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Rail journeys in Myanmar

View back over the Gokteik Viaduct
A fine example of modern Burmese rolling stock
Hsipaw station - not exactly a hive of activity!
At Kalaw station, looking back down the line towards Inle Lake

The legacy of British Burma can be found all over modern Myanmar. One notable hangover of colonial times is an extensive – if distinctly unmodernised - rail network. Despite extensive dilapidation many sections are still in full service to this day. We don’t usually recommend taking long-distance train trips in Burma – bumpy is an understatement! – but taking shorter journeys can be fun, adventurous, and - in certain areas of the country - breathtakingly picturesque.

The most famous stretch of track runs from the hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin across the 115-year old Gokteik Viaduct. This component of this dramatic bridge – spanning some 2,260ft and with a drop of 820ft down to a fast-running ravine - were shipped from Pennsylvania but the construction is a triumph of British-engineering. The section travelled runs from Naungkhio up to Kyaukme, from where you can either return to Pyin Oo Lwin, or head on to the charming Shan village of Hsipaw.

Further south in Shan state, a stunning stretch of track links rural idyll Kalaw with Shwenyaung, from where you can travel the remaining short distance to Inle Lake by road. Slower but more interesting than driving the whole route, but much quicker for those opting out of an overnight trek!

In the capital itself we often recommend spending an hour or two on Yangon’s famous suburban Circle Line. Starting and finishing in Central Station, you can ride the whole 3-hour circuit, or jump on and off at will. While the trains themselves are far from luxurious, the scenery is ever-changing and local life found inside and outside the carriage is never short of fascinating.

Finally, those venturing further south of Yangon can take a pleasant ride through the plains of the Irrawaddy Delta to Thaton. Thaton is the jumping off point for Mawlamyine - once capital of British Burma – which itself marks the former end-point of the infamous Burma-Siam ‘Death Railway’. We recommend a couple of days to take in Mawlamyine’s fading colonial glory, before heading back to the capital – potentially making a stop at the Golden Rock en route.  

We have recently overhauled our ‘Temples and Trains’ tour to include all the above, but any individual journey can be built into a bespoke itinerary. Contact us today to find out more!

Posted by Luke on 16 April 2015

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