My First Burmese Train Ride

On the train ride from Pyin U Lwin to Hsipaw, the train passes over what was at one time the second highest rail bridge in the world: the Gokteik Viaduct. Now, that may sound neat, but one must also wonder how safe it could be. Let’s take a look at the train we were on:

This is the train rounding a corner. It’s old. It makes loud noises. The seats are mostly broken. The bushes in many places scrape along the side because they haven’t been trimmed adequately.

This is a typical section of track:

A front view:

And this is the bridge to cross…

Well, apparently the train has never fallen off the bridge. It does go ridiculously slowly, so that may be the reason. The conductor encouraged us to lean right out the door, which was definitely not safe.

Another above-ground rail line, above the jungle canopy, but far below us as we crossed the much higher bridge:

This Burmese Army major didn’t seem to be particularly concerned.

After a successful and interesting crossing, we continued through many more fields like this one before arriving in Hsipaw in the afternoon.

Leaving Pyin U Lwin by Train

Ok, after a LONG pause, I’ve got reliable net access for a while, and in the next weeks a whole bunch of posts with photos from February to present will go up every 2-3 days. Let’s get started back on February 6th.

I woke up in Pyin U Lwin and caught a motorcycle to the train station at 8am. The train arrived late, but not excessively so. While I was waiting, I met two Polish backpackers who were nice to speak with, and I took a few photos around the station:

A display of the typical Myanmar Railways attitude toward time – this photo taken at 0840:

On board, I took a bunch of photos leaning out the windows/doors, and at various stops along the way:


We stopped for quite a while right beside this gravel processing facility. The men and women were carrying heavy piles of stones around and dumping them into the sorting machine – the smaller ones would come out one end and the bigger ones on another end, and then they’d be dumped in different piles. Almost all of them did this with no masks to protect their lungs from inhaling the fine dust that filled the air…

This man gave me a broad smile as the train started moving again:

Pyin U Lwin, Burma

On February 5th I left Mandalay en route by pickup to Pyin U Lwin, formerly called Maymyo. This area of Mandalay Division has great strawberries, and February is strawberry season!

Leaving Mandalay:

On the way there, as is the norm in Burma (more so than in other developing countries I’ve visited), there were all sorts of random vehicles.

These little Honda trucks are half a century old and are tiny! They’re about the size of a Smart car:

These old (1940s?) buses are still used all over Burma:

A very common setup in many countries in Southeast Asia is to take a simple engine and connect it to a wheeled platform somehow, with a long steering column. Easy to fix, but slow as anything, and difficult steering. This is a bit more advanced than most of those, but still fairly simple:

Horse-drawn carts are also quite common in many parts of Burma today:

To cool engines at the half hour rest stop between Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin, hoses are left running cold water onto the engine blocks:

I only spent one night in Pyin U Lwin, and while I was eating at a restaurant (and drinking several glasses of tasty fresh strawberry juice!) I took this photo of the typical mode of transport in that town:

The next day I took off by train to Hsipaw, a route which included passing over what was once the second highest rail bridge in the world… photos coming soon in the next post.