Mawlaik has a Golf Course: British Raj in Myanmar

January 5, 2014

U Thant Zin - Mawlaik's local historian.
U Thant Zin – Mawlaik’s local historian.

I borrowed a bicycle and joined U Thant Zin for a tour of the abandoned British village within Mawlaik.


Let me take you back to 1916.

Par 2
Par 2 is no longer in use.

To support the teak trade along the Chindwin, the British imported their way of life from back home. So Mawlaik has a golf course, although the grass is not always cut these days.

Welcome to the club house.
Welcome to the clubhouse.
Imagine it's 1920, someone's behind the bar and the tables are filled with expats.
Imagine it’s 1920, someone’s behind the bar, and the tables are filled with teak plantation owners, British military, and government officials.

 The clubhouse appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the Victorian era. I suggest you read Burmese Days by George Orwell to get an understanding of how important the clubhouse was to those wanting to keep a link to the motherland, which was at least a month-long journey back home.

Two story government office built in 1916
Two-story government office built in 1916

The teak trade must have been brisk to have built such a large government complex in a remote area like Mawlaik.

Notice use of Underwood typewriters.
Notice the use of Underwood typewriters is still in practice. But currently, the Burmese are only temporary tenants.
Mawlaik Courtroom
Mawlaik courtroom remains empty as if waiting for some officials to arrive.
British jail in Mawlaik
The British jail in Mawlaik that was used for Burmese only is also vacant.  
British hospital no longer in use except for solar panel, laundry and grazing.
The ‘British only’ section of the hospital is no longer in use except for the solar panels, laundry, and grazing land. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes. U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital.  The Burmese section of the hospital was torn down.


Another by-gone British building is the Christian church.

Church bell tower
Since the British ruled Mawlaik, they needed a Commissioner and he needed lodging with the finest teak woodwork. But now, only squatters remain. 

It even has a bell tower, shy a bell. Imagine being a Buddhist and hearing the bell every Sunday and maybe for weddings, too. Caucasian women from Britain were enticed to visit Burma for just such ceremonies.

British Commissioner’s house.

 The Myanmar government is funding the restoration of several old British buildings in Mawlaik. But it’s not easy to get there. So why the investment? Maybe the backdrop for a BBC production?

Teak wood throughout Commissioner's house.
Teak wood was found throughout the Commissioner’s house.

I was surprised the flooring wasn’t teak. Instead, it’s either tile or linoleum. Probably because maintaining wood is expensive in the hot, humid climate along the Chindwin.  It was amazing these buildings were still standing.

Bedroom - notice fireplace
Notice the fireplace in the bedroom. U Thant Zin said only British buildings had fireplaces in their homes.

Outback in the kitchen

Yet British kitchens were kept separate from the rest of the house in the event the building caught on fire. They didn’t want to rebuild the entire residence. As noted in Kalewa, fires are not unusual along the Chindwin.

But there was indoor plumbing with a luxury crapper.

And a salon for entertaining. In recent years, the squatters have added a Buddhist shrine to the salon.

Officer's house back stairs
Even the backstairs were made of teak.

Two-man saw

And all that wood was cut down with a Two-man saw. I can’t imagine them using these “two-man” saws today. But if they still use oxen to haul the logs to the river, then maybe they don’t have chainsaws large enough to cut the teak lumber.

British staff housing
They also needed housing for British staff who managed the local laborers.
British Forester's house - in use today by Burmese Forester.
And housing for a British Forester, who, by the size of his house, must have been as important as the Commissioner. 


The only things that remain from that era are the buildings. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and the British fled to India. The Raj never returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings with the people who lived and died there.

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