State are also well-known towns built on the hills.
During the colonial period, a few of these towns on the hills were developed as summer resorts, where Europeans went to escape from the heat and humidity of the Central Plains. The most famous of these hill resort towns are Maymyo or Pyin Oo Lwin, Kalaw and Taunggyi. We often overlook another picturesque hill town called Thandaung ( meaning Iron Hill ) which is much closer to Yangon than the above-mentioned towns.
Thandaung was also developed as a hill resort from Victorian times by the British. It happens to be the hill resort closest to Yangon as it is only about 200 miles away and can be reached by car or bus on a half day’s journey. If visitors prefer using the railway, they can ride the train from Yangon to Taungoo in about six hours, and from Taungoo to Thandaung, it is only 27 miles up by car passing through lush virgin forests, see cascading mountain streams and climb gradually to over 4,000 feet, to reach Thandaung.
Thandaung is a romantic place. It is in the Kayin State and is inhabited mainly by the lovable and simple Bwe Kayin ( Karen ) people who are mostly Christians.
Like many of the picturesque hill towns, there is a romantic legend, a Kayin folktale connected to this place and the Dawparkho or Bwihikho mountain range which has its highest peak nearby at 4,824 feet above sea level.
The legend is about a courageous prince named Saw Thaw Oh Khwa and a beautiful maiden called Naw Bu Baw. Incidentally Saw is the honorific for men and Naw for women in Kayin usage. It happened many years ago, and legend says that Naw Bu Baw was the daughter of the king of the sea and she came to these high hills to marry the local prince Saw Thaw Oh Khwa who was the son of King Kiku of these highlands.
Naw Bu Baw possessed a magical silver comb which made her shine like the sun when she had it in her hair and made her invisible when she put it under her feet. She also had a magical cooking pot which enabled her to cook a full pot of rice from only half a grain of rice and with a grain of rice she could feed the whole household.
The prince and the newly married Princess were very much in love with each other and roamed these lovely hills and mountains, streams and alpine meadows together. But the Kayin people did not accept Naw Bu Baw as she came from far away and because of the powers, she got from her magical comb they thought that she was a witch.
One day her husband the Prince went to the eastern mountains to repulse invading enemies. The faithful wife gave him the magical comb to enable him to disappear when his enemies attacked. In spite of the courage and daring, and also the possession of the comb, the Prince died in battle. The people of the region blamed Naw Bu Baw and accusing her of being a sorceress they took her to the highest peak of Dawparkho Range and imprisoned her in a rock cavern. Even today local people will show visitors where she was kept tied and locked. She was eventually eaten by evil spirits. So the loving couple, both the Prince and his beautiful wife, came to tragic ends. But their spirits still wander hand-in-hand through these beautiful forests, and an air of romance surrounds this mist-shrouded place.
Soon after the end of the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, when Lower Myanmar was annexed, the British using imported Indian laborers first developed Thandaung as a hill station.
In 1883 two years before the last Myanmar King in Mandalay was deposed, Thandaung for about a year became a military sanitorium for soldiers recovering from wounds and diseases. A cantonment was also marked out. After only about a year this project was abandoned and the town became a civil station.
Earlier, a road had been built by the Public Works Department running 22 miles north-northeast of Taungoo to reach Thandaung.
Around 1911, there were in Thandaung, a police station with 15 men, a small hotel, a circuit house and a district bungalow for visiting government officials, a post and telegraph office, and two European boarding schools with 64 pupils, of whom 23 were girls. There were also a number of private houses built in the colonial style. The population was only 219 persons then.
The Taungoo District Gazetteer published in 1914 quaintly says that “There is a licensed shop for the retail vend of foreign spirit and foreign fermented liquor”, probably meaning that whiskey and wine were easily available there for visitors.
As the population was mainly Christian a number of churches were built. Visitors can still see an old Baptist Church called Zion Hill Church, and another Baptist Church and also Anglican Church on another hill. You can also visit an old Roman Catholic Church. On Dawparkho peak a prayer room in a building shaped like a ship, and a huge cross were built in April 1995. This clearly shows that there is complete freedom of worship in Myanmar, where although the majority of the population in Buddhist, other religions are always tolerated.
The administration of Thandaung began only in 1900. In 1915 the township office was shifted to Laitho but was shifted back to Thandaung in 1935.
It is no longer in Taungoo District as Kayin state begins about 13 miles after crossing the Sittaung River. Since 1954 Thandaung has been part of Pha An District of Kayin State. In 1971 the population has risen to 51,000.
Present day Thandaung
Thandaung became a forgotten town for many years due to the insurrections and troubled times that erupted soon after Myanmar became independent in January 1948. Only in recent years after regaining peace and stability, Thandaung is now being developed as a hill resort both for visitors from within Myanmar and foreign tourists.
In visiting Thandaung, the best way is to take a car from Taungoo and drive up the 27 miles of undulating road. After crossing the Sittaung River you will, first of all, see Kayin and Bamar villages with rich fields of rice and various market vegetables. Soon you will enter the lush tropical monsoon and deciduous forests of the Kayin State, where many precious teak, pyinkadoe, padauk, ingyin and other hardwood trees can be seen in abundance. Actually, Thandaung is now divided into two towns, the original town on the hill now known as Thandaung Myo Haung (Old Town) and Thandaung Myo Thit (New Town) which was developed at Pathi Chaung, beside the idyllic and charming Pathi mountain stream with cool crystal clear waters rushing down in torrents over rounded boulders and pebbles to join the Sittaung River near Taungoo. A dam is being built around there for the use of the local agriculturalists.
The new town enlarged from former Pathi Chaung Village is only about 13 miles from Taungoo and is a favorite picnic spot for the people of the plains and in the last few years for foreign visitors also. There are huge boulders at the side and among the rushing waters and these rocks are favorite spots for taking photographs. The area of the new town is 177 acres. The population is still very sparse and mainly engaged in taungya, shifting cultivation, on the gentle slopes of the foothills. Around here and also on the hills you see bamboo mats and baskets and also other native utensils. The local people are good hunters and fishermen and if you are interested you can participate in their activities.
Thandaung Myo Thit (New Town) became the township headquarters in 1959, as the old township headquarters at the old town on the hilltop was difficult to reach at that time. This new town is also known as New Thandaung.
The original Thandaung, Myo Haung or Old Town, is reached after about an hour drive going uphill through the winding slopes with lush, green tropical vegetation all around. There are breathtaking views from many places along the way where you can stop the car and admire the view and take photo mementos. You will pass through some old Kayin villages, the largest of which Bawgaligyi is at the foothills and is especially famous for its sweet oranges, these oranges have a green skin instead of an orange colored one.
Thandaung Myo Haung
The old town on the hilltop 4,050 feet above sea level, is now officially known as Thandaungyi (meaning Great Thandaung) to distinguish it from the new town which had usurped the name and its township headquarters status. The town is quite small, only 1.57 square miles and you can easily walk around the whole area. The total population is only 3,766 but some new people are arriving. The Kayin people mainly, Bwe Kayin, live there but other Kayin races such as Sagaw, Paku, Moebwa, Palaychie, and other Myanmar people can also be found living in complete harmony with each other. They can be distinguished by different colored dresses. The town is divided into six wards and has 354 households.
The beauty of the town lies in its extensive views to be seen from all parts of this small attractive place. There are more hills and mountains to the north, east and south, while the Sittaung valley can be seen to the west with sweeping views right to the Bago Yoma hills beyond.
Visitors who have been to Chiang Mai, the Doi Suthep mountain and Mae Sa valley to the west and north of the city will be able to visualize the type of scenery to be found around Thandaung as the two mountain ranges are in the same latitude and are only about a hundred miles apart.
In Thandaung nature is entirely unspoiled, there are few people and all is green, the environment is tranquil. Only the calls of the numerous birds and wild animals can be heard.
The only man-made scenery around Thandaung really adds rather than detracts to her beauty. They are the pleasant groves of tea and coffee plants on some of the slopes around Thandaung. There are 640 acres of tea cultivation, the high altitude, the cool climate, and abundant rainfall produce some of the best tea leaves of Southeast Asia. There are still many uncultivated hill slopes for investment in tea plantations.
The coffee grown here too is one of the best in the region, although at present it is well known only within our country. The time will soon come when these plantations are expanded to produce ample coffee and tea for export. Plans to expand tea cultivation by 500 acres are already being carried out.
Around Thandaung can be bought huge delicious red or maroon bananas called Shwe Ngapyaw or Golden Bananas. Many other tasty fruits and vegetables can also be obtained freshly and cheaply.
Visitors will appreciate the cool climate, with an annual average temperature of about 65’F. The copious rainfall averages 225 inches annually. The winters are mild and like most areas in Myanmar, the months from October to the end of February are the best time to visit Thandaung. Visitors to Myanmar during the heat of March to mid-May would feel pleasantly cool if they go to Thandaung. A new modern hotel is being built for visitors.
The simple mountain folk, the various races of local Kayin people as well as the Gurkhas, who were brought by the British and who now live around Thandaung, will warmly welcome visitors from far and wide.